Video | 01:22:00

Robert Wallerstein: 65 Years at the Center of Psychoanalysis

by Shelley Nathans
Robert Wallerstein’s distinguished career spanned psychiatry, research, and psychoanalysis, with more than six decades at the center of the psychoanalytic field. In this illuminating interview, he recounts his early life, illustrious career, and the sweeping changes psychoanalysis endured throughout the 20th century.


Robert Wallerstein: 65 Years at the Center of Psychoanalysis
Psychoanalysis suffers from a relative dearth of personal video interviews—particularly of luminaries reflecting on the field’s tumultuous evolution. Covering the days of Freud to musings on the future, this expansive interview will satisfy your desire for tales of the field’s rich history, political intrigue, and cultural depth, as told by the renowned Robert Wallerstein. Here, you’ll get an inside peek at the development of modern psychoanalysis from a man who entered the field during World War II, led research at the original Menninger Clinic, and presided over the International Psychoanalytical Association during the 1992 lawsuit that opened the field to a new generation of clinicians.

Interviewed by Dr. Shelley Nathans in the year before his passing, Wallerstein describes his early life in Depression-era New York City, where he moved with his mother at age 2 from Berlin. Intellectually sharp even into his 90s, he recounts his parents’ individual and marital struggles, his time in Mexico City as a teen, meeting his future wife, Judith—later a celebrated researcher in her own right—as a Columbia undergrad, and his tenure in WWII, complete with an overview of the analyst exodus from Europe and the internal controversies surrounding it.

Wallerstein continues to compel with anecdotes of the early days with Karl Menninger, a midcentury analytic field that shunned “deviants” such as Kohut and Klein, and the continuing divide over training requirements that threatened to split APSA from the international community. You’ll get nuggets of insight on the rift between Anna Freud and Margaret Mahler and the latter’s rift with Erikson, and you’ll hear about Wallerstein’s early-'80s investigation of the Rio de Janeiro Psychoanalytic Institute, which played a role in the torture of political prisoners.

Both riveting and resonant, this video offers an accessible window into psychoanalysis from a pioneer with a wide-ranging career and a lasting impact on the field. If you’re interested in the history psychoanalysis, be sure to take a look.
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"This film is a historically fascinating and personally moving document about one of the most creative and influential psychoanalytic thinkers of the 20th century. The film illustrates both Robert Wallerstein’s achievement of prominence and leadership of the international psychoanalytic community by the sheer weight of his intellectual grasp of present and future tasks of psychoanalysis in its scientific and professional development. The film also is a tribute to his extraordinary capacity to resolve human conflicts in organizations, to bring people together in that work toward a common goal."
--Otto Kernberg, MD, Director of the Personality Disorder Institute at the New York Presbyterian Hospital

“Dr Wallerstein is one of the handful of true greats of international psychoanalysis. His reflections are not just of historical significance but also a source of genuine insights of immense relevance to the 21st Century challenges facing psychoanalysis. Dr Wallerstein’s grasp of the history of the discipline is awe-inspiring and utterly unique. The DVD is a gem which all those interested in our present as well as our past should watch.”
--Peter Fonagy, PhD, Freud Memorial Professor of Psychoanalysis, University College London

"Bob Wallerstein was not only a brilliant contributor to the field, he was also unique in his tolerance for differences of opinion and his unflinching ability to see all facets of a situation. I got to know Bob both as an adversary during the days of the lawsuit that gained access to psychoanalysis for non-physician mental health professionals and as a rather intimate friend in the final three years of his life. During this latter period, I had the opportunity to get Bob's first hand account of the psychoanalytic movement from Anna Freud to our present day, replete with very personal vignettes that bring psychoanalysis to life. Shelley Nathans' wonderful film gives everyone access to those vignettes, and I cannot recommend it highly enough."
--Bryant Welch, JD, PhD Psychologist/Attorney, Sausalito CA.  

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The psychoanalytic field saw sweeping changes during the 20th century, and this video interview presents both compelling lessons and juicy insider details—all from the same man. In this illuminating interview, he recounts his formative years and politically charged career, and offers parting reflections on the future of the field.

Wallerstein spent his career resisting the field’s own authoritarian leanings, and here you’ll get an idea of his progressive sensibilities that made an enduring impact on the field’s evolution. He shares tales of the original Menninger Clinic, the San Francisco “hard heads” and “soft heads” that shunned “deviants” such as Winnicott and Jung, and the 1992 lawsuit over training requirements that threatened to split APSA from the international community. You’ll also hear about his investigation of the Rio de Janeiro Psychoanalytic Institute, which played a role in the torture of political prisoners, and you’ll learn why he believes the profession is “in trouble” today.

This interview offers a rare window into the inner workings of the psychoanalytic field, straight from one of its most esteemed luminaries. If you’re interested in its history and rich political context, take a look at this one-of-a-kind video.

By watching this video, you will:
  • Learn about Wallerstein’s early upbringing and its influence on his career.
  • Understand the US and international political currents on which Wallerstein’s work made a lasting impact.
  • Hear Wallerstein’s recommendations for the future of the psychoanalytic field.
Length of video: 01:22:00
Number of Discs: 1
English subtitles available on: Stream, DVD
Individual ISBN-10 #: 1-60124-462-2
Individual ISBN-13 #: 978-1-60124-462-8
Group ISBN-10 #: 1-60124-463-0
Group ISBN-13 #: 978-1-60124-463-5
Robert S. Wallerstein (January 28, 1921 – December 21, 2014) was a prominent German born American psychoanalyst. He trained at the Menninger Foundation in Topeka, Kansas, rising to become the foundation’s director of research and conducting a pioneering study called the Psychotherapy Research Project. He moved to the Bay Area in 1966 as the chief of psychiatry at Mount Zion Hospital, then joined the faculty of the UCSF Department of Psychiatry as a professor. Wallerstein served as department chair and director of the Langley Porter Psychiatric Institute from 1975-1985, as well as a training and supervising analyst at the San Francisco Psychoanalytic Institute, and president of both the American and International Psychoanalytic Associations.

In addition, he was a prodigious and influential author who penned 20 books and more than 400 scholarly articles. His books included Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis: Theory, Practice, Research (1975), Becoming a Psychoanalyst (1981), Forty-Two Lives in Treatment (1986), The Talking Cures: The Psychoanalyses and the Psychotherapies (1995), Lay Analysis: Life Inside the Controversy (1998), Psychoanalysis: Clinical and Theoretical (1999), and Psychoanalysis: Education, Research, Science, and Profession (2003). In recognition of his outstanding contributions to the field of psychoanalysis, he received the prestigious Sigourney Award in 1991.


Shelley Nathans, PhD, (filmmaker) is a clinical psychologist and has 30 years of experience as an individual and couple psychotherapist, She is a member of the teaching faculty at the California Pacific Medical Center in the Department of Psychiatry. She has completed the Tavistock Center for Couple Relations Advanced Training in Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy with Couples, is a faculty member of the Psychoanalytic Couple Psychotherapy Group study program, is on the International Advisory Board for the Journal, Psychoanalytic Couple and Family Psychoanalysis, and is on the Board of Section VIII, Division 39 (the section for Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy for Couples and Families of the American Psychological Association).
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CE credits: 1.5
Learning objectives:

  • Learn about Wallerstein’s early upbringing and its influence on his career.
  • Understand the US and international political currents on which Wallerstein’s work made a lasting impact.
  • Hear Wallerstein’s recommendations for the future of the psychoanalytic field.