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Kavanaugh - The Michigan Society for Psychoanalytic Psychology (MSPP) and the Question of Issuing a "Certificate in Psychoanalysis"

The Michigan Society for Psychoanalytic Psychology (MSPP)
and the Question of Issuing a "Certificate in Psychoanalysis" ©

by Patrick B. Kavanaugh, Ph.D.
Copyright, 1987


During the mid to late 1980's, the Michigan Society for Psychoanalytic Psychology was considering the question of issuing a Certificate in Psychoanalysis to those who successfully comnpleted a formal course of study through its Center for Psychoanalytic Studies.  At a forum to consider this question, different members of the society presented position statements For and Against the issuance of such a certificate.  This position statement spoke Against issuing a certificate in psychoanalysis and is organized around three basic questions:  What is it that MSPP could reasonably certify?, How does one go about certifying?, and What would a Certificate in Psychoanalysis represent?  Position advanced:  certification is inextricably linked to the prevailing ideologies of the analytic culture and to move in directions of certification (and eventually licensure) is to follow a path clearly marked by the history of other professions, e.g., an increased and defining emphasis on standards, rules and regulations; certification is inherently antithetical to psychoanalysis.      

Position Statement: The basic position that I would advance this morning is as follows: The MSPP should continue in its present direction as an interest group, serving as an organization that furthers the opportunity for those interested in the study of psychoanalysis as a body of knowledge, as a method of treatment, and mostly as a way of thinking about people and life. The MSPP should continue to provide this opportunity for the membership through the sponsoring of courses, seminars, and other educational opportunities.

If there are individuals who are, indeed, interested in being certified in psychoanalysis--or, eventually to be licensed in psychoanalysis-- then I would strongly recommend that the credentialing, certifying, and licensing be the responsibility and function of groups other than the MSPP.

Elaboration of Position: When I first entered the profession of psychology, I rather unquestioningly and unthinkingly accepted the "fact" of certification and/or licensure as a natural, logical, and defining professional standard to be met in the course of one's professional development. Meeting this standard, of course, was necessary for the practice of psychology and psychoanalysis. This position of being adverse to the MSPP participating in the certification and/or eventual licensing procedures of those to be designated as a "Psychoanalyst" is certainly not one that I started out with. Rather, this position is one to which I have been gradually converted and that I have adopted. This change in my position has been the consequence of certain observations and experiences I have had from my years of involvement in state psychological associations and with other professional societies and organizations; having been and continuing to be an ardent student of various institutional systems and bureaucratic processes and their defining and shaping impact upon a profession through certification and licensing policies and procedures; and, lastly, this change in position regarding certification and licensure (credentialing) has been based upon those experiences derived from my own education and development in the practice of psychoanalysis and through my participation in the psychoanalytic education and development of others through supervision, consultation, study groups, classes, and seminars in academic settings and in pre- and post doctoral training programs. I would like to present some thoughts by way of elaboration as to why I strongly advance the position that MSPP continue in its present direction as an interest group and does not become involved in issuing a "Certificate in Psychoanalysis." Hopefully, the following thoughts might contribute to the discussion to follow later this morning.

First and foremost amongst the concerns that have led to this position of "Not Certifying" is my understanding of psychoanalysis itself. Most would agree that psychoanalysis is, indeed, a body of knowledge as well as a method of treatment. I would advance, however, that psychoanalysis is, most importantly and fundamentally, a "way of thinking"; psychoanalysis is a state of mind and of being. Psychoanalysis is a way of thinking that involves a deep and relentless curiosity, interest, and willingness to inquire, question, and wonder about the human condition and human existence itself. It is a little bit science and mostly art; psychoanalysis is an ongoing process wherein which one's way of thinking serves to uniquely and creatively organize one's observations and impressions. It is from one's way of thinking that methodology, itself, derives.

In my mind, there are several basic questions that have to be asked this morning as we consider the question of the MSPP issuing a "Certificate in Psychoanalysis". If, indeed, we choose to move as an organization in this direction of certification, then the most basic questions to be posed and addressed are: "What is it that the MSPP could rationally and reasonably certify ?". "How does one go about certifying?", and "What would the 'Certificate in Psychoanalysis' represent?"

As to the first and second questions, "What is it that the MSPP could rationally and reasonably certify?" and "How does one go about certifying?": It seems to me that the MSPP could reasonably certify that an individual has a mastery of or has a demonstrated acquisition of a core body of psychoanalytic knowledge as would be reflected through written or oral examination; or, that the individual has satisfactorily completed a certain prescribed sequence of academic instructional courses offered under the auspices of the MSPP; or, that an individual has completed "X" number of hours of personal/training analysis at certain frequencies per week. The MSPP could reasonably and rationally certify that one has completed a traditional psychoanalytic educational program as measured by fulfilling certain quantifiable and objective standards. However, the acquisition of knowledge and/or submitting to written and oral examinations and/or being in one's own analysis may or may not have anything to do with psychoanalysis and its practice. I neither think nor believe that the essence of psychoanalysis, "A Way of Thinking", can be learned or certified by any organization, much less the MSPP. Further, to attempt to certify that one's way of thinking is "right" or "correct" is --to my way of thinking-- as antithetical to psychoanalysis as is to certify that one's way of thinking is "wrong" or "incorrect".

As to the third question: "What would the 'Certificate in Psychoanalysis' represent?" Psychoanalysis as "a way of thinking" speaks to a quite unquantifiable and undefinable definition of psychoanalysis. For myself, I am most comfortable with the idea that psychoanalysis as a "way of thinking" is like "obscenity" in that "I can't define it but I certainly know it when I see it and when I hear it". I believe it to be very important to recognize and to appreciate, however, that what I hear and see as being "psychoanalysis" might be quite different from what you hear and see. "Psychoanalysis" like "obscenity" is in the eye of the beholder. It would be quite troubling to me --- indeed, quite disconcerting---if the MSPP were to proceed to certify that which cannot be defined, much less, to certify that one is competent at practicing "it".

I would advance and maintain that a "Certificate in Psychoanalysis" could represent no more than the acquisition of and/or a demonstrated competency in: (1) a specified body of knowledge, (2) "X" number of supervisory hours, and (3) "X" number of hours of an oxymoronic training/personal analysis. In no way, however, does this in my mind, at least, provide assurance or insurance that one is "A Psychoanalyst"; or, for that matter, that these educational and training requirements have anything at all to do with psychoanalysis. Indeed, psychoanalysis as "a way of thinking" may or may not be furthered through a traditional psychoanalytic educational program. A traditional educational and training program should not be confused with becoming or being "A Psychoanalyst" or to be the equivalent of a "way of thinking". For the MSPP to certify that an individual has fulfilled certain quantifiable requirements speaks to an issue quite central to the question of issuing a "Certificate in Psychoanalysis": one's understanding of psychoanalysis itself. I would advance that the profession and practice of psychoanalysis is like no other profession; yet, while like no other profession there is the continuous bureaucratic pressures and institutional forces to certify and license as if "it" were like any other profession like law, medicine, or engineering. There is a tremendous pull to dissect "it" into reductive components, label "it", def-ine "it", evaluate "it", certify "it", mass produce "it", and eventually, I fear, to regulate "it". From dissection to regulation this institutional and bureaucratic process is something that I would maintain is antithetical to psychoanalysis itself. It seems to me that the certification procedures of regulatory and/or certifying bodies operate from the premise that that which is certifiable is demonstrable and quantifiable. Certification through the fulfillment of quantifiable requirements proceeds from a premise that is contradictory and incompatible with the "I can't define it but I know it when I see it and hear it" standard.

The dilemma facing MSPP if we were to move in this direction of issuing a "Certificate in Psychoanalysis" is to either embrace the quantifiable as being the standard for the issuance of the "Certificate in Psychoanalysis" ---which is to confuse technical knowledge and meeting quantifiable requirements with having a "way of thinking" and being --- ; or, to embrace the "I know it when I hear it" standard for the issuance of a "Certificate in Psychoanalysis". For the MSPP to adopt and embrace this second standard, however, is neither seen nor advanced as a solution to the question of certification. To adopt this second standard would, I believe, lead quickly to the MSPP splintering as an organization. To further elaborate: to adopt this second standard of "I know it when I see it" would be to place the issuance of a "Certificate in Psychoanalysis" squarely within the political-psychoanalytic ideologies of the certifying body/entity within the MSPP. It would be up to the composition of the certifying and credentialing body/entity as to what constitutes the "IT" that is "...known and seen....". Politics and like-mindedness would become the unspoken "objective" standards for issuing the "Certificates in Psychoanalysis". It seems to me that all parties involved in such credentialing policies and procedures would have to be mutually consenting adults, fully aware of the essentially subjective nature of the certifying and credentialing. It seems quite likely that adoption of this second standard would simply lead to a number of competing certifying groups within MSPP eventuating in those who think similarly being certified by those who also happen to think alike. The forseeable dilemma for MSPP as we would enter this arena of certification--and I'm being quite serious about this--- would be the traditional and divisive question of institutes: "Who would be the 'real' psychoanalyst?". With the adoption of either standard --or, even with a combination of both standards-- 1, indeed, envision "psychoanalysts" being as mass-produced by the MSPP as are social workers, psychologists, and psychiatrists currently from their respective educational institutions........ And, each being a true, certified "psychoanalyst" with the "practice of psychoanalysis" becoming as generic, nondescript, and meaningless as "psychotherapist" and "psychotherapy" already have become. Indeed, oftentimes I think that psychoanalysis is already well on its way to this destination of well credentialed "no where". It is my deep concern that if the MSPP decides to pursue such a course as the certification of colleagues as "Psychoanalysts", the MSPP would become a participant in an institutional activity and process that historically has led to the quantification of quality and to the "minimum standards" becoming the benchmark "standards of excellence" for certification. Embarking on such a course of certification has historically and inevitably led to an increased bureaucratization and static institutionalization of policies, practices, and procedures that, all too often, have led to unquestioned fulfillment of requirements and to conformity and stagnation in thinking. As an organization, could we consider that certification is not even a solution to be enacted?

Conclusion: To move in the direction of issuing a "Certificate in Psychoanalysis" is, I believe, to move in the direction of adopting policies and procedures that represent a major shift in the organizational purpose of MSPP as I have understood it to be. The purpose of MSPP would no longer be that of an "Interest Group" organized around the study of psychoanalysis as theory and practice. Rather, the MSPP would become a "Professional Society" with a distinctly different set of organizational roles, functions, and responsibilities to the membership it represents. Central to its new found roles, functions, and responsibilities would be the training and education, evaluation and certification of that which I believe cannot be taught, evaluated, or certified.

If the membership of MSPP decides to move in the direction of pursuing certification, I would strongly recommend that the certification be limited to that which can be certified, e.g., completion of certain coursework and other quantifiable aspects of a program of study; and, that the "Certificate in Psychoanalysis" represents simply that and nothing more, e.g., that the individual has completed that program of study. To do otherwise would simply contribute to the belief and illusion that a psychoanalyst is one who has graduated from an institute or a certain program of study. Further, the organizational pursuit of MSPP to issue a "Certificate in Psychoanalysis" would serve, I believe, to inhibit the exchange of ideas and to foster the belief and illusion that a psychoanalyst is one who has been certified and psychoanalysis is that which takes place by one who is "A Psychoanalyst." I would much rather see the MSPP pursue the development of yet unexplored ways of providing "official recognition" to those colleagues who would want such recognition as part of their identity as a "Psychoanalyst"---if, indeed, that is even the issue. This process of recognition, it would seem to me, would somehow have to take into account the uniqueness of psychoanalysis as a "way of thinking" and, hopefully, would serve to promote openness and encourage the presentation of one's thinking, ideas, and creativity.

Dr. Kavanaugh received his doctorate in philosophy (psychology) from the University of Windsor in Ontario, Canada.  Since the completion of his doctoral studies, he has been active in the academic, organizational, and practice areas of the psychoanalytic-psychological community.  In the academic area, he has served as Director of Clinical Training and member of the core teaching and supervisory faculty in the doctoral program in psychoanalytic psychology at the University of Detroit; as a member of the teaching and supervisory faculty in the Program for Advanced Studies in Psychoanalysis in Wyandotte, Michigan, an interdisciplinary program for the study of the analytic discourse; and, as a member of the teaching and supervisory faculty in the pre-and post doctoral educational programs at the Detroit Psychiatric Institute, the Wyandotte General Hospital, and the V.A. Medical Center in Detroit.  In the organizational area, he is the founding and current president of the Academy for the Study of the Psychoanalytic Arts; past president of the International Federation for Psychoanalytic Education; the Michigan Psychological Association, and the Michigan Society of Clinical Psychologists.  In the practice area, many of his professional interests during the past 35 years are directly related to experiences in the discourses of various residential treatment facilities.

Dr. Kavanaugh is a recipient of  The Distinguished Psychologist Award  from the Michigan Psychological Association and the Master Lecturer Award from the doctoral students at the University of Detroit.

Currently Dr. Kavanaugh is in the private practice of psychoanalysis in Farmington Hills, Michigan:

Office:  31805 Middlebelt, Suite #305
               Farmington Hills, Michigan, USA  48334
               Phone: (248) 626-6460
               Fax:      (248) 626-4808