"Talking about Supervision". Edited by Laura Elliot Rubenstein

TALKING ABOUT SUPERVISION- 10 Questions, 10 Analysts= 100 Answers

Edited by, Laura Elliot Rubenstein. London: International Psychoanalytical Association Publications. 2007.128p.

Reviewed by Dr Ken Israelstam, 5 Marian Street, Killara. NSW Australia.

Supervision is not only a vital aspect of a candidate’s training, but carries with it the generational flow of analytic knowledge and analytic culture- the hard earned and thoughtful “wisdom of the elders”. Relative to its importance though, this topic has been poorly addressed in the literature, I therefore welcomed the opportunity to be able to review a new contribution to this field.

In this book the editor, Laura Rubenstein, a senior candidate from Mexico, was inspired to pursue her curiosity and unanswered questions, by approaching the “elders” directly. She posed the same 10 questions regarding supervision to a number of senior analysts from various parts of the world.

The analysts included many well known analysts such as Jacqueline Amati Mehler (Italy), Janine Chasseguet-Smirgal (France), Peter Fonagy (UK), Daniel Jacobs (USA), Amalia Socci de Gomez (Argintina), a dozen in all.

The editor credits her supervisor Salman Akter (USA), well known for his interest in multiculturalism and psychoanalysis, for his inspiration and guidance in choosing this approach.

I felt that the questions posed by Laura Rubenstein were well thought out and relevant to the training climate in which our current candidates are involved. I was overjoyed not only because someone had made a contribution to the important subject of supervision, but that this came from the ranks of the candidates themselves. This is, I believe, an excellent way of reducing the gap historically created by excessive idealization of senior analysts (especially training analysts), and the passivity and infantalisation that this can encourage in the candidates. (Kernberg 2000).

Having said this, without wanting to take away from the initiative that the editor has taken, I would like to address some issues that have, I believe, taken some of the intended spirit of this format away. Firstly I was a bit concerned when I realized that there were 10 questions posed to 12 analysts in a relatively short book of 128 pages. Secondly, the idea of posing questions, creates a sense of opening up a space for free and creative thought. The effect though is still very lineal, a question does not a conversation make! Thoughts flow and develop not only when a question is asked, but are responded to with further inquiry and elaboration. The answers themselves need to be questioned.

My third disappointment relates to the absence of the editor’s overview and comments. She restricted her contribution to a short preface and acknowledgements,

and rather than offer her own thoughts, chose to have the commentary written by Joshua Levy, a training analyst from Canada.

Here are some examples of questions covered, and some of the responses given, in order to give the prospective reader a sense of the content:-

How much choice should candidates have in the selection of supervisors? What qualities should they look for in the supervisor?

All agreed that the candidate should choose. Only Fonagy suggested that supervisors should have specific training and supervision in supervision themselves. Janine Chasseguet-Smirgal (France) suggested that candidates should also be supervised in groups.

What should today’s candidates expect to be the future of psychoanalysis? What are your recommendations to them?

Jacqueline Amati Mehler (Italy) suggested that the crisis today was not with psychoanalysis, but in psychoanalysts! Peter Fonagy (UK), was optimistic about the future of psychoanalysis, but was scathing in his attitude towards psychoanalytic institutions, “I would say to candidates not to rely on their training organization to support them and promote them…..I believe that psychoanalytic institutes have a short future.” I must say that although I personally strongly disagree with Fonagy’s sentiments, his contribution was extensive and thoughtful, as opposed to Harold Blum’s (USA), whose responses were brief and mostly off the point. In response to the editor’s question that requested that they share some of their personal experiences in their own training supervision, Blum mentioned nothing that revealed his own person!

Other questions asked were – To what extent should Freud be studied? Do you categorise candidates as “good” “bad” “good-enough”? What advice on publishing?

All these questions, as I have said earlier, have enormous potential to open up our thinking on supervision in training, but remain limited when not part of an ongoing conversation.

This personal approach to learning from others has a lot of potential, and I believe that candidates should be encouraged to explore their curiosity and a concern regarding their relationship to psychoanalysis as Laura Rubenstein has attempted to do.

In spite of its shortcomings, there are some interesting questions and responses, worth thinking about. Also this work may hopefully have the effect of inspiring other candidates to write and ask questions of their “elders”, thereby taking more responsibility in the development of their own training.


Kernberg O F (2000). A concerned critique of psychoanalytic education. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 81: 97-120.