The Michigan Society for Psychoanalytic Psychology
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From the President
Barry Dauphin, Ph.D.
As psychoanalytic thinkers, we have educated ourselves to be suspicious of accidents or coincidences in our lives and in the thoughts of those with whom we work. So I was amused in reviewing my choice of reading material for the plane ride to and from Miami for the Division 39 Spring Meeting in March. I grabbed a book that I had purchased during my shop-at-Borders-and-help-MSPP dash last November. It’s called The Future and Its Enemies: The Growing Conflict Over Creativity, Enterprise and Progress, by Virginia Postrel. In many ways Ms. Postrel’s book discusses much of value for the state of our beloved profession, although the author was not ostensibly setting out to write about anything related to psychoanalysis and psychotherapy.
Postrel discusses the ongoing tensions between those who are seeking
some sort of static ideal or statism (emphasizing technocratic rules,
regulations and encumbrances over others in the effort to pursue what
she refers to as the “one best way”) vs. dynamists (those who are
interested in process, freedom, risk, mistakes, messiness and
decentralization, which are part of what she refers to as “the
infinite series”). Consider the following from her book:
Postrel’s position is that it makes better sense to set out some simple rules that allow flexibility and accountability. Although her book addresses cultural and political conflicts concerning growth, technology, social policy, etc., its theme kept coming back to me during and after the Division 39 meetings. I think that the tensions in our field (both within psychoanalysis and psychology) reflect many of these same concerns. Let me concretize it a bit more.
I attended a keynote presentation by Otto Kernberg, M.D., entitled “Identity Revisited.” In the paper he discussed the manualization of a form of psychoanalytic therapy for work with individuals diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. It appears to be a fairly well scripted therapy which requires specific steps at particular points in the process. He and his staff have trained approximately 40 therapists in the technique and have produced several outcome studies. He reports a great deal of success for his method. I was struck by how orderly his presentation was. It was divided into several sections. He announced the beginning and ending of each section. Each section was assigned an identity (which may allow for revisitation). In some respects it represents an innovation in technique, suggesting vitality in psychoanalytic research. I would want this way of working with others to be included in the big tent of psychoanalysis, although I would not want it to represent the essence or defining characteristic of psychoanalysis. There are many technocrats in the medical field, in regulatory agencies and in legislatures who salivate over manualization, and there are many within our profession who are seeking to spell out and enshrine the “one best way.”
An interesting juxtaposition was offered by the other keynote speaker Roy Schafer, Ph.D., in his paper entitled “Caring and Coercive Aspects of the Psychoanalytic Situation.” Schafer discussed how various interventions (or silences) have coercive dimensions in psychoanalysis despite coercion not being part of the consciously intended ends. He emphasized the continual need to think about the unconscious communications of the analyst. His paper suggested the futility of trying to coerce away coercive communications, the essential ambiguity of the psychoanalytic situation, the ongoing pressure the participants have for managing the numerous uncertainties inherent to this work and the willingness to allow oneself to be surprised.
Although he was a keynote speaker for Division 39, I wonder how welcome such a message would be in state legislatures or to the regulators of CE credits. What would be the measurable goals and objectives printed on the advertisement for his talk? Of course, Division 39 didn’t have to worry about that. You see, those who attend the Division 39 meetings cannot receive official CE credit for going to any of the papers, panels or meetings of the main program. Those who want CE credit must pay extra and attend specific programs which conflict with many of the scheduled presentations of Division 39. I wonder why the Division 39 Board frets each year about the attendance to the Spring Meeting? Perhaps more professionals in more states are having to manage the officially coercive aspects of the mandated CE requirements, which leaves less time and fewer resources for investment in their education for the joy of it.
For those interested in the psychodynamic process, I’ll leave you with Postrel’s description of the Dynamist perspective and hope we can continue the conversation at one of MSPP’s meetings, in the pages of the MSPP News or on the website.
The dynamist camp has the opposite problem, and the opposite strength. Although fewer in number, dynamists permit many visions and accept competing dreams. To work together, they do not have to agree on what the future should look like. Their ‘central organizing principle’ is not a specific outcome but an open-ended process. A dynamic future tolerates diversity, evolves through trial and error, and contains a rich ecology of human choices. Dynamists are the party of life. (p. 26)