‘A Question of Training’ by Chris Oakley

Two possibilities that one might assume would be available for H appeared impossible: the first, that she could simply brush off the interpretation, dismiss it as her analyst’s folly. I think that this was impossible because of archaic residues, leading right back to her very origins (her words were that “it tickles the old wound”), for without the other’s thoughts she is nothing, even though these thoughts may be precisely what drive her mad. In more extreme instances she might have been subject to thoughts implanted in her, but who or where they came from would have been utterly occluded. At least on this occasion the place that they originated from was unequivocally clear. Given that, the second, more extreme but only theoretical possibility was to simply get rid of me, the locus of the difficulty, simply dismantle the relationship with me… but this too was unthinkable, for it is imperative that there is someone who will confirm, will acknowledge this ‘Truth’ or she cannot go on. Manifestly it is not that at this stage that H does not have her own thoughts. But the situation is one of considerable fragility, and the possibility of her going it alone, resuming the thread of her own thoughts without such endorsement was not genuinely available. Almost, but not quite, better to be inhabited by another’s thoughts than to be entirely alone. Hardly surprising then that she was utterly distraught as there was no sign, as we said goodbyes for a fortnights summer break, despite my rather wan reassurances that we would sort it all out, that I was about to withdraw from my position of interpretative dogmatism.

Quite what happened one never really knows. Although I leave, go off to the Loire Valley for a couple of weeks, inevitably concerns about what seems to have gone so disastrously wrong between us do not leave me. At some point in my mildly desperate meditations about it all I see: I see that I have been in the wrong place and that an inevitable consequence is that it will drive H crazy… “tickle the old wound” as she said. So convinced am I of this, I am sure that as soon as I explain this to her that it will radically, indeed immediately, alter everything. The premise is that if this is correct, the evidence for this, the proof of the pudding as it were, will be in H’s response…but already, before I have had the chance to speak with her on the phone, I can feel the awful anguish of being caught within the maddening-being driven mad circuit start to rapidly recede. But at this point only for myself.

When I make the phone call and tell her of my realisation of “being in the wrong place” I get this immediate sense of immense relief from H. Which is mutual. It is palpably clear that she was very far from confident that these matters would be capable of resolution, but somehow the right words had been found, the “old wound” had a soothing bandage applied and things would be more or less all right until we had the chance to go over it all more fully once I was back in England. But the ‘truth’ was that I should have never ventured into such a position in the first place. Nevertheless it seems important to underline H’s capacity to bring to bear a radical aggressiveness towards the abductor of her ‘Truth’, for without that… if, for example, she had meekly complied, secretly feeling attacked, then it would have been impossible for me, or indeed anyone, to hear her fear and the situation would have teetered on the edge of irretrievable collapse for some indeterminate time…to the detriment of both of us.

So the thesis is this that none of that would have been possible had I not had some prior knowledge, a knowledge that I clearly believe is transmissable. And just in case there is anyone out there still thinking that what I am advocating is no training, this is a knowledge that is clearly a function of precisely that. No, what I wish to suggest is that the fantasy that I misguidedly thought that H was involved in is far more appropriately linked to psychoanalysis and its training programmes. Not in content obviously, but structurally. Namely that the continual assertion that somehow everything would be fine IF ONLY we had these ‘objective criteria’ for assessing training and there is value in assiduously searching for them (remember that H’s complaint was that everything would have been fine IF ONLY the analyst had loved her) is underwritten by the fantasy or assumption that those criteria really exist. In other words that someone REALLY DOES KNOW, somewhere, what makes a good psychoanalyst but they are just not telling us (remember my idea, I stress my idea, was that H imagined that her analyst DID LOVE HER REALLY, but just wasn’t telling her.) As the fantasy is that this knowledge already exists, despite repeated evidence to the contrary, psychoanalysis both carries on accordingly with its unrelenting systems of imperatives and assessments, whilst vainly seeking a clearer articulation of that which was always elusive, because it did not exist in the first place. The psychoanalytic story is that once one has seen the fantasy as fantasy, it frees up the possibility of doing something more interesting. But it is psychoanalysis, of course, who brings to our attention that there is an insufferable enjoyment lodged in the fantasy, which in so many cases will lead to an unceasing resistance to renouncing the fantasy. In this instance I am not optimistic.

I rest the case.

Chris Oakley is a member of the Site for Contemporary Psychoanalysis and has published widely in the field, most recently editing “What is a Group” (Rebus Press, 1998)