Alice Lombardo Maher, M.D. is an American psychiatrist and psychoanalyst. She is the founder of Changing Our Consciousness, a non-profit organization that develops theoretical, methodological and educational tools to understand and mitigate intergroup conflict. Dr Maher is best known for her work on identifying methods for bridging social divides stemming from prejudice and stigma through the development of emotional literacy.
Dr Maher is a graduate of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and the Institute for Psychoanalytic Education Affiliated with NYU School of Medicine. She was a faculty member of the institute and medical school for 15 years, and remains a PANY Affiliate. Dr Maher maintains a private practice in New York City. In 2004 Dr. Maher created a Listserv for a group of colleagues to discuss ways in which the psychoanalytic model could be applied to society at large. She observed that the conflicts emerging in anonymous online communities paralleled aggressive/regressive dynamics that arise on the world stage. She presented these findings at the 2005 Conference on Prejudice and Conflict in Salt Lake City. Considering ways to harness those dynamics, she developed the Waging Dialogue forums. These moderated forums brought people with different worldviews together to struggle to bridge the divide between self and other over specific issues such as Antisemitism and Islamophobia, Masculinity and Femininity, and Psychoanalytic Theory and Methodology.
In 2008, Dr Maher founded Changing Our Consciousness to fund and incubate projects that facilitate understanding and dialogue between and among people of different thoughts, beliefs and communication styles, as individuals and as large groups. Changing Our Consciousness has evolved into a non-profit, mission-driven organization committed to the development of emotional literacy.
Dr. Maher has been an innovator in the use of online and social media as laboratories for observing the dynamics of conflict. In 2010, she adopted the original Waging Dialogue model for the Facebook group, Depth Perception Party. She applied the same model for the group Talking Across Divides in 2015.
The name Depth Perception Party derives from Dr. Maher’s metaphorical use of our capacity for binocular vision and symbolizes a process that promotes personal insight as well as understanding and acceptance among people. Dr. Maher postulates that human beings learn through childhood experience, society interactions and their innate capacity, to view the world through a “right” or “left” perspective, i.e., we form biases and beliefs that define us and are resistant to challenges from those with opposing viewpoints. One goal of the project is to enable individuals and groups with a “left eye” perspective, first to acknowledge that the “right eye” exists and sees the world from a different but valid vantage point. This is the initial step in a process that would ultimately enable both “eyes” to adapt to each other and envision a shared horizon with more clarity, perspective and depth than was possible alone.
Dr Maher harnesses social media to catalyze and facilitate an intensive dialogue process among people from different cultures and worldviews. Participants in her groups include religious people and atheists, liberals and conservatives, from all parts of the world. They are encouraged to develop their own online dialogue groups, engage friends to discuss charged topics, and publish their findings.
Identifying and responding appropriately and effectively to the emotional experience of the other is a very complex problem. Dr. Maher developed Emotional Imprint as a K-12 curriculum that teaches human understanding as a language analogous to the languages of math, music, and computers. Emotional Imprint differs from other social-emotional school programs by its use of academic learning, rigorous thought experiments, and integration into the core academic curriculum. It can be taught rationally, with problem- solving and laboratory exercises, in a K-12 educational track on a par with the other major subjects, As the curriculum progresses, Emotional Imprint students gain understanding of individual and group dynamics, and harness that understanding to study larger societal problems, such as war.
In 2012, Changing Our Consciousness designed, implemented, and tested the first Emotional Imprint curriculum with middle school students at the Harlem-based enrichment program, Street Squash. Educational consultant Melissa Brand designed the initial courses, which utilize a role-playing model to develop students’ understanding of their classmates’ perspectives. Since 2012, with Sasha Diamond-Lenow, MSW, Changing Our Consciousness has designed and implemented curricula for grades six through twelve, and developed an internship program for eleventh and twelfth grade students.
Emotional Imprint interns interviewed and videotaped two leaders in the study and development of methodologies for resolving intergroup conflict, Nobel Peace Prize nominee Vamik Volkan, M.D., and Lord John Alderdice, senior negotiator of the Belfast Agreement that ended the war in Northern Ireland.
With Lois Oppenheim, PhD, Dr. Maher is co-creator of The Hot Stove Project, a project dedicated to understanding thought process differences and talking across mental health divides, including multiple competing paradigms. In 2013 the Hot Stove Project released a documentary, “How to Touch a Hot Stove” directed by Sheryll Franko, narrated by actor John Turturro, and featuring Nobel Laureate Dr. Eric Kandel, neurologist and author Dr. Oliver Sacks, MacArthur “Genius Grant” recipient Dr. Elyn Saks, autism advocate Dr. Temple Grandin, former APA President Dr. Jeffrey Liberman, and others.
“How To Touch A Hot Stove” has been screened at educational institutions, mental health organizations and film festivals, and it received Honorable Mention at the 2014 SAMSHA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) Voice Awards. Actor John Turturro, the film’s narrator, serves as spokesperson for the Hot Stove Project.
The Hot Stove Project has recieved the following awards and recognitions:
Dr. Maher is committed to bringing her mission to the next generation. In 2016, she facilitated a collaboration between students from Hunter College High School and the Street Squash enrichment program. Two seniors, Kaley Pillinger and Sydney Allard, compiled and edited original writings reflecting on the students' understanding of the Volkan/Alderdice model.
The result of this effort is Divides, an E-Book by and for students, richly illustrated by Hunter student Nina Potischman. Divides makes complex ideas relateable to those who stand to benefit the most from them. The authors range from 5th through 12th graders and the works range from well-researched essays to powerful personal narratives.