Vamık D. Volkan, M.D.

United States

Award Year: 2015



Vamık D. Volkan was born in 1932 on the island of Cyprus to Cypriot Turkish parents. Before coming to the United States in 1957 he received his medical education at the School of Medicine, University of Ankara, Turkey. After finishing his psychiatric residency program at North Carolina Memorial Hospital, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, he was a staff member at Cherry Hospital, Goldsboro, North Carolina and Dorothea Dix Hospital, Raleigh, North Carolina. He joined the faculty of the Department of Psychiatry, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia in 1963. He received his psychoanalytic training at the Washington Psychoanalytic Institute in Washington, DC and he later taught there. He became a Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Virginia in 1971 and retired in 2002. A year after his retirement Dr. Volkan became the Senior Erik Erikson Scholar at the Erikson Institute of the Austen Riggs Center, Stockbridge, Massachusetts and has spent three to four months several times at that center.

During his long tenure at the University of Virginia Dr. Volkan was the Medical Director of the University’s Blue Ridge Hospital for 18 years. Following his six-year work as a member and later as the leader of the American Psychiatric Association’s Committee on International Affairs during which the committee brought influential Israelis, Egyptians and Palestinians for unofficial negotiations, Dr, Volkan, in 1987, established the Center for the Study of Mind and Human Interaction (CSMHI) at the School of Medicine, University of Virginia. CSMHI applied a growing theoretical and field-proven base of knowledge to issues such as ethnic tension, racism, large-group identity, terrorism, societal trauma, mourning, transgenerational transmissions, leader-follower relationships, and other aspects of national and international conflict. Because no single discipline can fully illuminate such deep-seated and complex issues, CSMHI’s faculty and board included experts in psychoanalysis, psychiatry, psychology, diplomacy, history, political science, and environmental policy. In 1987 the Soviet Duma signed a contract with the CSMHI to examine existing difficulties between the Soviet Union and United States. Later CSMHI members worked in the Baltic Republics, Kuwait, Albania, former Yugoslavia, Georgia, South Ossetia, Turkey, Greece, and elsewhere. As a psychoanalyst Dr. Volkan developed a method (The Tree Model) for “unofficial diplomacy.” He was a member of the International Negotiation Network (INN) under the directorship of the former President Jimmy Carter (1989-2000) and also a member of the Working Group on Terror and Terrorism, International Psychoanalytic Association. He was a Temporary Consultant to the World Health Organization (WHO) in Albania and Macedonia. He had the honor to give the keynote address in Cape Town, South Africa in 2006, celebrating Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s life of peaceful justice and the 10th anniversary of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s activities. He also felt honored that on several occasions he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Letters of support were sent from 27 countries.  

Dr. Volkan holds Honorary Doctorate degrees from Kuopio University (now called the University of Eastern Finland), Finland, from Ankara University, Turkey, and the Eastern European Psychoanalytic Institute, Russia. He was a former President of the Turkish-American Neuropsychiatric Society, the International Society of Political Psychology, the Virginia Psychoanalytic Society, and the American College of Psychoanalysts. He was an Inaugural Yitzak Rabin Fellow, Rabin Center for Israeli Studies, Tel Aviv, Israel; a Visiting Professor of Law, Harvard University, Boston, Massachusetts; a Visiting Professor of Political Science, the University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria and Bahceșehir University, Istanbul, Turkey. He also worked as a visiting professor of psychiatry at three universities in Turkey. In 2006, he was Fulbright/Sigmund Freud-Privatstiftung Visiting Scholar of Psychoanalysis in Vienna, Austria. Among many awards he received is the Sigmund Freud Award given by the city of Vienna, Austria, in collaboration with the World Council of Psychotherapy. Dr. Volkan is the author, coauthor, editor or coeditor of over fifty psychoanalytic and psychopolitical books many translated into several languages. He has served on the editorial boards of sixteen national or international professional journals, including The Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association. Dr. Volkan is the Guest Editor of the Diamond Jubilee Special Issue of The American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 2015.

At the present time Dr. Volkan is the president of the International Dialogue Initiative (IDI), a nonprofit organization that brings together unofficial representatives from various parts of the world, such as Germany, Iran, Israel, Russia, Turkey, UK, U.S.A, and the West Bank to examine world affairs from a psychopolitical angle. The IDI develops a common language between psychoanalysts and those who are diplomats, politicians or from other disciplines. The IDI functions as a conceptual sounding board and support group for those members of the group currently engaged in consulting with governments and other societal groups. Dr. Volkan continues to bring psychoanalytic insights to political/social activities, the latest one being a study of Malaysian leadership issues. He continues to lecture internationally to psychoanalytic groups as well as varied university departments and business and governmental organizations.