I may not seem so to psychoanalysts who, despite intra-national as well as international differences and widening diverse theories and practices, have Freud’s original work and name as their common founding possession as well as a series of famous developers of his work - but’ the field of psychoanalysis is embattled.
Over the years of this century and accelerating since the end of the two great wars, communities, institutions, professions ... as well as countries have become increasingly open to the growing, turbulent, complex environments. Similarly the worlds of scientists, technologists and artists have begun to overlap and become involved with each other, and become specialists using their knowledge, experience and insights in collaboration with the life-operations around them. The ‘monastic walls’ of schools and universities have largely disappeared and similarly those environments with their media and information explosions, their technological and social changes of so many kinds have themselves helped to affect and change the direction and depth of those sciences and arts intrinsically and not just extrinsically.
Over this same period, any corresponding effort on the part of psychoanalysis has been hidebound. And when institutions, partly staffed by psychoanalysts, attempt such endeavours they have had to do so without the connection with psychoanalysis being clarified or supported.
Similarly individual attempts by psychoanalysts – Winnicott, Bowlby, Balint and many others – have always been looked as askance, and even disowned in early stages.
The term “applied psychoanalysis” is particularly obnoxious. Do we have ‘applied law’, ‘applied medicine’ ... ? Do we have ‘applied research’, i.e. findings from the research which are applied and put into practice in another field or setting. Thus studies such as “Moses and Monotheism” (Freud) and “Ice-skating”(Jones) can be called ‘applied’. But not when psychoanalysts enter other fields – using their insights, knowledge and experience to explore and identify other dimensions which might equally enhance and enrich psychoanalysis itself – indeed to deepen our knowledge, theories and practice.
On another front, the failure of psychoanalysis to develop such contact to any great extent in the fear and anxiety of being contaminated or diluted has allowed many fringe and pseudo institutions purporting to provide similar therapeutic and knowledgeable work to proliferate as well as a very few reputable ones. In this case imitation is not just a form of flattery.
Unless psychoanalysis ‘wakes up’ and recognises what is happening it will find itself ‘classed’ as a sect, and be confused with those ‘other ones’. It will become just another, that only happened to be founded by Freud, even though it is accepted as a basis for these others.
It is as if the concentration on the problems of the individual and predominantly on the processes of the internal world has so hardened the boundary separating psychoanalysis from its environments, that the importance of contexts and the internalisation of their equally increasing complexity and uncertainty becomes critical. In the result, we are faced with an ironic counterpart situation to that which Freud had to meet in his day. His drive to explore the internal world met with the same opposition and hostility as those of us who study the impact and implications of contextual/boundary situations meet from psychoanalysts themselves.
Are we also to assume that the majority of those entering and being accepted for training in psychoanalysis are those who would want to exclude interactions with the world as it is – and its paradigm change?
Is the training also – and experience of life as an analyst – likely to ‘compound that warping’?
Of course it might be said – and is in fact said – that those of us who are psychoanalysts working in collaboration with others – in communities and institutions are avoiding the real task for which they were trained. My contention is that they are not. Some may find themselves better suited to full time work as psychoanalysts in the consulting room – to evolving theory and discovering new depths. Some of us may be better suited to the field of prevention, to the resolution and greater understanding of social and other issues entailing the “entering into the world of others” while retaining our psychoanalytic integrity and finding other ways of employing an awareness of unconscious dynamics, transference and countertransference, etc., for the healthful benefit of people in family, group and institutional settings. Equally, to discover how such study can contribute towards the deeper advancement psychoanalytic theory and practice.
A special interest of mine is to understand more about those internalised group cultures and values – more especially the task-oriented ones – interest with other processes of which we are already aware. This would involve understanding more about the nature of transition and the function of such groupings in providing a ‘cover’ for continuous development beyond the example as well described by Winnicott for the transitional object phase.
At the least, let us not continue the petty internecine antagonisms of an earlier history and be ready not only to explore our boundaries by allowing those who can, and are willing to risk their competences, to develop relevant projects and engage responsibly with the public at large, but actually to trust and sponsor their efforts.