A Modest Proposal for Resolving our Conflicts about Psychoanalytic Training


Last year’s vote by the IPA Board allowing greater flexibility in the frequency of sessions in training analyses has unleashed heated debates. These have highlighted how different psychoanalytic views have become divisive political topics, to the point that some societies have threatened to leave the IPA as a result of the Board vote. I feel confident that such threats will not come to pass but rather reflect underlying emotions – I suspect some combination of anger and fear – that need to be understood and dealt with as the IPA faces the necessity of change.

What makes people so fanatic and frantic about defending their particular brand of psychoanalysis?

Analysts have a passionate attachment to their theoretical models and their traditional training methods. However, globally and within the IPA there are numerous theoretical orientations and a variety of training models. Even though these may be very different from one another, in the end they are all called psychoanalysis.

This pluralism of theories and standards makes it difficult to agree on one standard mode to teach psychoanalytic practice and theory. The link between theoretical affiliation and models of training standards is not clear-cut.

However, we know our global psychoanalytic community includes drive theory analysts, relational analysts, object relation analysts and several post-modern approaches to psychoanalysis. Out of this profusion of theoretical viewpoints can one find a common denominator?

Whether the question is differences in theory or differences in training model preferences, debating opposing views on their respective merits seems to be an impossible challenge. The warring parties defend their point of view with sectarian fervor and discussions often end up with one side denigrating the other and claiming that they are not practicing real psychoanalysis.

Ann Marie Sandler, who recently passed away and is much missed, commented at the 1986 Clark Conference on Psychoanalytic Training for Psychologists on her surprise at the rigidity of her own views:

“I found myself wanting to deride those methods which were different from those I was accustomed to, and it took some time to overcome my culture shock and to accept, at an emotional level, the reality that there were outstanding analysts who have followed a different training route.”

Regardless of the training model we are attached to, our responsibility as analysts is to help candidates become competent analysts.

In North America, all societies but one (Quebec French Society) have always followed the Eitingon model. In 2007, the IPA officially accepted the French and Uruguayan models. These two models differ but both have always had analysis at 3x a week. Both of these models have produced some of our most gifted clinicians and theoreticians– André Green, Jean LaPlanche and Didier Anzieu are three well-known examples.

This raises an interesting question. Namely, besides frequency of sessions, what are the other aspects of psychoanalytic training that produce competent or even exemplary psychoanalysts?

I want to start with a question: What is the core nature of the psychoanalytic training experience that promotes a psychoanalytic mindset and identity?

Does it depend primarily on frequency or are there other factors involved? How does an analyst acquire this mode of thinking that is so unique? Psychoanalytic work is never a fixed skill; it is constantly evolving in the analyst’s mind.

Addressing the issue of psychoanalytic identity, Daniel Widlocher (President of the IPA from 2001-2005) stated in 1983: “Our identity as analysts depends on the discovery– which each person must discover on his own–of the psychoanalytic experience and the unique mode of mental functioning that it implies.”

Widlocher went on to say that psychoanalytic training, regardless of the model embraced, hopes to promote a “specific mode of mental functioning that does not come naturally to us”.

The main aim of a personal analysis during training is not only to prevent excessive countertransference reactions and to facilitate insight but also to help the candidate navigate without fear a totally different mode of thinking in which primary and secondary processes are combined with increasing self-awareness and the freedom to respond affectively.

In discussions about training outcomes, fostering the ability to set a psychoanalytic process in motion is often emphasized, as it should be. Of course, nobody has come up with an agreed upon definition of what constitutes a psychoanalytic process. Yet, most analysts, when they listen to case presentations, can intuitively feel or understand whether a psychoanalytic process is taking place. This situation brings to mind a quote from the Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart who famously said he could not define what exactly is meant by the phrase ‘hard-core pornography, “But I know it when I see it”

I feel this is at the root of an eternal dilemma in psychoanalytic education. We expect candidates to be able to do something that we ourselves have trouble defining.

The current passionate debates about training standards make me think that as we search for solutions and agreement, we need to navigate between the Scylla and Charybdis of psychoanalytic training. One danger to avoid is that “anything goes.” The other danger, equally capable of wrecking our ship, is perfectionism combined with over- idealization and a rigid, critical, even sometimes persecutory atmosphere that promotes/demands submission on the part of the candidate.

I want to plea for open minds as we continue to try to experiment and innovate to find the best way to help candidates achieve analytic competence. Anxiety about change and eagerness to innovate can both lead to defensive posturing.

Here’s my “modest proposal,” with apologies to Jonathan Swift. No need to eat our young. I suggest that in future discussions, significant time be given for each opposing position to be argued, but with an important difference. Each case should be argued in depth by someone who holds an opposing point of view on the issue. Let’s have someone deeply committed to 4-5 per week frequency (or TA vetting) argue the case for flexibility to reduce frequency and a personal analyst. And let’s have someone who sees no problem with a frequency of three times a week and distrusts the traditional TA system present a strong argument for those positions.


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