So, we ask senior analysts: do you really want to know all the shit we want to say to you as parents/instructors, objects? Maroda (2022) suggests there’s something of a “developmental tilt” phenomenon happening here: Are senior analysts truly responsive to the patient’s needs, or might developmental deficit theories allow a senior analyst to identify with the patient who lacked early nurturing, thereby bypassing that person’s threat as a voracious adult? We can be seen as eager children, but with strong limits defined, we are called upon to perform “mature tasks” as analysts – not something in the realm of the good-enough. What do supervisors want here? This creates a confusion (Ferenczi, 1933) that is only solved if you are seen doing the work the way you are told to do the work, which subjects a clinician to projective identification, because a supervisor can identify with a protoge and be satisfied. In one of our institutes, an ongoing joke circulates about an analyst who thought she was told ad verbatim to tell her patient that what he wanted was for her to “water his balls” like someone would water plants to make them grow. This was a message that a supervisor told the analyst in a humorous and contemplative moment, though what unfolded was an equally humorous incorporation of the supervisor figure rather than an internalization of his thoughts and analytic stance. The analyst actually spoke the supervisor’s exact formulation to the patient, who not surprisingly got up and left, outraged. Examples like this reflect an eagerness to please the adult/parent/supervisor as a vulnerable child would, perhaps even mimicking a supervisor’s expressions. Moreover, supervisors sometimes use their supervising hour to relax between their own clinical sessions, which may create moments where they speak more freely.
So, are principals at institutes going to allow newcomers to change things? Or should we, the newcomers, simply do as we are told? One of us had a one-time consultation with an experienced senior foreign analyst. After discussing eroticized aspects of transference-countertransference pertaining to the case, he commented that we’d have a hard time explaining what was going on in that case to another senior analyst without that person becoming suspicious of acting out behavior within the case’s treatment. Regarding supervision, the foreign analyst observed: “You will have to dance the dance”. Not exactly “fake it until you make it”, but maybe “fake it until they think you make it”.
How false might a professional self become in this kind of atmosphere? Stumbling, hesitant, overworked, we hold fast to illusions, as Winnicott (1951) suggested, of a mediated space between ourselves and our objects, between inner and outer worlds, of fantasy and play, that would serve us well in our training. The capacity for illusion formation enables creativity, makes us participate well, be flexible in our thinking, not fixed in ideas, serving a false position of delusion. We’ve kept hope. Things changed during training without us noticing. Now we might differentiate from former supervisory figures and alter how we separate from objects. We might observe a shift in how we relate to our patients, especially upon their leaving us. We’d feel excluded, dropped even as we eventually let them go, but with more equanimity, perhaps. We’re not the primary objects after all, Steiner (2008) reminds us.
Disillusionments. Disappointments. We can be rejected yet—in short, fail—or else we can be told “no” with respect to various requests or demands, or worse still, we can be told to wait, or to endure perennial tasks, extra consultations, more work and learning. There is always more, we’ve thought greedily and warily, and it will all seem like a privilege if there is a carrot of acceptance, plus something more still, at the end of a non-linear process. We understand that this doesn’t happen to everybody. The prosaic, tacit basics of inclusion and exclusion: surely, not everyone is enfolded into the analytic community and thereafter practices happily as psychoanalysts. There have always been runts in classes, outliers in groups, haven’t there? We think psychoanalysis doesn’t serve the delusion that it’s different in this respect, though Tucket et al (2008) report that at psychoanalytic federation conferences training analysts speak of their reluctance to reject members, thinking it tantamount to professional murder. Well, it seems we give and receive a taste of blood along the way: fielding reviews with comments that paint with broad strokes and linger in our neurotic minds; meanwhile, we push back with anonymous online feedback, suggestions for how seminars can be improved.
Some amongst us have been more ambitious, having extended their disappointments and their capacities for illusion to the realm of social unconscious. At the San Francisco Center for Psychoanalysis, a faction of students and faculty collaborated in 2021 on what they’d topically call the Anti-Racism Task Force (ARTF) Report. Seventeen pages deep, the report lamented what it termed the “realization that we are implicated in creating an organization that many would identify as racist and elitist. We feel very deeply that this is not who we are or what we are about”. Established in June 2020 amidst the furor surrounding the killing of American citizen George Floyd, the ARTF sought to review policies of the center’s psychoanalytic education division, its procedures and standards, to identify areas of exclusion, inequity, inaccessibility, and racism, and to make recommendations for changes necessary to become an equitable, accessible, inclusive, diverse and anti-racist psychoanalytic community. Among the report’s findings were criticisms of an overly subjective application procedure that rendered applicants susceptible to interviewer bias; that application forms lacked explicit statements regarding anti-racist policies, and that requirements for participation were too rigorous.
More specifically, the report challenged the use of ambiguous terms like “suitability” and “analytic process” in policy statements, plus the lack of clear and transparent guidelines for admissions as well as the tracking of candidate progress within the program; that step-by-step procedures for recognizing bias in the assessment of candidates were lacking, and that no procedures determined the efficacy of requirements that diverged from those of The American Psychoanalytic Association (ApsaA) or the International Psychoanalytic Association (IPA). Within weeks a faculty response was published, bristling in defense of program integrity, and providing data that disputed the ARTF’s premise that recent admissions trends reflected a lack of racial diversity. The call for more transparency, plus so-called “objective” standards further seemed to offend the sensibilities of some. Amid the distance of the contemporaneous Covid crisis, murmurings across Zoom calls bemoaned this would-be “reification” of training standards, plus a general atmosphere of “calling out”, which seems to live in binary opposition to a fear of being called out. Some kind of illusion was under threat. Suddenly, it seemed that an analytic stance of “not knowing”, of neutrality, might be re-cast as hapless denial, or worse, a form of ethical cowardice. In seminars, presenters speak of not knowing, evincing an ethic of humility and calm, speaking to the presumedly like-minded about the value of an analyst’s discomfort. Ultimately, we stir over an aggregate of critiques, challenges, some that insult, others less so, that cut back and forth across contexts. Today, we wonder how many will have noticed the altered flavor, the audacities of candidate complaints pushing back—the upped ante of illusion and disappointment.
Ferenczi, S. (1939/1988). Confusion of Tongues Between Adults and the Child. Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 24:196-206
Freud, S. (1913) On Beginning the Treatment. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud 12: 121-144
Gabbard, G.O., & Ogden, T.H. (2009) On Becoming a Psychoanalyst. International Journal of Psychoanalysis 90: 311-327
Junkers, G., Tuckett, D., & Zachrissson, A. (2008). To Be or Not to Be a Psychoanalyst. Psychoanalytic Inquiry 28: 288-308
Maroda, K. (2022). The Analyst’s Vulnerability. London and New York:Routledge.