Though small in participation numbers, CC’s minor in psychoanalysis punches well above its weight in terms of reputation and output, and the popularity is growing constantly. Nationally recognized as a flagship program in psychoanalysis at the undergraduate level, the minor has been featured in several national publications, received a highly selective foundation grant, and serves as a model for other university programs across the country.

The founding faculty members, professors Marcia Dobson and John Riker, of classics and philosophy respectively, were recently elected as co-chairs of the American Psychoanalytic Association’s Committee on Psychoanalysis and Undergraduate Education. The minor brings thinkers and clinicians to campus from all across the country and around the world including Slavoj Žižek, the internationally renowned continental philosopher from Slovenia who gave the plenary lecture at this year’s LACK Conference, held on campus Oct. 19-21.

Professors Dobson and Riker, with the help of Professor of Philosophy Jonathan Lee, founded the minor in psychoanalysis, called Theories of the Unconscious, in 2000 and have been at the helm ever since.

Quickly incorporating a variety of classes from CC’s liberal arts curriculum into the fold, the minor is “a real liberal arts entity,” as Dobson describes it, and the program established itself as one of the most pioneering — one of only three or so organized programs offered in the entire country.

“In 2015-16,” Riker explains, “there was a real shot in the arm when a $10,000 a year grant for three years was received from the O’Donaghue Founda-tion. We were one of only five colleges or universities to receive the grant, and it was withdrawn from two of the colleges for their failure to develop adequate programs for using the money.” CC has used the grant both to create a Psychoanalytic Salon, which meets each block at Dobson and Riker’s home, as well as to bring to campus some of the most famous psychoanalysts in the country to speak to classes and give all-campus addresses. 

The minor remains profound in its output of graduates who go on to further clinical study. Between three to five students are involved in the minor each year, and of that pool an average of two per year will go on to practice clinical psychoanalysis work. This prolific study-to-career ratio is due, in part, to the courses that students have access to during their time in the program. Chief among these is the summer class, which takes place at the Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis and has been taught there for 11 years.

“During the summer, students collaborate with 12 to 15 professional clinical psychologists, read and examine cases and work together, and learn how to engage in that world and with clients,” says Riker.

“Of all the courses we teach, this one has by far the most compelling effect on students,” adds Dobson.

Such is the success of the program across the country that over the past two years, CC has been able to host a conference of national and international thinkers, practitioners, and scholars — the LACK Conference.

In conjunction with the minor, faculty and others from across CC, including Professor Scott Krzych of the Film and Media Studies Program, the LACK Conference is devoted to the promotion and development of Lacanian psychoanalytic theory. Central to Jacques Lacan’s philosophy is the concept of drive, that at the core of every human being we are driven after something that we can never fully explain, and that core of our being is a mystery. This year’s conference focused on exploring the philosophical, political, and cultural implications of psychoanalytic theory, especially as it relates to the question of contemporary politics. Celebrating the work and scholarship of French psychoanalyst and psychiatrist Lacan, the conference brought together presenters, keynote speakers including the aforementioned Slavoj Žižek, students, and practicing clinicians from along the Front Range and around the world.

Building on the continued success of the LACK conference, as well as the growth of the psychoanalysis minor over the years, Dobson and Riker are looking to the future with optimistic eyes. “We’re hoping to secure funds to support a professorship in psychoanalysis before we both retire,” Dobson says, “and we’ve been working hard to bring younger faculty into the program as well — including Krzych, William Davis from comparative literature, and Rick Furtak of philosophy.”