Monday, July 6, 2009

Should Psychoanalysis be Taught?

In The New Yorker last month (June 8 & 15, 2009), Louis Menand, a professor of English at Harvard, in A Critic At Large, asked the question “Should creative writing be taught?” He quoted The University of Iowa Writers Workshop website which explained that
“…writing cannot be taught but writers can be encouraged.” This, naturally, got me to thinking about psychoanalytic education. Can one teach others how to be an analyst? or do we only encourage gifted clinicians to broaden their skills, by, for example, encouraging them to trust themselves, to include themselves, to look beyond themselves?

Because, among other things, an analytic attitude is both a way of thinking and a way of being in relationship, I have often wondered how instructors convey how to be an analyst. Do the therapists who cross the training door thresholds need only to learn theories and techniques, or do we as instructors need to model a way of being which also conveys not only what we do in the consulting room, but how we are? Having had the pleasure of participating as an instructor in courses, workshops, and seminars with mental health professionals interested in psychoanalytic thought, I am always in a quandary about how much right brain/ implicit learning to balance with how much left brain/didactic and explicit information to convey.

In observing colleagues I have sometimes not understood the answers in their models of instruction. [I have, for example, seen some instructors behave as classical analysts (anonymous, abstinent), saying little, encouraging little, as the candidates or attendees ‘free associate’ to the assigned reading material. Some have utilized bubba meisahs, regaling students with their own experiences. Some tolerate not only no other opinion, but no space is created in which others might speak. On occasion, if more than two instructors teach, I have seen them argue with one another about their ideas, sometimes getting uncomfortably personal, and seemingly oblivious to inviting student participation. None are behaviors that instructors may have explicitly wished to encourage in the consulting room.]

I try to imagine how varying theories might influence modeling how to be. As an instructor, can I encourage and co-create curiosity, enthusiasm, respect, and a space for mutuality, all ways of being in the consulting room? And how does one do this? When I think of my professional life I think of the many changes in analytic attitude which have evolved in my work. And I have great regret for analysands in my early training who I deprived of mutual recognition and relationship; where I took the stance of being the one who knows; and with whom I took pains to hide my love for them, stingy in my abstinence. In recent years, a number of my patients have found love for the first time. I like to imagine I had some small part in this, that is, having found my patients loveable, they reconfigured their convictions about their unlovability, and voila.

But how are we to reconfigure ourselves as instructors so that trainees reconfigure any old ideas about passively taking in what is spouted or printed? How do institutes allow for such alternative understandings in the classroom as to encourage therapists to allow for them in the consulting room? How do we model perspectival realism?

Ironically, here, in the psychoanalytic outpost of west central Florida, there are three or four psychoanalytic training institutions, but only a handful more of analysts. Here we have a few members of the American Psychoanalytic Association, and a few more who are members of the International Psychoanalytic Association, and a bit more who have had various training experiences and also go by the name ‘psychoanalyst.’ These training programs exist, not because of an interest in, nor a demand for, more training from local clinicians, though we all hope to cultivate the interest and demand (Build it and they will come), but because analysts in this area have found it exceedingly difficult to hold the tension between differences: differences of personalities, styles, power, and ideologies. I often wonder what implicit communication this sad fact models for potential trainees.

It is very hard to think independently in an institute and stay connected. For women in our local analytic community this may be even more difficult. One female colleague poignantly asked at a national workshop how one can hold on to one self while affiliating with an institute. Some find the only alternative is to align oneself with a powerful man of the hour. Another female colleague asked if, in Tampa with its tendency to empower machismo in male analytic leadership, perhaps the local analytic community cannot bear to brook ‘uppity’ women. She remained herself and was shunned by some, despite gracefully using her different voice.

In private practice, we strive to co-construct bridges between differences with clients/ patients, and they have some motivation to be in relationship with us. Where groups differ dramatically, it takes more than analytic being to be a skillful engineer.

1 comment:

PublicWoman said...

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