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Education at APsaA: Da Capo, Rico

Luba Kessler,
Issues in Psychoanalytic Education Editor

Luba Kessler, M.D., is in private practice in Roslyn and Long Island City, New York. Formerly on the Institute for Psychoanalytic Education faculty, New York, she teaches and supervises in the residency program at Zucker Hillside Hospital, Northwell Health Systems.

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Luba Kessler

This is a moment rich in renewable potential—hence the title of this column: Da Capo, Rico (“From the Top, Richly”). I have been asked to serve as the editor of the new section on Issues in Psychoanalytic Education of The American Psychoanalyst (TAP). This is my introduction. The editorial hope is that many others, similarly enthusiastic about the promise of the new era of education within APsaA, will provide their contributions on the subject.

Is the Enthusiasm Justified?

My own response is: Yes, it very much is. After a full century of developing psychoanalytic thought and praxis we have reached a point of well-earned confidence in possibilities of reflection, integration and renewal.

The moment is also marked by the creation of the new Department of Psychoanalytic Education at APsaA to serve its educational mission. It represents a structural punctuation of the need and the readiness for creative re-envisioning of the multifaceted internal dimensions of psychoanalysis and of its interdisciplinary extensions.

Critical Overview: A Personal Perspective

This column is meant to start a conversation. I will take my own psychoanalytic training as a point of departure. It took place within the classical and ego psychological traditions, followed by postgraduate curiosity about and explorations of other dimensions of psychoanalytic and applied thought. This immersion provided a window into psychoanalytic controversies, stimulating my observations and critical inquiry into their nature and content. What follows are historical reflections made from that subjective vantage point. You are invited to make your own contributions and comments by contacting me at lkmd@optonline.net.

The second psychoanalytic half-century was marked by the challenge of confronting what within the Association was experienced as renegade psychoanalytic movements. From the start, the climate of psychoanalysis as a new science exploring unconscious forces was one of deep concern with the counterforces of resistance. Its early climate combined burgeoning inventiveness on one hand, with concerted vigilance on the other, lest the essential tenets of psychoanalysis be undermined by the ever threatening resistance to them. This meant that the developing psychoanalytic thought needed to hew closely to its founder’s maxims (though it did not inhibit Freud’s own theoretical creativity). Nevertheless, remarkably fertile imagination marked the work of other psychoanalytic pioneers as well. Some of them remained within the accepted fold, others created works which only now are earning a second look and renewed consideration.

The trauma of World War II’s displacements and discontinuities created new fissures in the movement as the émigré psychoanalysts were consolidating their ascendancy in America. They brought with them from Europe the cachet of the old world psychoanalytic authority. A strain of certainty and orthodoxy in the educational system was taking root with renewed fervor to oppose theoretical departures. Such theoretical variants were considered “deviant” by the training institutes of the Association, and only with time took on a somewhat less ominous moniker of being “alternate.”

Training of nonmedical psychoanalysts was another territorial battlefront. It took an eventual lawsuit and dwindling training institute enrollments for APsaA to become more inclusive. Many talented mental health professionals had been denied admittance. Resolute in their pursuit of psychoanalytic teachings, many flocked to the unofficial, “off the books,” underground seminars and supervision with established training psychoanalysts. While defending the purity of its standards against the suspect alternate theories and practices, American psychoanalysis was arguably depriving itself of enriching challenges and was closing its own mind. The fertile metapsychological and clinical inventiveness of early psychoanalytic pioneers often shrunk into formulaic and dogmatic iterations.

Where Are We Now?

The present realities are very different. We are emerging from an exclusionary climate and leaving behind its inhospitable conditions. APsaA has been opening up its membership through the recognition of substantive equivalency of psychoanalytic training of individuals at independent institutes. Inquiry, review and debates are superseding the traditions of sheer legislating of training standards and their regulation. We are poised to increase the vigor and rigor of psychoanalytic education by refinding, claiming and extending the essential richness of psychoanalysis.

The so-called alternate schools have been finding their way into the scientific programs, literature and training institute curricula of APsaA and APsaA affiliated institutes. The British object relations schools have been enjoying mushrooming popularity, generating much interest and finding much receptivity for their clinical concepts. French psychoanalytic tradition, which has kept alive le Sexuel, is bringing its frisson back into psychoanalysis at the Association. The school of self psychology has alerted us to the existence of the self as an organizing structure of the mind in its negotiations of lived adaptations. The decades old insights of attachment theory and infant research have been finding renewed opportunities for study, psychoanalytic theory building and enthusiastic clinical application.

Extensions and Applications

All of this opens up the channels for interconnectivity, enlivening and extending our scientific and practical discourse. Some of the outlying fields of psychoanalysis can expect to be recognized as important applications and instructive variations of psychoanalytic thought, and not its mere appendages.

Among them, child psychoanalysis has been struggling to find legitimacy within psychoanalysis, beyond providing the obligatory scaffolding for delivering the requisite developmental framework in training programs. It can step out of its segregated subspecialty, fully enjoining its developmental and clinical insights with the rest of psychoanalytic knowledge and expertise.

Psychotherapy, too, awaits serious examination of its conceptual standing within psychoanalysis. The old abhorrence of it as a diluted psychoanalytic product has given way to recognizing a considerable appetite for it in the mental health community, and therefore a source of professional sustenance to our training programs. Now many psychoanalytic institutes provide psychotherapy training programs. This work can be a source for inquiry into the relationship between psychoanalysis and psychotherapy, with the aim of defining with greater resolution our theoretical body of knowledge by conceptual accountability for each.

The incursion of modern technology into human subjectivity and relatedness is creating new virtual frontiers of expanding psychic realities. Personal boundaries and cultural coordinates are stretched, and ethical givens challenged. This poses new questions for psychoanalytic reflections and accommodations.

Interdisciplinary Inquiry and Exchanges

The field of so-called applied psychoanalysis has developed its own exciting and informative tradition of inquiry. Many older contributions seemed to be exuberantly thrilling discoveries and opportunities for affirmation of the omnipresence of psychoanalytic insights in the arts and social sciences. As such, their scientific scope was limited. However, the “applied” inquiries have created richly informed methodologies for observation of the links between observable phenomenological and formal qualities with the embedded psychic expressiveness. Such studies sharpen the psychoanalytic acumen. In turn, they give greater authority to applied psychoanalytic propositions. True interdisciplinary enrichment takes place.

The newly ascendant fields of embodied cognition, linguistics, philosophy of mind, cognitive and affective neurosciences offer their own contributions to and questions for psychoanalysis. There is a turn to an abandoned interest in the body as the psychic matrix. The new field of neuropsychoanalysis is making bold inroads into the territory of psychoanalytic propositions themselves, even resurrecting Freudian metapsychology, long presumed dead. The interdisciplinary exchange tests and articulates the essential tenets of psychoanalysis. Despite the existential anxiety generated by such forays, they are opportunities to define and affirm our psychoanalytic identity.

Further Educational Applications and Professional Extensions

As psychoanalysts working in our respective mental health professions, we are conduits for providing a measure of psychoanalytic education to the trainees, students and colleagues we encounter. Some of us have specific teaching responsibilities. Those positions call us to the task of clearly articulating the singular value, cogency and applicability of psychoanalytic propositions within the respective disciplines. The old days of bestowing psychoanalytic wisdom are gone. In order to matter in the departments of psychology, social work or psychiatry, we need to build bridges by translating psychoanalysis into the knowledge fields of those mental health disciplines.

Integration

Psychoanalytic insights and conceptualizations have led to creating unparalleled methodologies to explore the human psyche and its role in negotiating the biological imperatives of organic life along with those of the cultural surround. They are products of a century of reflections, clinical practice, research, theory building and categorizing. It is a rich mix, which can lead and has led to concerns of pluralistic lack of coherence, or else to efforts to try to stave it off by means of delimiting standardization.

Our present alternative to either choice is to find the common denominators for our existing concepts, categories and methodologies. In other words, our next educational challenge is the one of integration, with our institutes in the vanguard. In place of struggles between traditional psychoanalytic standards and growing curricular pluralism in training future analysts, the educational effort needs to aim at conceptual reconciliation of the enduring traditions with novel critical inquiry. One hundred years from Freud’s ingenious theoretical inventiveness, the amassed clinical, theoretical, applied and research data are ripe for the rigorous work of integration.

Integration is the exciting educational project for the present psychoanalytic century.

Our Professional Community

We are a professional organization of members who are deeply dedicated to psychoanalytic thought and practice. This abiding dedication finds its most animated spirit in training and educating the next generations of psychoanalysts. The passionate organizational struggles were never over “upholding standards” of education, but rather about how to deliver them best.

This is a new day to affirm what psychoanalysis is and what it can do. We need to be boldly engaged in our internal and interdisciplinary conversations as the bedrock of ongoing professional education and development. If you are interested in contributing a column, please contact me at lkmd@optonline.net.

So, yes, once again: From the top, richly.