On Becoming A Psychoanalyst

This paper was presented as a lecture in Sydney

I thought it might be appropriate to talk about becoming a psychoanalyst, for you have all joined our programme, which is meant to eventually qualify you as psychoanalysts. In due course you will probably all qualify as psychoanalysts, but whether some or all of you will ever become psychoanalysts is quite another matter. It is quite possible that some of you will not only qualify as psychoanalysts but also may become prominent members of the Australian Psychoanalytical Society and occupy important positions, without ever becoming psychoanalysts. Equally there maybe some of you are already well on the way to becoming psychoanalysts without having so much as commenced the formal training. So the point I am making is that becoming a psychoanalyst is something quite different from qualifying as one. You will for the next several years hear much about all the formal requirements that will enable you to qualify as psychoanalysts, but you may not hear too much about what becoming a psychoanalyst really means. So I thought it appropriate to talk a bit about something that you are not likely to hear very much about.

I am aware that many of you are just starting the training, while there are others that are well advanced in the training programme. Those of you that are just starting the training must be eager to get going with the training and those well advanced in the training, must be eager to finish it. Both groups might feel a bit impatient with a talk “On Becoming a Psychoanalyst”. But if I can say so, what I am going to try and talk about is central to our profession. It is as relevant to me as it is to you, as relevant to the most senior member of our society as it is to those that have just joined. Yet it is something that is hard to define, hard to get hold of and hence hard to talk about. So I will try and give you a rather imprecise example of what I am trying to say.

All of you are familiar with the kind of schooling that we have all gone through. We have probably been through quite different schools with different emphases and different ethos, yet there are many things that all these schools would have in common. They would all have taught us to read, write and do some mathematics. They would have all taught us some fairly basic things about the world we live in geographically, historically, politically and scientifically. They would have taught us how we can understand these different aspects of our world through the written word, and through pictorial and musical representations. I presume that this basic education is designed to better prepare us for the world that we will eventually inhabit as independent, responsible adults. Of course no one can doubt that it useful to learn all the many things that we learn at school, but whether they in any way prepare us to lead happy, productive lives is quite another matter. For instance it is probably quite possible to have no such formal education yet lead a happy, independent and productive existence. It is equally possible to go through the best schools and end up a miserable and unproductive member of society. It is in exactly the same way that it is no doubt useful to learn all about Freud and Klein. They constitute not only our history, but also our mental geography and through them we learn the language and symbols of our everyday psychoanalytical discourse. No psychoanalyst would be considered ‘educated’ without sufficient knowledge of their and their followers’ work. Whether all this formal education will better prepare you for the work that you will do for the rest of your lives, is quite another matter.

In psychoanalysis we spend a lot of time teaching you what other psychoanalysts have said. These words have tended to become a kind of holy writ and are treated as such. What we don’t seem to spend enough time teaching you are how to discover your words, your teaching, and your mind. Part of the reason why we don’t do so, is because we don’t know quite how to. Our insistence on your having a personal analysis no doubt goes a long way to in helping with the process of self discovery, but it probably needs more than a personal analysis to be able to discover and articulate ones own mind. It is an area that is central to our work, yet I believe we don’t give it sufficient attention. I do not know how to adequately address this problem, but I do believe it is a problem that needs to be stated. Once it has been stated, it is something that we should all try and find some way of addressing.

One way of trying to address this problem, albeit obliquely, is to talk about the qualities that assist one in this process of becoming a psychoanalyst. If you talk to different psychoanalysts they will all give you a different list of qualities that they regard as essential in the making of a psychoanalyst. I too have a list. It is a very short list and it is not at all original. It comes from a book I read many years ago called “Siddhartha” by Hermann Hess. Let me tell you a little bit about the book as I remember it, so that you will understand the nature of the qualities listed.

“Siddhartha” is the name central character of the book. As some of you might know the Buddha was a prince of the Sakyan clan and his name too was prince Siddhartha before he gained enlightened. After enlightenment he was regarded as a personification of awareness and hence was called Buddha. (The root of the word ‘Buddha’, ‘budh’ means to wake up in Sanskrit.) The story is cast at the time of the Buddha for he dies during the course of it. Like prince Siddhartha, the hero of Hermann Hess’s story too is young man of good family that leaves home to search out the truth for himself. It might be a symbolic description of Hess’s own search. This account of leaving home to search out the truth, is an ancient theme particularly in Indian fables, but please doesn’t think it is limited to the Indian subcontinent. There are many sons and daughters of good families that are sitting right here, that have come to search out the truth for themselves. Like Siddhartha they too will have many adventures. They will face many tribulations, uncertainties and difficulties. Like Siddhartha they will suffer many setbacks, and hopefully like Siddhartha, they will learn something from these set backs. In the course of his adventures, Siddhartha is inevitable and repeatedly thrown back upon his inner resources, as indeed you too will be. In the final analysis, what else is there to fall back upon? When thus forced back upon himself, or when he presents himself to a prospective employer, he says he has just three things to offer – he can fast, he can wait and he can think. This then is my list of qualities that I think are the prerequisites to becoming a psychoanalyst – the capacity to fast, the capacity to wait and the capacity to think. I will elaborate on what I think each of them means in our particular context.

The capacity to fast

By fasting I understand the capacity to suffer privation. The capacity to suffer privation too has many aspects. Perhaps the most important aspect is that one must know how to behave oneself. If one doesn’t know how to behave oneself then the rest of what one does as a psychoanalyst is meaningless nonsense. You can be as learned, clever, articulate and powerful as you like, but if you can’t behave yourself the chances of being able to function effectively as a psychoanalyst are minimal. Whatever else you might think of Freud and his ideas, one thing that comes across consistently is that he knew how to behave himself. If he didn’t, I don’t think he would have discovered psychoanalysis. Likewise any of you that doesn’t know how to behave yourselves will be as distant as from an understanding of psychoanalysis as you are ever likely to get. To behave oneself means being able to suffer privation in the conduct of ones work and life. It means not to put ones needs above that of the analysands, or to serve ones own interests at the cost of what is in the analysands best interests. Sometimes this might mean accepting a lower fee than one is entirely comfortable with or sometimes it might mean not berating the analysand when one is being provoked or invited to. Not to indulge oneself in ones own fanciful thoughts and to give priority to the analysand and what the analysand thinks and feels, inevitable means suffering means privation. Likewise to not understand what is happening in the analysis and feeling very stupid for long periods of time means suffering privation. This is something of what I understand by the capacity to fast.

The capacity to wait

Psychoanalysis takes a long time. This is because our understanding is small and our ignorance enormous. It takes a long time for patterns to emerge in the session or in the analysis. This may mean waiting for days, weeks, months or years. It is important to wait for the emergence of these patterns, for neither the analysand nor the analyst can know them, except through the process of waiting. Waiting allows patterns to emerge and waiting gives them coherence and meaning that might be of some use to the analysand. To have the capacity to wait means to have the capacity to appreciate the enormity of the task of psychoanalysis and to understand how limited our own capacities are. Yet recognition of our limitations is not enough, for along with it must be a faith or trust that something will emerge even though we don’t know what that something might be. The capacity to wait might also mean understanding that our own lives are brief and limited, yet the psychoanalytic process is endless. We need to be prepared to wait to know how to set the psychoanalytical process in motion and once it is in motion, we need to believe that it will continue hopefully beyond the term of our own natural lives. This is something of what I understand by the capacity to wait.

The capacity to think

The capacity to think is predicated on the capacity to fast and the capacity to wait. It is not possible to think unless one also has the capacity to fast and wait. At the same time it is very hard to think while one is suffering privation and one has to wait for what might seem an endless period of time. It means being able to think when thinking is the last thing one wants to do or when thinking seems the last thing one is capable of. The capacity to think also means to know what truth is and what lies are. It means to respect the fact that we are great manufacturers of lies, especially in promulgation of the ideas of our importance, our learning and our honesty. Respect for the truth means respecting that the truth is larger than not just the analysand, which is commonly believed, but much larger than the analyst, which is not usually believed. It means believing that the truth is always struggling to be heard and that this struggle is uncomfortable for both analysand and analyst. It means appreciating the fact that discovered truths are not trophies to line our shelves with, but that they are the debris of yesterday’s work to be taken out with yesterday’s garbage. This is something of what I understand by the capacity to think.

Having traveled this far with Siddhartha it might be worthwhile reflecting on where he reached after his various adventures for it may help you reflect on where you might reach after many years of arduous training. Siddhartha did not end up as a king or saint or scholar or other famous person. The culmination of his training and tribulations was to spend his last days as a humble boatman ferrying people across the river. That might be quite a good job description of what a psychoanalyst does for a living. There is nothing very glamorous about our profession, nothing very powerful or rich about it. All we ever do is help ferry people from one state of mind to another across turbid treacherous crosscurrents of fear, deception and illusion. We ferry people from shores where storms have gathered to safer shores, where there are open skies and wider pastures. We try to ferry people from sweaty nightmares to the first fresh breezes of a gentle dawn. And for all this we accept quite a generous fee. The fee of knowing all too well what it is like to be a passenger on an uncertain fragile little craft and the fee of being grateful to provide the same assistance that was once provided us.

Having stated and illustrated what might be the qualities of one who wishes to become a psychoanalyst, it might be worthwhile being a bit more specific about the actual work that a psychoanalyst does as this might be another signpost on the way to becoming a psychoanalyst.

The work of the psychoanalyst

I will start by stating the obvious. It will seem as if I am putting the cart before the horse, but actually it is putting the horse squarely in front of the cart. By this I mean that it is actually the analysand that determines what a psychoanalyst does, not the other way round. What this means is that if the analysand comes with symptoms then the role of the psychoanalyst is to relieve them, if s/he comes to allow ego to function where id was then that is what the psychoanalyst facilitates. From my perspective there is one and only one reason that motivates any analysand to seek out an analysis, though the stated reasons may be various and seeming quite unrelated. That single reason is pain. Since the analysand comes to the analyst because of pain, the role of the psychoanalyst in my book is naturally the relief of that pain. Hence in my opinion one doesn’t do psychoanalysis just for the sake of doing it, as some people interpret Bion as recommending. I think what Bion was saying was that if the impetus to be helpful is too strong it obtrudes and prevents one from really being of help in the special way that only a psychoanalyst could help. You may not see pain and its relief as being the central function of what a psychoanalyst does. That is perfectly acceptable, but then it is important that you consciously state what you think an analysand comes to a psychoanalyst for and what you think the function of a psychoanalyst is, because based on that all-else follows. For instance if you believe that the function of the psychoanalyst is to understand the mind through psychoanalysis, or use it to make a living or write books or become famous, then what follows will naturally be very different. So when I state that the function of a psychoanalyst is to relieve the pain of another human being, then it would follow that sometimes one might be of most help by not engaging in what one ordinarily does as a psychoanalyst. Since I am a psychoanalyst, I am happiest when I am able to conduct a psychoanalysis, but when I can’t conduct a psychoanalysis I try to do something else that might be helpful.

It might be useful here to summarize in just 4 sentences what I believe the work of psychoanalysis to be. First, it involves understanding the internal world of the analysand, including the ways in which the analyst constitutes a part of it. Secondly it means being able to understand the moment to moment unconscious dialogue between analysand and analyst as it appears in the transference in verbal and non-verbal speech and in the ways in which past history and contemporaneous events are related. Thirdly it means being able to speak from the position in the transference that the analyst occupies, in such a manner that the analysand can eventually understand the transferential nature of object relations. Finally, we hope to ameliorate deceptions, illusions and impasses to such an extent that the natural unfolding of the analysand’s personality is facilitated and growth can resume. From this fourfold description of psychoanalysis you might understand better that conventional psychoanalysis involves only the third section, interpreting from the position in the transference that the analyst finds herself thrust into. It might also help to illustrate the fact that much useful work can be done even if this third section is omitted but the other three sections remain in place.

Whatever one does, it will inevitably be influenced by ones whole attitude to the psychoanalytic enterprise. So for instance, if I say that my function as psychoanalyst is trying to be of some help to alleviate the pain that has been brought to me, then it follows that my practice principles will be guided by this attitude. My first practice principle is therefor the first practice principle of therapeutics which I learnt when we first did pharmacology. This first principle is very simple and very basic. It is ‘first do no harm’. In my book, whatever else you do, first do no harm. If you understand this then everything else follows. Every action, every interpretation and every intervention is guided by this basic principle – is it beneficial or harmful? I do not mean in an immediate sense. I mean in an overall sense. For instance it might not be very pleasant to say something hurtful to someone, but in the overall scheme to things, it might be something that one has to say to help that person. Likewise engaging in some kind of sexual activity might be immediately pleasant, but might be permanently damaging to the individual concerned.

Having stated these basic principles, which have a certain logical consistency, I must now state an assumption that I have, but for which I have little or no justification. It is an assumption, which you may totally disagree with and I would not be able to logically refute your disagreement. This basic assumption is that there is a basic tendency in the mind to grow, develop and heal itself. Like I said I cannot give any justification for this belief. It is something that has gradually forced itself upon me over the years and it is something that I have come increasingly to respect. The second part to this basic assumption is that although the mind has this inherent capacity, it is often prevented from growing, developing and healing itself. I believe it is the job of the psychoanalyst to identify these impediments and if possible to ameliorate them. So that if these obstructions can be lifted, then growth, development and healing will continue in ways that it would have, if the process had not been so obstructed. The implications of this basic assumption are considerable. First, and perhaps most importantly, from this perspective the psychoanalyst is not the primary person, or the moving force in any psychoanalysis. The psychoanalyst is merely a facilitator of what should have taken place naturally in the first place. Accordingly a successful psychoanalysis is determined more by the strength of this tendency in the analysands mind to heal than it is by the virtuosity of the psychoanalyst. Since this process of healing didn’t take place naturally, it should be the endeavour of the psychoanalyst to provide an interpretive framework so that it can take place in the analysis. The psychoanalyst sometimes facilitates this process of healing and sometimes tragically obstructs this process. I believe the difference between facilitation and obstruction lies not in the intentions of the psychoanalyst, because hopefully all psychoanalysts are well intentioned, but more in an accurate diagnosis of the problem. The more accurate one’s understanding is i.e. the more skilled that one is in sections one and two of the psychoanalytic process, the more one is likely to facilitate rather than obstruct. This doesn’t always mean that one can be of help. Sometimes one cant, but then one needs to understand whether this because of our failure to understand the nature of the problem or failure on our part to rectify it. It is never a failure of the analysand. Analysands come to us because they sense that the pain they are in is on account of them having failed in some way, so they cannot fail in what they have already failed. Subsequent failure is thus always our failure, even if it means a failure to intervene effectively in an impossible situation. A second consequence of believing that there is a basic tendency in the mind to grow, develop and heal itself is that it gives us faith to persist in what seem like impossible situations. Sometimes we persist because we cannot accept defeat, but I would like to think that we do so more often because of our faith in this natural process in the mind. It is this faith that underlies our capacity to fast, wait and think.

Since I have said that accurate diagnosis is what makes a crucial difference between success and failure in any psychoanalysis, it might be useful to say a little more about this. Psychoanalysis is at heart a clinical discipline. It is probably the last truly clinical discipline and in all likelihood will always remain so. We have seen that once upon a time physicians were totally dependent on their clinical skills for accurate diagnosis of the physical problems they were confronted with. They did not have recourse to the plethora of complex and detailed investigations that modern medicine provides today’s physicians with. Inspection, palpation, percussion and auscultation were virtually the only tools that physicians had to diagnose every medical condition. Physicians had to pay detailed and careful attention to the way the patient walked into the surgery, how they were dressed, how the soles of their shoes were worn and how they sat on the chair placed for them. They had to pay careful attention to the way the head was held, the way the eyes looked, the way the hair had been done or the way the chin was shaved. They carefully examined the conjunctiva, the nail beds, the shape of chest and abdomen, the respiration and movements of the chest. Various parts of the body were moved, percussed and listened to. All this was done to gather clues, and to gather as many clues as possible. The gathered clues then went through a mental grid of patterns from which emerged syndromes and which eventually resulted in a list of possible diagnoses. These possibilities had to be kept in mind as the patient was treated and the course of the illness charted. Sometime the passage of time saw the diagnosis change and with it the nature of the intervention.

Psychoanalysts today are in exactly the same position as our physician colleagues of yore. We are totally reliant on our clinical skills for we have no recourse to any kind of investigation that might be of any relevance to us. We pay careful attention to whether the analysand comes on time, not because of any moral position on punctuality, but because of the information it gives us about the person. Thus if the person is late we examine the reasons and patterns of it and if early the reasons and patterns for it. We examine the way the analysand comes in, puts down their coat, bag or keys and the way in which they sit or lie down. We watch their movements, the tone of their voices and the way in which they speak. We listen to what is said, how it is said and what the point of the communication is. We look for patterns that are recurrent in what is said or the absence of coherent patters. In addition to all these observations which are very similar to those undertaken in physical medicine, we undertake a number of observations which are peculiar to us. These are the observations we make about ourselves. When we are with the analysand we pay careful attention to our feelings of boredom, anger, irritation, sexual stimulation and frustration. We make note of the drift of our minds and the fantasies that pass through them. We observe how and when we end sessions with each analysand and the feelings and fantasies we are left with when they leave. Even when our analysands are not with us, we make note of our feelings, thoughts and dreams about them. We observe how we bill them, for how much and what our attitude is to their payment or non-payment. We do all these observations for what purpose? We do so only to gather clues. These clues we then instinctively collate into patterns and these patterns lead to a diagnosis of what we believe the impediments are to the development of the individual. We usually have a list of possibilities that we keep modifying and adjusting as our understanding of our analysand grows and develops. The more we are able to understand, the more effective we will be in our interventions. The psychoanalytical space is thus three-dimensional. The first dimension is the mind of the analysand, the second dimension is the mind of the analyst and the third is the dialogue and joint experience between both over a period of time.

The personal analysis

In our discussion of what the psychoanalyst does, something needs to be said of the central importance of the personal analysis. As you know this is the basic requirement of any psychoanalytic training anywhere in the world and it forms the most important part of the training programme. Again different people will give different reasons for this but for me the most important reason has to do with the mind of the psychoanalyst. In keeping with what I said about the aim of any psychoanalysis, the aim of the training analysis is the amelioration of pain so that growth, development and healing of the mind of the psychoanalyst to-be can resume. For the mind of the psychoanalyst like any other has been obstructed in various ways from developing in its own inherent potential. The mind of any individual is the most important part of them. So naturally the mind of the psychoanalyst is naturally of greatest importance to him or her. But that is not the only importance of the mind of the psychoanalyst, for the mind does all the work that a psychoanalyst does. In this there is no difference from the use of the mind by any other professional. What is different is that the mind of the psychoanalyst is used not only to understand the mind of another, but it simultaneously uses itself as an instrument of that understanding. To use the mind in this way is very difficult. The more developed the mind is the more does it have the capacity in it to step outside its own limited self-concerns and to understand the concerns of another. The clearer it is about itself and what constitutes itself, the clearer it will be about another and what constitutes another. The more it understands and is familiar with its own wishes, feelings and fantasies, the more will it understand the wishes, feelings and fantasies of another. The more it understands its own patterns of behaviour and accurately diagnoses its own impediments, the more easily will it understand the patterns of another’s mind and more accurately will it diagnose the impediments of another’s mind.

Becoming a psychoanalyst

The title of this presentation is quite deliberate. It is not for instance “How to become a psychoanalyst”. The title and my endeavour today is in the expression of an intent rather than the description of a person, act or function, though an expression of intent encompasses person, act and function. The persons encompassed are the analytic dyad. In a successful analysis, growth of both parties takes place. In an unsuccessful analysis, the development of both is impeded and possibly destroyed. There are many analyses that are incidental, where the analytic couple meets regularly and each benefits in his or her own way. One may reap the benefits of a regular fee, the other the benefits of a regular structure, but basically both go their own separate ways. Both participants should again share in the act of becoming, but that need not necessarily be the case. The act of a successful psychoanalysis is to allow both participants to become more and more truly themselves. The function of psychoanalysis is thus the facilitation of this process of becoming in both analyst and analysand.

This intention of becoming is dynamic, open ended and forever evolving. The more it evolves the clearer it becomes that the nature of psychoanalysis and indeed of life itself, is evolution. Or to put it the other way, stasis and stagnation are signposts along the path towards cessation and death. It is quite possible for a psychoanalyst or psychoanalysis to stop evolving. When nothing very much changes or happens then stasis and stagnation sets in and psychic death cannot be very far away. Physical life can of course continue for quite some time, which thanks to modern medicine sometimes allows life to continue when it has little or no meaning to the bearer of it or anyone else. Thus continuation beyond a point where no evolution is taking place, is really quite meaningless. If one persists beyond that point then the whole endeavour will have failed or at least it would, at that point, have come to an end. It might be useful to remember that such an end does not come with a final and glorious burst of trumpets. It is slinking in all the time in little ways. It slinks in when we feel knowledge to be a possession that can be accumulated to display our wealth or used to humble our opponents. It slinks in when we believe our understanding is superior, rather than different, to that of our predecessors or contemporaries. It slinks in when we feel we have conquered the mountain of psychoanalysis, for no mountain can ever be conquered. Mountains exist to fill us with wonder and awe and so that in climbing them we can discover something of our fragility, our transience, our arrogance and our courage. Death will thus slink in by a thousand cuts and if psychoanalytic life is to continue we must be aware of these forms of stagnation and death, though they usually present themselves to us in much more glamorous ways. Likewise we need to understand better the evolving and freeing nature of psychoanalysis and life. We need to understand how precious it is to be ourselves and truly accept the fact of our utter ordinariness. We need to exult in the growing capacity of the mind to think, imagine and live more harmoniously. We need to appreciate how fortunate we are to be in a position where can help in this wonderfully sensitive, thoughtful and considerate way. So now you might understand better why I conclude by wishing you a happy journey and praying that you remain forever in the process of becoming, but never actually become psychoanalysts!