Revising the Standards of Psychoanalytic Education

Britt-Marie Schiller

“The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled.” This aphorism, which derives from the Platonic philosopher Plutarch, captures the spirit of the revised Standards and Principles for Psychoanalytic Education that APsaA's Board of Directors approved on December 12, 2021. A democratic review process that encouraged participation and critical thinking on the part of all APsaA members created a dynamic document. The process involved two commentary periods and several meetings for raising questions, expressing doubt and disagreement, and suggesting language and content changes. Rather than a static container of rules handed down to a passive membership, the resulting document is an evolving set of standards arrived at in a collaborative spirit and ultimately passed by a unanimous vote.

These current standards are not only stronger as a result of being established through a democratic process, but also as a reflection of what someone in a Members Forum on standards described as “a change from the attachment to labels to an attachment to excellence.” This captures the shift from the hierarchy of an elite status of psychoanalysts to a focus on the functions of psychoanalytic education and the formation of analysts who are not simply followers of tradition, but also active and critical evaluators of that tradition. I want to draw attention to five ways in which the revised standards are stronger: democratic governance; shared responsibility and local option; the vital importance of the cultural and social surround; qualifications for distinct educational functions; and professional development as a fourth pillar to the formerly triadic model of psychoanalytic education.

Democratic governance

Plutarch's metaphor of the mind as a dynamic, living fire, reflects an active psychoanalytic organization that promotes democratic governance of its constituent institutes. Such a democratic commitment is manifest in the APsaA recommendation that major policy decisions about psychoanalytic education be decided by majority vote of an institute's analyst and candidate members. Psychoanalytic education is a responsibility to be shared by all constituents on all levels, from the democratically elected Board of Directors to individual faculty and candidates. This responsibility entails active participation and engagement in the mission of our psychoanalytic organization, since a fire that is not continually re-kindled will eventually go out.

A democratic review process that encouraged participation and critical thinking on the part of all APsaA members created a dynamic document.

Shared responsibility and local option

APsaA's democratic commitment includes the local option, the right of institutes to implement the principles of psychoanalytic education according to local cultural and practical needs, provided they are consistent with APsaA standards. We frequently hear, “What are other institutes doing?” This question has led the Department of Psychoanalytic Education (DPE) to initiate a program of psychoanalytic encounters between institutes. This nascent project takes its inspiration from a pilot program organized by the Psychoanalytic Education Committee (PEC) of the IPA to help institutes maintain and develop quality educational practices. DPE and PEC have begun collaborating on this new model for maintaining excellence in psychoanalytic education. The goal is to provide a forum for collegial exchange of educational ideas and practices in place of top-down assessment. Institutes will learn from each other, become familiar with one another's educational models and programs, and reflect on their own educational practices, as they prepare for meetings with their colleagues. This horizontal model of collegial accountability and collaborative exchanges between institutes resonates with a democratic spirit of psychoanalysis.

The vital importance of the cultural and social surround

These standards make explicit APsaA's commitment to actively counter all forms of racism and discrimination. They recognize the cultural and social surround as constitutive elements of mental life and therefore essential to psychoanalytic education. To maintain vitality and relevance to future generations of analysts, a contemporary psychoanalytic curriculum includes studies of privilege, various forms of entitlement, and the diversity of individual, cultural, and social identities. Studying and understanding group dynamics will enable psychoanalysts more effectively to address various expressions of discrimination in psychoanalytic education, in clinical work, and in community settings beyond the consultation room.

Qualifications for distinct educational functions

The revised standards distinguish the functions of analyzing, supervising, and teaching candidates with distinct qualifications to perform each function. The qualifications are objective and demonstrable, emphasizing education and experience, not only in conducting analytic work, but also in the skills of supervising and didactic teaching.

While it is of great importance that analysts of candidates be highly competent, the analyses of candidates are non-reporting; they are required, but not evaluated by progression committees as part of the criteria needed to fulfill graduation requirements. Because of the personal and private experience of an analysis, the revised standards state that a candidate's analysis best be kept as separate as possible from the other components of a psychoanalytic education.

It has been assumed tacitly in APsaA's prior educational standards, as well as in practice, that appointment as a training and supervising analyst qualifies one to teach didactic classes, supervise candidates, and make educational and governance decisions for institutes, despite one's being vetted only as competent training analyst, not as qualified for the other functions.

Professional development

DPE has, since its inception, advocated professional development as part of its educational philosophy based on the reasoning that it is both impossible and unwise to assume that analytic candidates can learn everything important about psychoanalysis during the formal training years. To counter such an unrealistic notion, the revised standards, following as baseline the IPA's Eitingon training model, has added a fourth pillar: professional development. Continuing education and involvement in institutional life are essential components of psychoanalytic development throughout an analyst's career. DPE has already begun providing such programs, for example, the 2019 seminar for recent graduates, that included presentations on development of writing skills, both clinical and scholarly, and leadership skills.

The process

In 2020 APsaA conducted a survey to assess the attitudes of APsaA members towards TA and SA functions. (Sincere thanks go to the Task Force and its Chair David Cooper for managing the hard work of gathering and assessing the data of the survey.) The response was a robust 51.4 percent. The results of the survey led the Institute Requirement and Review Committee (IRRC), under the leadership of Bill Glover and Bonnie Buchele, to initiate a revision of these functions in the Standards for Psychoanalytic Education. The standards were last revised in 2018, after the sunsetting of the Board on Professional Standards (BoPS).

The 2021 revision was guided by survey responses regarding the following.

(1) Analysis of candidates:

(2) Supervision of candidates:

As IRRC began to draft its recommendations on the training analyst and supervising analyst functions and appointments, the committee felt strongly that the issues should be considered in a broader context. The IRRC therefore recommended a more comprehensive revision of the Standards for Psychoanalytic Education, including the establishment of a philosophy of psychoanalytic education and the recognition of individual institutes’ right and responsibility to vary the educational standards to fit their culture. The Board approved preparation of a recommendation of a comprehensive revision of the standards on June 6, 2021. In order to obtain input from members early in the process, IRRC submitted the initial working draft for member comments.

The process stimulated great interest and engagement during the sixty-day period of commentary, including questions, suggestions for changes, critical comments, and several alternative proposals. A concern was voiced that local option means “anything goes” and allows individual institutes and centers to set their own standards, raising the question of the balance of authority between APsaA institutes and the APsaA Board. Articulated in the final document is a model of education that respects the integrity and competence of institutes to implement the principles of psychoanalytic education and the right to adapt procedures to their culture, environmental circumstances, and practical needs, provided these are consistent with APsaA standards.

The work of moving the revision forward took place on several fronts. A subgroup consisting of three members of IRRC and the head of DPE incorporated suggestions, organized the structure and flow of the document, deleted obsolete parts, and articulated suggested additions to the standards. IRRC met frequently to discuss each iteration. The Steering Committee of DPE met twice to discuss the proposed standards and suggest criteria for the educational functions of serving as analyst of candidates, as supervisor of candidates, and as didactic teacher of candidates.

On September 11, a Members Forum on standards convened to discuss and critique the evolving standards. Nearly eighty members participated. They were divided into smaller groups to encourage more interactive discussions. Each group selected a reporter who recorded the group's reaction to the overall document, with special attention to the major changes proposed.

The reports from the groups were thoughtful and richly textured. Many said they were pleasantly surprised, appreciating the positive tone of the revised standards and the substantive change from TA/ SA status to the functions of analyzing, supervising, and teaching candidates. The tension between organizational hierarchy and democracy was repeatedly brought up with some wishing for a stronger stance in defining democracy, recommending that all major policy decisions about psychoanalytic education be decided by majority vote of institute analyst and candidate members, while others cautioned that “someone has to run an institute,” noting a lack of member training in group processes. To ameliorate this tension, the revised standards recommend that contemporary psychoanalytic curricula integrate a theoretical understanding of group dynamics.

Given the long history of prejudices and of the discounting of the effects of social inequities within psychoanalysis, many noted the importance of the explicit inclusion of the role of culture and diversities in the standards. Members of APsaA's Holmes Commission on Racial Equality contributed generously to the articulation of an organizational commitment to recognize, study, and respect cultural and individual differences, as well as psychosocial determinants of identity and diversity. The standards now include a clear focus on race and racialization and a commitment to study privilege, marginalization, injustices, and various forms of entitlement.

Based on the wide spectrum of views expressed at the Members Forum, as well as opinions from local discussions, IRRC proposed another revised version of the standards. The DPE Section on Child Analysis contributed changes and additions to the Section on Education in Child and Adolescent Psychoanalysis. After more editing, this version was circulated to the membership in early October for another thirty-day comment period.

Wanting to leave no stone unturned, DPE offered one more meeting for directors, EC chairs, and child analytic chairs of institutes to discuss and question the revised standards. Almost sixty people attended. We were fortunate to have the president, Bill Glover, and the president-elect, Kerry Sulkowicz, attend and participate. The request for information on what other institutes are doing was raised again. A plea to delineate the terms “integrated” and “combined” regarding curriculum was underscored by many: “Integrated curriculum” to be used for child, adolescent, and adult curricula, and “combined curriculum” for joint psychotherapy, psychoanalysis, and academic curricula.

Many contributed to a discussion about using “consulting analyst” in place of “supervising analyst” on the grounds that “consulting” is more collegial and might avoid possible legal responsibility. IRRC subsequently obtained legal consultation and found that legal responsibility is not lessened if there is an evaluative component to the task. Others held that “supervising analyst” is more appropriate in educational standards, since a supervisor does perform an evaluative function, which “consulting analyst” does not convey. The standards now use “supervising analyst.”

Language matters. This was again manifest in a discussion about whether candidates should be described as having a “voice” or a “vote.” Many institutes do not allow candidates to vote on educational policies. Someone noted that “voice” allows for tokenism, whereas a “vote” is concrete. Adhering to its democratic commitment, APsaA recommends in the standards that major decisions about psychoanalytic education be decided by majority vote of an institute's analyst and candidate members.

IRRC met again to consider comments from this meeting as well as those from members during the comment period ending on November 8. After final tweaking, the revised Standards and Principles for Psychoanalytic Education document was presented to the Board of Directors for approval.


I feel certain I speak for many in expressing gratitude to and admiration for Bill Glover, our president, who worked tirelessly to open spaces for voices expressing different views, disagreements, and suggestions for alterations big and small, and who advocated for constant and continuous conversation and collaboration in generating these revised standards. His generous spirit is indeed reflected in the aphorism above, which he contributed to inspire and guide the almost year-long process of revising the Standards and Principles for Psychoanalytic Education. APSAA

Britt-Marie Schiller, Ph.D., is head of APsaA's Department of Psychoanalytic Education, faculty and supervising analyst at the Saint Louis Psychoanalytic Institute, and Professor Emerita of Philosophy at Webster University in St. Louis.