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Yale 62

A Classmate Who Still Works Full-Time Writes In

By David Scharff
    November 11, 2020 (published on November 17, 2020)

I feel in a way that I only just got good at my work a few years ago. You know the joke about whether a doctor or lawyer is “still practicing” – and the answer is “Yes, and someday I hope to finally get it right.”

For the last 40 years, I’ve divided my time between a pretty full-time practice doing psychoanalysis of adults, families, couples and children, teaching, writing and developing and running programs nationally and internationally. I’ve really liked the mix of ways of thinking about the mental health issues. My wife, Jill, and I established the International Psychotherapy Institute 25 years ago, a program for distance training in analytic therapy and psychoanalysis nationally and internationally. I’ve always thought of it as a kind of hobby, and it’s something between that and a life’s work. I gave up being director 8 years ago, and finally shed being chair of the board a year ago – and to ease my fears, it’s thriving. But I’ve stayed active teaching in it, and doing aspects of development for it that increase its international reach and improve its financial status. Now, especially with the creativity of the current director, it has expanded its reach to many countries overseas, and we have students from all over. My own teaching concentrates in programs I’ve begun in China and Russia: we have 3 programs in China, in child, adult and couple & family therapy, and now 2 in Russia, in couple & family and in individual psychotherapy. So, the balance of my work day has shifted to slightly fewer patients (now about 25-30 hours/week) and much more teaching (10-15 hours/week). And the teaching means course planning and recruiting colleagues to join in the teaching.

David in the tea room of the Old American Hotel in Arab East Jerusalem. April 2006

All of this is on Zoom of course now, but we had set up a program specializing in distance training – which 25 years ago meant people commuting to Washington, DC 4-5 times a year. For the last 20 years that involved internet-based teaching. As the capability of internet connectedness improved, we moved progressively to more internet-based teaching. Now of course we are 100% online via Zoom, both for teaching and for the therapies conducted by our faculty and our trainees – who are spread out both in the US and overseas. We don’t know exactly what the mix will be eventually of in-person and internet. Our first real overseas students were from Panama, but now they have budded off to have their own program, so while we still do have many students from there, it is really that we draw from all over – currently including China, Saudi Arabia, Romania, Europe – and so on. I find it continually exciting.

Two more projects, and actually they are interconnected.

First, IPI (our institute) with the initiative and generous financial support of Jason Aronson, our long-term publisher and friend, when he sold his publishing house, found he was bored in retirement, so he established “” to give away books free around the world. This too is an IPI program, which I am in the process of taking over for him. At 92, he said to me “I can’t do this forever!” It has given away almost 2 million books worldwide in 200 countries and jurisdictions in the last three years, but it has also generated an email list of almost 50,000 names. We have used this list to recruit new students, and is one of the reasons IPI has developed so well in the past year.

Finally, I’ve been writing all my professional life. My early two books were on those adolescents who left school early to enter the work force: Between Two Worlds in 1975, and a book called The Sexual Relationship in 1982, drawn from doing sex therapy and then seeing the children of many of those couples. I’ve done books on differing modes of therapy – individual, couple, family, many with Jill. Also I’ve edited books on various analytic theorists, and edited a number of other books, partly as a way of encouraging younger colleagues to write. I’ve published more than 90 papers, and my 33rd book will come out in January: Marriage and Family in Modern China: A Psychoanalytic Exploration.

So even though Jill says that I’m ramping up when I should be ramping down, I’m having too much fun to stop now. I know many of you are doing things you love in retirement or in defiance of the years by not retiring, so I’m looking forward to hearing from you, too.


We invite your comments below.

4 comments to A Classmate Who Still Works Full-Time Writes In

  • Dave – Since your spoke at one of our reunions about your experience training psychotherapists in China, I have thinking about it. Who knew that cognitive analytical skills, and psychotherapy in particular, would ride the globalization express. Your study,
    writing, and teaching over the last half century are amazing in the commitment, the global nature of the work, the acceptance and continuing upward trajectory of your endeavors. Breath taking. I suspect you have a sense of having made a huge
    contribution. I believe you have, and in a most unusual and thorough way. I hope to get together in DC after the virus clears. All the best to you and Jill.

  • Steve Buck

    Dear David – What can amazingly full and rewarding life. Hats off to you! In these troubled times you are an inspiration. I still remember the mini-reunion you organized for us long ago. Keep up the good work!

  • Dear David,

    What a wonderful life of learning and service you share with us. I am certain your life has also been gifted by the response of those who have been influenced by your steadfast work.

    I’ll take up a couple of your books in 2021 and hope to meet you at our next reunion.

    With admiration and gratitude, Dick Riseling

  • David Scharff

    Dick, Steve and Breaux
    What kind comments. Yes, I do have a sense that what I’ve done, like the work of so many of us, does matter in some small way to world improvement. It’s nice to have some friendly ears to share it with, and thanks for your encouragement! David