Monthly Archives: February 2023

Pedro & Graeme, part one

This entry presents memories of training, plus ideas of what training could be. It is grounded in the experience of two analytically oriented clinicians from different countries, with variable training methods and institutional cultures. It is also premised in the idea that psychoanalytic practice is born of rigorous learning, affording patients a deep exploration of their inner lives. It assumes that all psychoanalysts were once candidates in training, and analysands before that, and must learn their discipline with patience, diligence, and courage. Training is therefore the most important aspect of Psychoanalysis. 

Perhaps. Some questions contaminate this supposition. What is the quality of instruction in an accredited program, of supervision? What is the quality of experience within an analytic community that is reflective of localized cultures but not necessarily the broader world that psychoanalysis inhabits. How rigorous are the standards for completion of analytic training, and are those standards changing in some institutes, and for what reasons? Further, is the training experience, locked as it is within a protracted evaluation process, a true preview of the analytic identity, or “voice” that a candidate is encouraged to develop but might not truly develop until after qualification as an analyst occurs (Gabbard & Ogden, 2008). Moreover, seminars, supervision, and evaluation may restrain the gestation of that holy grail that is psychoanalytic identity. That such questions exist suggests a learning experience that invites illusions only to then dissemble them, yielding a pool of psychoanalytic professionals left to their own devices. They have learned theory, become skilled in technique, aware of countertransference reactions as if they were the names of their own children—or so they wish. They have accepted and endured the limits and disappointments of training that mirror the limits and disappointments of psychoanalysis.  

We recall the admonitions of old supervisors, such as one who, in an early seminar, suggested why the process of analysis would be explained in plain terms to analysands, emphasizing the basic recommendations ala Freud (1913), but not what might later unfold.  “You don’t want to know how sausage is made,” the supervisor quipped, implying that exposure to ideas would not only disappoint, but elicit revulsion. Psychoanalysis, we inferred, could get ugly. We recall another senior analyst offering a parody of informed consent: “What sort of person would say that they have read and understood provided information about treatment and had taken the opportunity to ask questions; that they understand their participation to be voluntary and that they are free to withdraw at any time, without giving a reason and without cost. Would they consent if they heard the specialist saying that they might regress to an almost infantile state, that they might find out that part or even most of their lives has been lived as if it were a lie, or that such discoveries would happen in a context where there is no guarantee of improvements (Ferenczi, 1933), and that the process itself might take unexpected turns during an unpredictable duration.

We’ve wondered if we’d be as jolted in our training, given our generally less naïve advancement. After all, we’d arrived at a point in our careers, thinking ourselves ready for a deepening experience. We had undergone several interviews when applying to our programs, explaining to numerous individuals why we wanted to become psychoanalysts. These interviews are the early rites of psychoanalytic training. Under the auspices of standard, we’d come to understand criteria for accepting candidates, like one’s “recognizing the existence of the unconscious”, or the need to demonstrate the “non-existence of too strong splits in personality”. We believe that the anxiety derived from such cloudy requirements can help an interviewer look at an interviewee as being capable (or not) of using the idea of the unconscious in a technical way, or simply as an intellectual idea.  We may not have been ideal candidates ourselves, but we might ask, what are ideal candidates for psychoanalysis? We might not be what institutes want, but are the institutes themselves good enough for us?

At some point we met our fellow candidates and felt varying degrees of envy and competition amid the genteel veneer of mutual respect. We had been accepted, but upon our path forward we would be vigilant about standards of instruction, or the openness of a program’s mini-culture to our influence, not just that of established pastimes. We would complain if instructors seemed to assume that we didn’t know much. We liked to think we had arrived at the Lyceum and had earned the right to be admired, even if we had braced ourselves for a humbling journey. At times, we’d think of ourselves as critics of psychoanalysis, not students. We may not have known how sausage is made, but we had our own ideas, and felt intoxicated by the initial encouragements, all those hearty welcomes and acknowledgements. Peers more senior to us, as well as volunteer mentors, made us feel at home, and reassured us whenever something unknown and strange occurred that the container of training was solid. We found our feet, but kept losing them afterwards, and soon thought this the new normal.

At these moments, further questions surfaced: Were we expecting an unconditional acceptance of the doubts and hesitations that we brought with us as candidates? Had we found a cozy place as we had on our analysts’ couches? One of us initiated his analysis five years before his training started. Is that a significant variable to look at? If a neurotic transference is established and the therapeutic alliance is firm, expecting to find a merely comfortable place is likely inappropriate. But that’s not what happens anyway. We’re not patients when we meet the senior analysts that interview us for training. We are would-be candidates, future members of the institutes that they have invested their time in and worked for. It may seem a hard rite of passage, this interview process, and concordantly, some candidates may be seeking families/communities at the institutes to which they apply. And so, as we experience disappointments, are we free to make them known, for it seems to us that there’s a deep interdiction when it comes to addressing senior analysts with our disappointments. These are the people who assess us, who will validate our ability to work with, and specifically treat people that need help, and that’s a very hard and serious task. Also, there’s an analogy here to a feeling that permeates parenthood: moments when parents have their children go through something that they feel they failed at or struggled to do at corresponding times in their lives.

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