Does anyone really know what makes a good psychoanalyst?

The psychogeographer Ian Sinclair in his latest book “London Orbital” about his tramp round the M25 describes the road as follows … “a doughnut ring of perpetual diesel fug and muck, road heat, visible from space, now masks traffic island London… a tarmac tourniquet squeezing the life blood out of the capital.”

M25, MI5, CID, CIA, UKCP, BCP all engaged in a similarly hideous project, control and surveillance, for as Sinclair says of the motorway “we’re trapped and there is no way out.” The first casualty is a capacity for thoughtfulness, in this instance, the matter under consideration, with regard to the training of psychoanalysts (note that I use the term psychoanalysis and psychotherapy interchangeably as I have yet to be satisfied by any sustainable attempt at differentiation). Whenever there is an initiative to raise questions about some of what are taken to be fundamental or foundational truths about what might constitute a training one is invariably met, cutting it off at the knees as it were, with the rejoinder that ‘you couldn’t do that, because it wouldn’t comply with UKCP guidelines, directives, minimum requirements.’ Almost coexistent with the inauguration of any such conversation is this lethally anaethetising response. So what I am proposing this evening, a sort of ecological imperative if you will, is that we carve out a permissible enclave in which it might be possible, however temporarily, to breathe more freely, and to examine some of these unquestioned certainties.

Let us begin with some of the history. By 1918 Freud made public a concern at the International Conference in Budapest that he could foresee an increasing demand for psychoanalysis, with ideas of it being for the ‘people’, “for the masses”, consequently there was going to be a need for more analysts. In other words there were expansionist objectives, which coincided with ideas going in the opposite direction with regard to training. With restriction. From there on in no one should practice as a psychoanalyst who has not first undergone their own analysis. Interestingly it was not Freud who was the first to suggest this, but someone called Nunberg, but whoever it was it became axiomatic. Although one might note, in passing, that this was not so at the New York Institute until 1937. However within five years Freud was diagnosed with cancer and there were understandable anxieties that he might die and die very soon. This was the context out of which emerged the so called ‘Berlin Rules’: the tripartite system that pretty much operates to this day: the system of ones personal analysis, seminars, and supervision of ones work as being the fundamental, foundational elements of any training. Looking back it is possible to discern a veritable rush to “establish a solid dam against heterodoxy”, as if the very future of psychoanalysis was at stake. What was characteristic of this was both an in-mixing of rigid selection and long drawn out periods of authoritarian training, with institutionalisation an end point in a set of convergent vectors. All the while this was underpinned by “The International Training Committee”, which was to be described by Michael Balint in 1948 as a “melancholy entity…it produced nothing but futile disputes.” (“On the Psycho-Analytical Training System” Inter. Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 29:3 1948 p.168)