All posts by Michael Guy Thompson

“Free Association”: A Technical Principle or Model for Psychoanalytic Education?

I would like to begin this post with a dogmatic statement that is intended solely for the sake of discussion and, hopefully, not to alienate my many friends who teach in either psychoanalytic or academic institutions. I know that many of them are even involved in training psychoanalysts in universities and that they probably owe a great deal to such institutions and are understandably grateful for the education that they obtained from that experience. Others who are not involved in academia as such may be associated with free-standing psychoanalytic institutes that are nevertheless modeled on academic education and, for that reason, you may feel identified (at least in principle) with the academic model of education.

Though my psychoanalytic training was not at a university, I was educated, like everyone else, at a university in my undergraduate education and, like many, obtained a PhD in psychology at a graduate institute. So my experience is not that alien to yours, though I confess I sometimes wonder if I have lost my memory of having traveled here from another galaxy, when I realize how out-of-step I feel when I have the occasion to teach at a graduate school, which I do now and then, in California. Be that as it may, I believe that psychoanalytic education of some sort belongs in academic institutions, even if I am about to share with you my reservations about conceiving psychoanalytic training along academic lines. …

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The demise of the person in the psychoanalytic situation

The demise of the person in the psychoanalytic process may seem like a strange choice of subject matter as the words “person” and “personal” are not technical terms in standard psychoanalytic nomenclature. Typically, both terms are invoked, if at all, in a strictly offhand way when referring to non-transferential and non-technical behavior or experience in the context of the psychoanalytic treatment relationship.

For the majority of analysts, so-called personal aspects of the treatment situation have little, if any, role to play in the psychoanalytic process as it is typically conceived. For many, it is the absence of a personal engagement with patients that distinguishes psychoanalysis from its user-friendlier cousin, psychodynamic psychotherapy. It has become increasingly commonplace that contemporary psychoanalysts of virtually all persuasions reduce the psychoanalytic process to the analysis of transference, resistance, and more recently, enactments. This has resulted in the general assumption that virtually all of a patient’s reactions to the person of the analyst should be treated as transference manifestations.

Similarly, most if not all, significant interventions by the analyst in response to transference phenomena are informed by whichever technical principles a given analyst elects to follow. This is a view held typically, for example, by Kleinian, classical Freudian (i.e., American ego psychology), and most contemporary relational analysts, all of whom tend to deconstruct the very notion of a person-to-person engagement out of the psychoanalytic process. Such analysts often concede that interactions of a personal nature occur invariably during every analytic encounter, but such occurrences usually are deemed irrelevant, and even impediments, to the analytic process, and are avoided scrupulously or, when unavoidable, systematically analysed….

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