‘A Question of Training’ by Chris Oakley

Somehow, despite the best of intentions, there always seems to be a collapse into the fall back position of an assumption of a progressive and linear trajectory of a series of techniques, of a codified and formalisable knowledge. That psychoanalysis is simply a transmittable method, a form of know-how, with regard to the treatment of human suffering. The difficulty being that answers to questions about the nature of the self, the mind, human nature, what goes on between us, our emotional life are, thankfully, wonderfully, resistant to forms of standardised classification. Nevertheless certain forms of psychoanalysis, and Kleinian and Lacanian come to mind, appear to head off in that direction, so that it might become more possible to display a competence, a fidelity, to those quite discrete orientations. The difficulty is that, however heated the disputes, however passionate the claims, there really is no sustainable evidence that any particular form of psychoanalysis is more “good”, does any better than any other. Whilst it might be possible to claim that so and so is a “good Kleinian”, the claim that “good” psychoanalysis resides with this school rather than that rapidly begins to falter. And it is here that we come up the question lurking in the title: what is meant by a “good” psychoanalyst? Maybe we can allow that to drift, allow a Winnicottian moment, merely be satisfied with the “good enough”? But if we recall Freud and his claim that he was not particularly interested in helping people as his sadism didn’t work in that way) it sometimes begins to look as if “good” psychoanalysis, that which has a concern for the “good”, doing “good” even, is somehow no “good” at all…is not ‘real’ psychoanalysis, is disparagingly dismissed as merely psychotherapy. But is there this specialist knowledge, linked to set of rules that inform the activity, the therapeutic arm of psychoanalysis, that it would be possible to transmit, put to the test, to apply? At certain points Freud appeared to think so: he said to Adler at the Wednesday Society that … “it will be possible to learn it (the psychoanalytic method) once the arbitrariness of individual psychoanalysts is CURBED by tested rules.” (‘The Freud-Adler Controversy’. Bernard Handlbauer. Oxford One World Publications 1998 p23) Would a “good” analyst be one that followed the rules, assuming that they exist? Just to hint at some of the difficulties here, and I emphasise that I am not proposing them as strategies, but what are we to make of considerable anecdotal evidence that friendly interventions, self disclosure on the part of the analyst, praise, even the giving of presents, all ‘technically’ taboo, prohibited, are somehow part of a successful therapeutic outcome? In contrast faithfully adhering to the rules of anonymity, distance, the blank screen, so often feel very unhelpful. The only rule that seems even vaguely clear is that any idea of exactitude, of knowing ‘exactly’ what we are doing is always already disrupted, decentered, ruled out. And somehow, almost despite himself, Freud always knew that, for, by 1926, in his “Lay Analysis” musings he has this to say: “The things that REALLY matter..(the possibilities in psychoanalysis for internal development) can NEVER be affected by regulations and prohibitions.” (my emphasis. p250) Curbing now seems to fly out of the window and those “tested rules” that he was on about never appear. A principal difficulty in all this is that psychoanalysis never seems to be quite clear about it’s own desire…is it to be a branch of medicine with a whole set of scientific pretensions or not? Many of us would allow that this is an irretrievably worn out debate, that it is not an established or establishable ‘science’ (remember Lacan’s delightful disclaimer of 1977 when he stated “psychoanalysis is not a science…it has no scientific status…it merely waits and hopes for it. Psychoanalysis is a delirium, a delirium that is expected to produce a science…we could be waiting a long time…”). But somehow it is never as simple as that. The Nobel Prize winning physicist, Richard Feynman, had this to say: “What characterises real scientists is that, whatever they are doing, they are not sure of themselves like other people are…they are capable of thinking ‘maybe’. They act knowing full well that it’s only ‘maybe’.” (‘How to make a paranoid laugh’ Francois Roustang. Univ of Pennslyvania Press 2000 p.68) So a claim can be made for the “good” psychoanalyst to at least share a characteristic of a ‘real’scientist.

Nevertheless there can never be a unified body of information, generating a unifiable practice, and clearly nothing is empirically testable. Almost unvaryingly any account will underline its experiental, subjective, explorative nature, all devoid of any validating, objective criteria. It works for those for whom it works, but clearly does not work for all. And this all inevitably raises problems about the notion of qualification, which is handcuffed to the idea of transmission and mastery of a body of knowledge, suggesting a competancy to perform a particular task. But as there is no consensus, not I emphasise a cause for lament, as to what should comprise a psychoanalytic education (mastery of crossword puzzles was one of Lacan’s proposals, whilst in my training at the PA we were told to come prepared for a yoga session, that in fact never took place) what we have in lieu is a plethora of authoritarian truth claims and a refusal to acknowledge that all we ever had were a series of stories amongst stories. Doctrinaire training practices founded on an assumption of being in possession of, of holding “the key to truth”, prevail. Doctrine becomes a matter of an almost religious faith, and this faith now congeals into a belief in mythical ‘standards’ which are conspicuously devoid of any examination of the evidence. For example when it comes to training there is just no evidence that someone would be better off reading Lacan in the original French than going for a walk on the Heath. Rather we are all on the circuit (back to the M25) of chasing after the creation of ‘false expertise’, all grounded in an imaginary knowledge base, so often assumed as established truth. As Doug Kirsner points out in a chapter on ‘the Trouble with Psychoanalytic Institutes’… “the claim to knowledge implied by qualification is far greater than the REAL level of knowledge.” (Unfree Associations London: Process Press 2000 p233) To bring us right up to date something came my way only recently from the ‘Psychoanalytic and Psychodynamic Section’ of the UKCP. A set of suggestions with regard to “criteria for training” in which there is a bit about training outcomes. Almost invariably one does not have to move beyond the first paragraph to realise that one is entangled in the middle of a piffle market, all saturated with the immutable law of good intentions. As the Cambridge analyst Liz Guild said in a discussion about the ineffable criteria of “continuing professional development” … “They’ll want video cameras in the consulting rooms next.” But back to the document, first up we have what the “learner” (i.e.. trainee) is to demonstrate, all set within a seriality of grids, boxes to be ticked, which have the aesthetic appeal of scaffolding round a cathedral, not to mention their faintly puritanical nuancing. In the first paragraph what could be expected of a trainee is as follows: “An advanced knowledge of psychoanalytic theory both classical and contemporary.” Leaving aside what might be entailed by the term ‘advanced’, let us look a little more closely at what superficially might appear so seductive: “knowledge of contemporary psychoanalysis”. Should appeal to us at the Site. A contested arena no doubt but let me run past you a cluster of names that it might be possible to install as significant players within the field of whatever we take ‘contemporary psychoanalysis’ to be: Francois Roustang, Michel Henri (“the philosopher that psychoanalysis has been waiting for”), Mikkel Borg-Jacobsen (prior to his defection to the Freud bashing division), Isabelle Stengers, Judith Butler, Leo Bersani, Leon Chertok, Philippe Lacou-Labarth…I could go on, a partial list of course, partial in the sense that they appeal to me, partial in that they form only a part of any loosely configurable whole. But my claim is this: were one to take a random sample from the names currently on the register of the UKCP, my wager is that less than 10%, less than one in ten, would have even heard of these people, far less be able to say anything regarding their initiatives. But what I am not saying is twofold: I am not saying or seeking to imply that I have this so called advanced knowledge of contemporary psychoanalysis, and secondly and more importantly, nor am I seeking to suggest that those alledged 90% of those on the register in blissful ignorance of this select few are not “good”, goo enough psychoanalysts. And that is my point, and maybe it is faintly regretable, that there is no discernable correlation between an ability to “demonstate” a high degree of psychoanalytical knowledge and the capacity to be a “good” analyst. Something ‘other’, something not possible to “demonstrate”, to re-present, to re-produce, seems to always intervene.

One of the difficulties that I face in all this is that I know that it appears as if I am saying that anything goes. If we cannot be sure of, cannot take for granted, anything of the vast body of psychoanalytic stories, then we would be better off leaving it all to chance, ultimately to the trainees desire. And of course there is something in such a criticism, for I am only too well aware that were push come to shove, it is almost that anything, certainly something more anarchic, would be an improvement on the prevailing malaise. But I would like to try and show that it so happens that I do believe that there is all sorts of knowledge that can be transmitted, handed on to others, and that of course we all are situated within a tradition, but I am less happy with the forms of the transmission so characterized by the obligatory, the imperative, the have to, with the unvarying need to assess. The assertion that the trainee is ‘authorised to authorised themselves’ seems unlikely to be improved upon, or put another way, I have not heard of a better idea, but it is increasingly getting lost in our polluted culture. The artist Barnett Newman, presently showing at Tate Modern, said that the challenge, as he saw it, was “to make the colours expressive rather than didactic” and that is a freedom that psychoanalysis and it’s transmission may very well be in danger of losing. So to change the tone of things I want to, briefly, read you something that I am in the middle of writing…it is a collaboration with a patient of mine. She asked if I would do a book with her, and it is mainly about her experiences of psychoanalysis…she has been, pretty much continuously, in psychoanalysis since the middle 1950’s, and that for the most part has kept her out of hospital… I am her fourth analyst…there are all sorts of things that I could tell you to give you more of a picture, but I shall just mention two things: one is that we have an arrangement where on the days that she does not come to see me I telephone her (this has been going on for years, and is not abused, usually limited to fairly brief contact …consequently when I go away on holiday I will phone her every few days or so); secondly in the bit that I am about to read to you I am responding to a piece of her writing in which she describes her reaction to the death of her third analyst, a senior Jungian, who she had been seeing for about 18 years. For about a year after this she was unable to look after herself and had been taken care of by a good friend…although at times of particular distress she shared a bed with her friend, she wrote of a particular fantasy (her word) that she had not shared with anyone. Anyway this is what I have written…