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Incorporating Psychoanalytic Thinking into Art Education

by Benjamin Tellie, guest blogger

I’d like to share my doctoral studies at George Washington University with you and provide more information about a special program in the DC area called the Psychoanalytic Studies Program (PSP) as part of the Washington Baltimore Center for Psychoanalysis (WBCP).

As a PSP student, I participate and identify as a scholar and non-clinician. I am not a psychoanalyst or psychotherapist. I study the history of psychoanalysis, psychoanalytic thought, and its practice to inform and strengthen myself as a scholar and art and design teacher. The PSP has me interacting with psychologists, social workers, and psychoanalysts in the classroom setting and other education scholars. Working with PSP students and instructors from these other professional fields has allowed me to gain new perspectives and insights that inform my writing work and art curriculum. Through my course of study, I have written on various topics in my classes at GWU such as working with my students in regards to making art that involves emotion and responds to the difficult social events of our present historical moment—gun violence, social trauma, hurricane disasters, and fires of the west coast and Australia.

You might be thinking, how can I bring a psychoanalytic orientation into my teaching practice when it’s a form of therapy? Psychoanalysis is a theory and clinical practice that has influenced many fields including the visual and performing arts, literature, education, and the humanities and social sciences in academia and more over the last one hundred years. It’s clinical practice seeks to treat mental disorders and various mental health issues through dream interpretation and free association by way of an analyst working one-one-one with a patient. Sessions typically last about an hour, four-five times a week, with meetings more frequently than in psychotherapy sessions, which might last approximately an hour each week or less. The process of psychoanalysis usually involves bringing unconscious material, conflicts, experiences, and memories to conscious awareness in order to work through them. Ultimately, the long-term aim is for many things to happen, some of which include: a patient to gain a deeper insight and perspective of self; attain healing; develop an understanding of their symptoms and mental health. The idea is to really dig in and go beyond the surface. Psychoanalysis has a great deal to do with the unconscious and there are many schools of thought and theory including Freudian/Ego psychology; object relations; Kleinian; Lacanian; Jungian; Reichian; Relational; Intersubjective.

From a teaching perspective, the benefits from thinking psychoanalytically give me opportunities to enhance my teaching practice. I have to understand myself as an individual person to better teach others in the classroom.

I am a parent to our amazing 22-month-old son, a pet parent to a hound dog, and a husband to my wife, who is also an art educator. I am a homeowner and someone who really enjoys the visual arts, making art, the outdoors, spending time with family, writing poetry, visits to the beach, and engaging with service work in my community. How does this personal context play a role in my teaching life and my life as a scholar? Thinking psychoanalytically asks me to reflect upon myself and my practices more deeply. We are teachers that come to school with lives that are complex. We come to school with our emotions and feelings from various events that happen in our lives—the births of new children, the loss of loved ones, and everything in between. There is a personal inner life to our teaching self.

If we can become sensitive to our own inner lives as teachers, we can be sensitive to the emotional and complex lives and worlds of our students to help further their learning and education (Taubman, 2011). I have learned to listen intently to my students, not judge their ideas, but help them understand their voices better and invite them into unique art experiences that take on an autobiographical lens, engaging them in deeper forms of self-reflection, self-expression and self-advocacy (Pinar, 2011).

Studying contemporary psychoanalytic thinking and theory offers teachers in educational settings a unique perspective. It can allow a teacher to consider and reflect upon the dynamic relationships that exist between teacher and student, considering that each has an emotional and ethical life and share a complex network of feelings, emotions, and affects (Bibby, 2011). Being more aware of these networks can change the ways in which we approach teaching and learning. For one example, to orient art projects and assignments towards expressing one’s viewpoints, emotions, and feelings, or allowing for more personal stories to develop through one’s artwork and written reflections.

I believe there is a great deal that many art educators and teachers of other subjects can learn from contemporary psychoanalytic theory, its practice, and other psychotherapeutic practices and how they can influence teaching and learning.

I wanted to pass information along that the Washington Baltimore Center for Psychoanalysis (WBCP) is having an open house on March 1st from 3:00 PM - 5:00 PM for interested art educators, scholars, masters, and doctoral students, professors, and professionals who live in the Baltimore/DC area to learn more about their Psychoanalytic Studies Program (PSP). I will be there giving a talk about my experiences in the PSP and networking with prospective students. If you know anyone who might be interested, you can have them contact me at

Thank you so much.

To learn more about the PSP program:

MAEA member Benjamin Tellie is a full-time art and design teacher at the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School and a third year part-time doctoral student at GWU in the EdD in Curriculum and Instruction program. He currently engages in course work in psychoanalytic theory at the WBCP for his elective doctoral course work.


Bibby, T. (2011). Education—an ‘impossible profession’? Psychoanalytic explorations of

learning and classrooms. London: Routledge.

Pinar, F. W. (2011). The character of curriculum studies: Bildung, currere, and the recurring question of the subject. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillian.

Taubman, P. (2011). Disavowed knowledge: Psychoanalysis, education and teaching. Studies in Curriculum Theory Series (Vol. 22, p. 212). Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.


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