Highlighting Our Faculty: Rose Oosting, Ph.D
I became a psychoanalyst more or less by accident. Looking back, I can see each step as part of a coherent trajectory, but I really didnít know I would end up here when I started. At first, I thought Iíd be an English teacher, and went to college thinking that. I got a bachelorís and then a masterís degree in English, and then discovered to my dismay that though I loved to read stories and find out things about how people lived I just plain didnít like teaching English.
After one year of teaching high school English, I changed direction and became a child abuse caseworker for the state of Michigan, making determinations about whether children were being abused or not, and if they should be removed from the household. I saw listless children, some bruised and some not, and I saw children who had been to the emergency room too many times. For the first time in my life, I went to homes where there was literally nothing in the cupboard or refrigerator, which starkly illustrated for me the limits of choice with which many people grow up and live. Eventually, I became the director of a halfway house for delinquent girls, where I encountered in the most profound way the experience of hopelessness. This was the 1970ís, and what we might then have considered very serious cases would barely register on the seismic scale of social concerns now. But these girls had left home, or been thrown out, and at 16 or 17 were on their own, frightened and mistrustful, and resistant to efforts to shape their lives in a different direction. It was my job to try to figure out how to help them do that, and it was in this job that I developed a lifelong interest in helping people negotiate a different future than the one that seemed destined by current circumstances. Reading would remain my lifelong hobby, but working with people was my choice.
During those years, I married, and my husband and I decided to move to Rochester, NY for graduate school, where I obtained a doctorate in developmental psychology. This didnít have a clinical component, but I learned a lot about cognitive and psychic development which ultimately influenced my understanding of human growth and change. I also had two children (and now grandchildren) who have taught me a great deal that I had forgotten about what it is like to be a child. Upon graduation, I knew that I wanted to be a therapist, and also that I did not have the proper training for it. So, as we had decided to move to New York, I entered into the Postgraduate Center training program, which at that time was primarily Freudian in orientation, with some Object Relations as well. About midway through that program, which I had entered to get more training as a therapist, I realized that I was becoming a psychoanalyst.
Being a psychoanalyst is an identity as much as it is a skill, and so I spent some time thinking about whether I wanted that identity, and what it would mean. In my thinking, being a therapist meant a direct relationship between the patient and myself, one in which my efforts would be directed towards change and healing. The patient would come to therapy with some goals for change, either explicit or unarticulated, and I would direct my efforts towards those goals. When I first studied the role of the analyst, from a Freudian point of view, this effort towards healing and change was viewed as secondary, almost undermining of treatment if it took over as the motivating force. The analystís job was to make patients aware of their unconscious, their transference, and their resistance; other goals were viewed as objectionable countertransference. The reality of the patientís lived experience was discounted and the importance of unconscious fantasy was privileged as the focus of treatment. Certain fantasies were assumed to be universal, e.g. the incest fantasy, and I can remember discussions in which it was agreed that it did not much matter in terms of the analysis whether sexual abuse was real or fantasied! That was then, and this is now: no analyst really thinks that way any longer, and I no longer see this distinction between therapy and analysis, as analysis has broadened its perspective.
For some time, I was not sure if I wanted to have that identity, or if I just wanted to think of myself as a therapist. I felt that life is short, pain is all too real, and taking years to mull things over and explore in an undirected way was just short of unethical. During that time, I met analysts who became important to my thinking: Linda Atkins, Martin Bergmann, Robert Berk, Nina Fieldsteel, and Stephen Mitchell. These analysts, as teachers and supervisors, helped me develop my thinking about the centrality of the relationship to therapeutic change, and the ways in which analytic concepts such as transference, countertransference, projection, and resistance could be used to deepen understanding of the dilemma faced by the patient: how to change while staying safe. More recently, studies in trauma and dissociation have helped me to understand better the conflict patients face in confronting their deepest relationship fears while trying to integrate and become whole in the safety of my consulting room. From EMDR and CBT I learned how mutative focused work on cognition can be. And even more recently, work in the areas of attachment and neurobiology have offered more perspectives on psychic growth in the context of therapy.
And so I have come to the conclusion that psychoanalysis offers the most flexible and profound opportunity for therapeutic change among psychotherapies, especially in its ability to integrate a wide range of therapeutic techniques into altering the internal psychic world. It is not the therapy of choice for every patient, and the analyst should always take some time to think about what the treatment of choice is for each patient. This is not the venue to discuss for whom psychoanalysis is the treatment of choice, but I can say that for those patients who aspire to the deepest and most permanent change, psychoanalysis is that treatment, and I am glad that I became a psychoanalyst.
I joined IPPNJ and was a founding member of CCAPS in the early 1990ís, and since then have served as faculty, supervisor, and training analyst for both institutes, as well as doing publications, advertising and publicity for CCAPS and now CPPNJ. When it became clear that it would serve the analytic community best if the institutes were to merge, I supported that and became active in efforts to find ways to develop a training institute which would be better than either of the parent organizations in the sense of meeting the training needs of contemporary therapists. I think that through the efforts of many, CPPNJ is that institute. At the time of CPPNJís formation, it was decided that there should be a couples training institute as well, and Daniel Goldberg, Tom Johnson and I worked together to conceptualize and develop what that institute would offer in terms of a program specifically oriented to couples therapy. We conceptualized an approach that would draw from both the systems and the psychoanalytic streams, and are calling it systemic-psychodynamic couples therapy training. Both CPPNJ and NJCTTP are thriving, and I am proud to be a part of that.
I have a long-time sub-specialty in working with creative artists of all kinds, related to my own long-term interests in writing, music, and photography. As well, I developed an interest in the impact of trauma on people as part of my experience in child abuse casework, and have ever since been impressed by the ubiquity of trauma of various levels in human life. I continue to treat patients from adolescence through the later years, and to do a lot of couples therapy, as well as teaching, supervision, and training analysis.
One of the most enjoyable things about being an analyst is that it offers endless opportunities to think about the human condition, and what can be done to make life better in the context of human limitations. What Iím thinking about now has to do with what keeps people from changing when they consciously desire to. It is a universal experience, I think, for people to talk about changing and not do so; what else are New Yearsí resolutions for? We all have these twin experiences: ďI said I wasnít going to do that (smoke, drink, procrastinate, go out with that guy), and I did,Ē and/or, ďI said I would do that (exercise more, quit smoking, study more, procrastinate less, spend more time with the kids) and I didnít.Ē It seems so easy to hypothesize that all a person has to do is bend a greater effort of will towards the problem, but it doesnít work out that way. So, why? Is it different for each person, or is there something more universal in being human? Or is there some Darwinian evolutionary process here that is too murky to divine? And then some people seem to be able to take hold of themselves and somehow change. How do the analyst and the patient interact to enable that change? Itís all a mystery to me, but one which Iím glad to have tools that being a psychoanalyst gives me to think about.