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The Intergenerational Transmission of Suicide: Moral Injury and the Mysterious Object in the Work of Walker Percy with Jane Tillman, PhD, ABPP

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The Intergenerational Transmission of Suicide: Moral Injury and the Mysterious Object in the Work of Walker Percy with Jane Tillman, PhD, ABPP

Saturday, November 6, 2021 9:00am to 11:30am
via Zoom
Sponsored by: 

The class has filled.  Please contact John Allemand at to be added to the waitlist.

This program, when participated in its entirety, is available for 2.5 continuing education credits.  Division 39 is approved by the American Psychological Association to sponsor continuing education for psychologists.  Division 39 maintains responsibility for this program and its content. This presentation also meets the requirements of WAC 246-809-620 (definition of recognized categories of continuing education for licensed mental health counselors, marriage and family therapists and social workers).

In this Alliance Master Class, Dr. Jane Tillman will engage with participants in a close reading and discussion of her paper, "The intergenerational transmission of suicide: Moral injury and the mysterious object in the work of Walker Percy". Dr. Tilllman will elaborate upon her thinking since publication, facilitate discussion, and answer questions. All participants will receive a copy of the article upon registration. In order to provide an intimate, stimulating discussion, the group will be limited to 10 participants who can directly engage with the author.

Tillman, J.  (2016).  The intergenerational transmission of suicide: Moral injury and the mysterious object in the work of Walker Percy.  Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 64(3), 541-567.

The intrapsychic mechanisms for the intergenerational transmission of suicide are not adequately theorized, though it is well known that a family history of suicide places survivors at increased risk for suicide. The suicide of a family member, particularly a parent, it is hypothesized, marks some survivors with a type of trauma associated with moral injury, which may produce an alteration in object relations with the emergence of what may be called a mysterious object. Under the press of these conditions, survivors may embark on what Apprey (2014) has termed an “urgent errand” in an effort to solve a problem in the anterior generation.  Analysands with a history of familial suicide may bring symptoms of moral injury, a mysterious object relation, and a risk for suicide into the transference.  The family history, life history, and literary work of the novelist Walker Percy (author of The Moviegoer, The Last GentlemanLancelot, and Love in the Ruins), who had an extensive family history of suicide, provides evidence for the hypothesis linking moral injury, a mysterious object, and an urgent errand in such patients.

Dr. Tillman will pair this paper with a reading of Flannery O’Connor’s short story, “The Lame Shall Enter First”.

O’Connor, F.  (1993).  The lame shall enter first.  In R. Fitzgerald (Ed.), Everything that rises must converge (pp. 143-190)New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux.  (Original work published 1962).

Jane G. Tillman, PhD, ABPP is the Evelyn Stefansson Nef Director of the Erikson Institute for Education and Research at the Austen Riggs Center in Stockbridge, MA.   

A board certified clinical psychologist and a psychoanalyst, Dr. Tillman is an Assistant Clinical Professor at the Yale Child Study Center and a Teaching Associate in Psychiatry at the Cambridge Health Alliance of Harvard Medical School. Dr. Tillman serves on the Editorial Boards of Psychoanalytic Psychology and The Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association. She is the past-president of the Section on Women, Gender, and Psychoanalysis of Division 39; has served two-terms as the chair of the Ethics Committee for Division 39; and is a past board member of the Western Massachusetts Albany Association for Psychoanalytic Psychology (WMAAPP). Dr. Tillman is the Principal Investigator on an externally funded study, States of Mind Preceding a Near Lethal Suicide Attempt, conducted at the Austen Riggs Center.

Dr. Tillman has presented and published on a wide variety of topics including: dissociation; psychosis; religion; impasses in treatment; embodiment; clinical and professional ethics; research methodology; identifying markers for acute risk of suicide; and the effect of patient suicide on clinicians.  Dr.Tillman attended the University of the South and received her undergraduate degree from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill; she earned an M.Div from Duke University, a PhD in clinical psychology from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, and completed a pre-doctoral internship at the Dartmouth Medical School.  She completed a four-year fellowship in psychoanalytic psychotherapy at the Austen Riggs Center and is a graduate of the Berkshire Psychoanalytic Institute.

Learning Objectives:

  • Participants will develop an enhanced understanding of the concept of “moral injury” and its impact upon intergenerational suicide.
  • Participants will be introduced to the concept of a “mysterious object” which instantiates itself in the wake of parental loss through suicide.
  • Participants will be introduced to Apprey’s (2014) concept of “the urgent errand” and its purpose in the phenomenon of intergenerational suicide.
  • Participants will be introduced to the life and work of author Walker Percy, with a particular emphasis upon the influence of intergenerational suicide in his fiction.

Recent publications:

Tillman, J. G. (2018). Disillusionment and suicidality. When a developmental necessity becomes a clinical challenge. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association 66 (2), 225-242.

Tillman, J. G.  (2018).  Unrepresented states and the challenge of historicization.  International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 99(1), 125-139.

Tillman, J. G. (2018).  Family scenes of loss: Ghosts, demons, strangers and companions: Afterword to Essays on loss and development.  Psychoanalytic Perspectives, 15(1), 142-147.

Tillman, J. G. (2018).  Integrative psychodynamic model for understanding and assessing the suicidal patient: The suicide and self-destructive behaviors group: The Erikson Institute of the Austen Riggs Center, Stockbridge, MA.  Psychoanalytic Psychology, 35(4), 424-432.

Participants: This event is designed for graduate level students in mental health and all mental health professionals from introductory to advanced levels.  The presentation is geared for clinicians who wish to advance their knowledge and expand their skill base in psychodynamic clinical work.

Refund Policy: Refunds less a $15 handling fee will be given up until one week before the presentation. 

This program, when participated in its entirety, is available for 2.5 continuing education credits.  Division 39 is committed to accessibility and non-discrimination in its continuing education activities.  Division 39 is also committed to conducting all activities in conformity with the American Psychological Association's Ethical Principles for Psychologists.  Participants are asked to be aware of the need for privacy and confidentiality throughout the program.  If program content becomes stressful, participants are encouraged to process these feelings during discussion periods. If participants have special needs, we will attempt to accommodate them. Please address questions, concerns and any complaints to John Allemand at 253-509-8302.  There is no commercial support for this program nor are there any relationships between the CE Sponsor, presenting organization, presenter, program content, research, grants or other funding that could reasonably be construed as conflicts of interest.  Participants will be informed of the utility/validity of the content/approach discussed (including the basis for the statements about validity/utility), as well as the limitations of the approach and most common (and severe) risks, if any, associated with the program's content.

Contact Person: 
John Allemand
Contact Email:
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