By Seth Warren, Ph.D.
While many have decried the diminishing importance of psychoanalysis in the face of changing cultural values, the bureaucratization of psychotherapy, decreased insurance reimbursements for psychotherapists, and so on, it is also important to recognize other, more positive developments in our field. The decline of more clearly delineated schools of psychoanalytic thought during the past twenty years or so has led to increasingly diverse theories and practices among psychoanalysts. New connections with other disciplines have continued to emerge and open up, and new possibilities have arisen as different and distinct theoretical traditions have encountered one another in dialogues that rarely occurred thirty years ago. In many ways, psychoanalysis as an intellectual tradition is flourishing.
These new, ongoing “conversations” taking place among more traditionally Freudian approaches, object relations theories, interpersonal theories, self psychology and relational psychoanalysis – to name some of the major traditions – have had the effect of opening up psychoanalysis and broadening its scope and appeal. But there are also other, complicating effects of this broadening of psychoanalytic thought and practice, particularly from the point of view of a training institution. Courses must be selected, curriculum developed, and it is a fact of life that one can’t do everything. There are always compromises!
Training in psychoanalytic institutes traditionally involved great depth in a narrower range of theories and clinical practices, whether they were “classical” Freudian, Jungian, Kleinian, or Interpersonal institutes. There tended to be much higher levels of agreement about theories and practices among the faculty of such institutes, and ideas could be developed in great detail focused within a narrower range of questions and concerns. Individual candidates and the training faculty could develop great expertise in a circumscribed domain of inquiry. There is no doubt that spending 4 or 6 years closely studying Freud within a “classical” theoretical tradition could be extremely productive. But, such institutes had to pay a price for their specialization. They remained insulated from the influence of other developing schools of thought, both within and outside of psychoanalysis. Splitting of institutes has been common throughout the history of psychoanalysis as a way of resolving tensions that have arisen along theoretical or practical clinical lines. Freud himself starting the practice of “excommunicating” those whose ideas strayed too far from the psychoanalytic “mainstream,” defined by him and his followers. This of course led to the creation of new schools of psychoanalysis, each productive and generative of new ideas and practices (though often enough provoking the question, “yes, it’s all very good, but is it psychoanalysis?”).
This proliferation of schools was in its way very productive. Perhaps each of these traditions was better able to develop and evolve free from the strain of resolving differences. It is possible, now, to appreciate the development of such distinctive and productive traditions during the first 70 or 80 years of psychoanalytic work. But there was clearly a downside too. These splits and separations also meant the ending of dialogue between creative and thoughtful psychoanalysts, as each school developed its own journals, training programs, and institutes. Such splitting increasingly leads to the practice of “preaching to the choir.” The danger of a kind of intellectual complacency arises in such circumstances, with institutions insulated from the effects of alternative and competing ideas.
It seems to me that a new trend can be identified as taking place during the past twenty or so years, one that reflects a tendency toward increasing integration, assimilation of different ideas, blending and mixing psychoanalytic thought, and opening up individual practitioners to a historically new diversity within psychoanalysis. For example, one could argue that Relational Psychoanalysis is not really so much a school of thought as a result of one kind of integration of several other historical schools of thought. A comparative psychoanalytic pedagogical approach is now possible. Candidates can be exposed to different theoretical traditions, and be given the opportunity to develop their own personal “integrations” of theory and practice.
This too has its downsides. Is there just a “menu” of offerings from which candidates can choose? Should there be any set sequence of classes? How much of a curriculum should be considered a required “core?” On what basis do we make our theoretical choices? And since we all live within the limits of time and space, there is always the danger of “watering down” developed traditions as training becomes theoretically broader but then necessarily less focused. These are the challenges of any contemporary psychoanalytic institute. Too much attachment to tradition can lead to stagnation and intellectual isolation, but abandoning traditions in the process of adaptation can lead to intellectual diffusion and the loss of important parts of our psychoanalytic heritage.
I hope it is clear to all our members, candidates and faculty, that that CPPNJ is not abandoning any particular theoretical approach, but instead, is in the very desirable position of having a broad and diverse faculty reflecting a wide range of psychoanalytic ideas. Our members have diverse training backgrounds and origins, both in terms of their graduate training experiences, clinical experience and post-graduate psychoanalytic training. A very large number of the major psychoanalytic training institutes in the greater New York City area are represented on our faculty.
I am personally proud of the diversity reflected in our membership, and believe that our Training and Curriculum Committees and faculty have done a wonderful job of maintaining continuity with traditional psychoanalytic schools of thought, while at the same time creating a curriculum that adequately reflects the full diversity of the larger psychoanalytic landscape – this accomplished while also continuing to address the practical needs of contemporary psychoanalytic trainees. And, like psychoanalysis itself, our training program is a work in progress, one that depends on the full participation of all.
Psychoanalysis is at its heart a democratic enterprise, one that recognizes the importance of free and unconstrained dialogue, acknowledges the Other that is inside as well as outside, seeks ways to facilitate mutual recognition through empathy and reflection, and supports negotiation. As psychoanalysts we often have to struggle with binary oppositions, searching for as-yet unseen alternatives and new possibilities.
And while democracy is by no means a perfect system, I think it is consistent with psychoanalytic values that we, as a collective, value the contribution of each part of the whole in the context of open and free discourse and discussion, and trust that such open dialogue and full participation will contribute greatly to the best possible educational institution. In our difficult times it will be essential that we continue to celebrate diverse psychoanalytic viewpoints, recognizing the value and strength that derives from our diversity.