Are you an Analyst? Self Directed Education in Psychoanalysis: Escape? Encounter? How about Escapade?

Are you an Analyst?
Self Directed Education in Psychoanalysis: Escape? Encounter? How about Escapade?


by Barry Dauphin, Ph.D.

Department of Psychology, University of Detroit Mercy

4001 W. McNichols Rd. Detroit, MI 48221

Considering that the theme of this conference pertains to the potential dangers and desires inherent in the escapes and encounters of the psychoanalytic situation, I could not escape wondering what dangers I might encounter, if I raised the question of who is an analyst and what kinds of answers might we desire to that question. I think this question cuts to the assumptions buried in this year’s theme. I’ll briefly discuss the history of psychoanalytic education with an eye toward considering the value of self-directed education. Psychoanalysis is in the midst of various forms of regulation, including the accreditation of institutes, debates about certification for analysts, licensing laws, etc. There are many minefields or, even more to the point, mindfields for psychoanalytic education, and it seems legitimate for us to consider the dangers today, considering IFPE's mission. 

Defining what a psychoanalyst is by means of the criteria created by bureaucracies, especially government bureaucracies, or by means of institutional codes raises interesting questions. Namely, those who work psychoanalytically often describe the work as dangerous and risky, and not without some merit. However, when society actively regulates a profession, its ostensible focus is on the health and safety of the public. The electoral process creates bureaucracies whose purpose is to tame and to control, to provide members of the public with some sign that this person is safe to work with, safe in the sense of whatever safe means to the bureaucracy. If we understand that it is inevitably subversive to listen to individuals while striving to understand unconscious meanings, then defining who is an analyst? by criteria created by the state or other institutions, leaves us with an interesting conflict. Is psychoanalysis dangerous to patients, to analysts, or to bureaucracies? A psychoanalytic listening stance can subvert the very structure that authorizes it, something not inherent to other similar regulated activities. Psychoanalysis can bite the hand that feeds it, unless it is defined by the institution (state or other bureaucracy) as something that doesn’t bite, namely because it has been defanged. This wouldn’t be psychoanalysis, as most of us understand it, but once such definitions are turned over to institutions, they can lead a different life. 

Let us consider that the question, "are you an analyst"? will depend upon which level one is considering. At the level referred to as the social order, the answer is easy. It is the same as the answer to the question, did you successfully graduate from an accredited psychoanalytic institute or pass the state psychoanalytic licensing criteria. Completing such activities might be laudable for many reasons, but when psychoanalysts desire to define psychoanalysis within the architecture of institutions, they cannot escape the logic of bureaucracies. Bureaucracies demand compliance and do not suffer subversion kindly. 

Bearing the label psychoanalyst implies a fixed entity. Fixed entities are not dangerous to bureaucracies. Doing psychoanalysis is a process. That’s a different story, as processes escape fixed connotations. Perhaps one doing the latter need not only be the former, but it is hard to escape being asked “are you an analyst?” when you go to psychoanalytic meetings or cocktail parties, as if we escape ambiguity by answering yes or no. It might be dangerous to attend an American Psychoanalytic Association function and answer the question of are you an analyst in the affirmative if you have merely engaged in self-directed education. You would violate the parameters of the label as conventionally understood. Labels bring order to conversations.  

A label is often viewed as a desirable thing. The label of psychoanalyst is like a brand or a trademark, kind of like "ipod™" is a brand and trademark. It bestows an instant recognition of something or other to members of the culture. It is prepackaged with cultural associations, and many of its cultural meanings have been desired by psychoanalysts at one time only for them to encounter the need to escape those associations at a later time. For example, much effort has been exerted in recent years trying to escape public notions of what a psychoanalyst is.   

The public has a variety of prejudices about psychoanalysis, but the profession of psychoanalysis benefited from many of those prejudices once upon a time.  The supposed stodginess of pipe-smoking, well off, white men was a desirable brand back in the day, when psychoanalysis was practiced almost exclusively by stuffy, pipe-smoking, white male medical doctors.  The exclusivity implied in that iconic portrait of the analyst was actually good for business.  Once upon a time, that image connoted a privilege, which outsiders desired but could not possess without encountering the official certification process.  The exclusivity of that type of good ole boys’ club remained institutionalized until a lawsuit filed by the American Psychological Association charged the American Psychoanalytic Association with being a cartel.  Psychologists desired to participate in these dangerous encounters after having been told for many years that psychoanalysis was dangerous if practiced by non-medical personnel.  

However, we should remember that it was the stuffy analysts, who had done everything possible to trumpet Freud in the first place and to encourage people (even the great unwashed masses) to read Freud. They desired to popularize Freud. They really wanted more patients and supervisees, not more analysts. Guess what, the great unwashed masses read Freud. Imagine that. Coming to encounter Freud and to contemplate some of the central ideas of psychoanalysis led many to desire to escape a humdrum, literal approach to working with others and instead work in this dangerous world of metaphor. Psychoanalysis desired to escape the institutions created by psychoanalysts, and to bite the hand that fed it. Psychoanalysis desired to be de-institutionalized. 

The institutions redefined the qualifications for entry into this bureaucracy, although the process of certification remained. As it turned out, the redefinition of who could become an analyst happened not a moment too soon. Many medical doctors desired to escape association to psychoanalysis, which had encountered a dangerous assault from biological interventions and behavioral therapies as well as from third-party payers. Biology and behaviorism sought to medicate and condition away desires deemed too dangerous, while third-party payers desired to escape a dangerous, infectious condition known as “red ink.” As the number of medical doctors who desired to become certified psychoanalysts shrunk, institutions and training analysts realized that they might encounter the dreaded “red ink” too.  Told you it was infectious. Rather than escape from non-medical practitioners, the institutes instead came to desire them.  When we encounter economic forces, sometimes, erstwhile dangers suddenly become new desires and vice versa. 

Another movement occurred as well, namely the rise of institutes not affiliated with the American. These institutes often had different desires concerning who is called an analyst. They created another danger called competition. Competition can be desirous for some and dangerous for others.  It can create a spectacle. It especially muddies the waters of who is an analyst, because if there are many definitions to this question, then there isn’t a winner and loser in determining the definition, but there are winners and losers in the marketplace. However, the existence of a variety of standards creates dangers in the view of the bureaucracies. That bureaucracy of bureaucracies known as "the government" does not tolerate multiple standards well. As the story goes, the Feds wanted standards for psychoanalysts and one group desired to assert its standards, which were perceived as dangerous by other groups.  

In order to escape the anxiety that results in confusion to the question, who is an analyst, negotiations ensued to find some common ground satisfactory to the different factions. The Consortium entered to remove the danger of conflicting viewpoints about accreditation standards for institutes. What escaped the public presentation of the Consortium was that accreditation is not really so separate from certification, if one can only become an analyst by graduating from an accredited institute.  Although many of the negotiators desired to argue otherwise, they were defining who is an analyst by developing standards for accreditation.  The hair splitting concerning accreditation and certification became a distinction without a difference. Who is an analyst is whatever the standards Consortium agrees upon.  

Then some states got into the act by establishing licensing laws for psychoanalysis. Now we can have an official designation for psychoanalysis as determined by the state. It becomes a strange journey. Psychoanalysis, that ultimate outsider, becomes registered and licensed. You can’t practice that way without a license is what we will hear next. Will there be couch cops? Face a licensing inquiry if you use free association? No transference interpretations without having the correct papers? Ultimately, what the state regulates, it gets to define. Did you know that it is illegal in 22 states to call yourself an interior designer without a license created to protect the public…protect the public from what… bad taste? Now there’s an irony for you… letting the government define taste… or perhaps psychoanalysis. 

We don’t know what future compromises legitimate psychoanalysis will need to make to remain licensable by the state or institutes accreditable by the Department of Education, but they will have to make compromises. Today's senior analysts might not have to make many more adjustments before they retire, but those coming up behind them will be in for more dangers and desires, escapes and encounters. At some point, psychoanalysis could come to be defined by even more concrete and quantitative criteria, to the point of defining away almost everything we have come to understand as the unconscious. Imagine specifying the criteria for a transference interpretation using quantitative measures, and failure to use that technique constitutes grounds for psychoanalytic malpractice. Now wouldn’t that be an interesting trial to sit through. 

The regulatory bureaucracy will suck the life out of official psychoanalysis, that I’m willing to bet. However, it will not contain unofficial psychoanalysis. Psychoanalysis always escapes. Perhaps it will have a different name or face. Perhaps it will emerge as something other than healthcare in the world of relatively unregulated human interactions. Not too long ago, an activity called coaching was merely a curiosity until it became a phenomenon. Now everyone is jumping into the coaching act. If everyone is doing it, how are distinctions to be made? Who is any good at it? Well, regulate it. Regulatory frameworks are often dangerous to psychoanalysis, just consider the critiques of institute training, exemplified in Kirschner’s book, Unfree Associations.  

Psychoanalysis cannot abide the regulatory structure and be psychoanalysis. If the unconscious is dynamic as we say, if in the unconscious anything can come to stand for anything else, it’s hard to imagine that creating concrete, tangible, measurable, a priori observable criteria such as an agreed upon weekly frequency of sessions for psychoanalysis, for example, is anything more than the creation of a another cartel.  Of course, regulated training is often rigorous, often quite good, even exceptional. But you cannot know that by asking if someone is an analyst. You have to talk with the person, have dangerous encounters him or her in order learn things that no certificate or state stamp of “analyst” can tell you. Certification and licensing represent trying to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, trying to create some structure for public accountability. At some point bending to Caesar means breaking psychoanalysis though. Such group measures and group standards are antithetical to the individuality that makes psychoanalytic methods so worthwhile, invigorating, and poignant. The time spent obtaining officially recognized CE credits cannot be spent in unofficial educational endeavors. The desire to fulfill the mandate of Caesar will tempt some to not explore the unofficial because it will involve extra work and time. Giving to Caesar can leave less in the tank for other-than-Caesar. 

What does one desire then? Perhaps it is legitimacy. Legitimacy is worthwhile in many ways. Legitimacy is a path to escape the dangers of not knowing or of the potential of not encountering acceptance by one’s peers. Legitimacy establishes brands. Brands escape dangers. Why just consider such rock-solid brands as Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, AIG. Today AIG adds to its brand the characteristic of “too big to fail.” Is psychoanalysis too big to fail?  

One method of encountering psychoanalysis usually escapes the notice of arguements over bureaucratic definitions of standards. That is self-directed education. I’ll take the liberty of stretching the boundaries of our conference flyer. I offer that self-directed education in psychoanalytic thinking as an escapade. From the Latin excappare-"to get out of one's cape; to leave a pursuer with just one's cape." An escapade means to engage in adventuresome activity that runs counter to socially approved conduct. How does the analytic community respond to those who engage in escapades, such as self directed study in psychoanalytic work? What do they think of their encounters with the rascals of psychoanalysis? Can those who engage in escapades garner respect in the analytic community and if they really want that kind of respect, why pursue self-directed study? Can those who escape the institutional encounters be taken seriously, and should they want to? What are the dangers of self-directed study to psychoanalysis and to large bureaucracies constructed for promulgating rules for psychoanalytic education? Does self-directed mean alone or without others or without assistance? Does it mean without legitimacy? Might those who engage in self directed study perform a service for those who pursue the more traditional institute training, namely to encourage the legitimate analysts to widen the perspective of psychoanalysis?  

I’ll close with a self-reference. Once I was lured by the call of legitimacy. I encountered the TV program Mighty Mouse and desired to obtain the official costume. My parents obliged, and I passed the certification criteria with a little help from my friends. Getting into the swing of things, however, and wearing a cape can fuel desires for power and flight. These desires could be dangerous, if you jump off the swing set when the swing has reached its apex. After some interesting flights, I eventually fled the institution. My escape from convention was to toss aside the legitimacy of Mighty Mouse and create my own costume. White t-shirt encountered marks-a-lot but did not escape the notice of the parental authorities. Without prior authorization from the PPO (preferred parental order) the escapade was illegitimate, unsanctioned, albeit tolerated and unrecorded.

Barry Dauphin, Ph.D. is an assistant professor in the Psychology Department of the University of Detroit-Mercy.  He has served as president of the Michigan Society for Psychoanalytic Psychology (1997-99; 2003-2009).  He is a past president of the local chapters section of Division 39.  He has written on psychoanalysis & culture, psychoanalysis & philosophy and issues involved in psychoanalytic therapy with children and has published the book Tantalizing Times: Excitements, Disconnects, and Discontents in Contemporary American Society published by Peter Lang in 2006.