On Psychoanalytic Training

The three pillars of psychoanalytic training – a presentation to the Lacan Circle of Australia, February 2022

The discussion below was given to an audience in Melbourne, and elsewhere (via Zoom), and whilst it has specific reference to local developments in Melbourne involving the Lacan Circle of Australia, perhaps it might be of broader interest.

Psychoanalysis is different to the other fields which have the Greek letter ‘psi-‘ as a prefix. This is true in many respects, but the one of note here is that concerning training.
There is no set course by which one becomes a psychoanalyst, at least, not in the Lacanian tradition, and neither in many others. Instead, there are three pillars undergirding the formation of a psychoanalyst, and given in order of importance, these are one’s own personal psychoanalysis; practice under clinical supervision, and engagement with psychoanalytic theory.
Psychoanalysis is a praxis, which is to say, it is a field in which a theory is applied to a practice, but in which the relation to theory and practice is dialectical.
It is entirely valid for someone to study ‘psychoanalytic theory’, ‘Lacanian theory’, and to deploy the knowledge earned therefrom to writing papers in one discipline or another. Nonetheless, it is questionable whether this has anything to do with psychoanalysis as a praxis. Moreover, the kind of theory that one ends up with when one approaches theory as theory alone is fundamentally different to that which emerges in connection with clinical praxis, even if the two differing approaches sometimes share a common jargon or schema. This is one of the reasons why one’s own analysis comes first.
This may be unexpected to those who have perhaps arrived at psychoanalysis from the other direction, taking interest in the literature of psychoanalysis and only then turning to its clinical usage. Again, there is nothing inherently wrong with this approach, but one’s own analysis holds primacy.
Psychoanalysis is, above all, more an art of listening than of speaking clever things. This art of listening begins with listening to one’s self, to one’s own schtick, one’s own discourse. That cannot be found in a theory. Resistance is on the side of the analyst rather than the analysand, and the analyst can only go as far in practice as his or her own resistances allow.
What constitutes the end of analysis is debated. There are many ideas about it, and I won’t enter into them at length here. In practice, however, psychoanalysts can and do work in the clinic whilst still being in analysis. Sometimes, psychoanalysts seek a second analysis. There are different definitions of a finished analysis, and not all preclude analytic work of one’s own.
This leaves supervision, which, in the Lacanian tradition, has received insufficient attention in the literature. If you have never entered into a psi-field you may be unaware of what clinical supervision is. It does not literally entail the presence of a superegoic authority who sits in the room, operating as gaze or voice. The precise workings of supervision are somewhat under-defined, as supervision has no ‘golden rule’ of the sort that animates psychoanalytic work proper. Rather, the supervisee enters into a relationship with a supervisor and, on a regular basis – weekly, for instance – brings their questions. Usually, these questions relate to the supervisee’s cases, and a typical supervision might involve the discussion of one case per supervision session, discussing topics such as diagnosis, interpretation, the handling of the transference, and other matters. This is only a rough formula, however, and supervision discussions might involve questions of theory, directions for further development of the supervisee, or the complex institutional problems that are part and parcel of psychoanalytic practice. Sometimes, one might have one’s own analyst also as one’s supervisor, but for now, at least, as I understand it, the Lacan Circle of Australia is proposing that these positions be filled by two different people.
In addition to these three pillars, I can say with the benefit of personal experience that the cartel structure ought to be considered, if not a fourth pillar, then at least something approximating it. The ability to work in a small group of one’s peers on a topic of one’s choosing, along democratically-arranged lines (i.e. regarding frequency or format of meetings, the topics under discussion, and so forth) is a necessarily different pathway to psychoanalytic theory than a lecture format, which always risks lapsing into university discourse.
Do you know Lacan’s schema of the university discourse? Perhaps, the university discourse is one of the most well-known of the five. Contemporary readings of this particular discourse are expansive, linking it to Foucault, Agamben, and the operation of contemporary capitalism, and whilst I have no quarrel with these readings, I like to approach it with something simpler, initially. The university discourse, like the other discourses, refers to a social bond between a couple, in this case, the teacher and the student. The teacher is in a similar position to a master, but unlike the master (of the Hegelian master-slave dialectic, for example), has knowledge rather than mastery per se as his or her guiding principle. No direct threat or coercion is necessary for the student to be disciplined via discipleship, paying homage to the teacher-master until she too becomes a master of her own. It is not difficult to find examples among Lacan’s contemporaries of such couplings in academia, but I think that when Lacan formulated the discourse of the university, he was not so much criticising the hapless academics as he was issuing a warning to psychoanalysts and their institutions. Undoubtedly, much of institutional psychoanalysis is a university discourse paying homage to the dogma of dead masters, even if some of the masters don’t quite realise that they are dead yet. In any case, a cartel, when it’s functioning well, can be means of analysts working on theory and knowledge without lapsing into the university discourse.
In this sense, a training is not merely reduced le to the acquisition of knowledge, and one of the problems blighting psychoanalysis is the tendency to handle literature as timeless scripture, and to reduce training to the interiorisation of a catechism. If anything, for those coming from established clinical disciplines, a psychoanalytic training is more a process of unlearning, of unknowing.

Self-authorisation, but with the guarantee from a School
Lacan ’s position on the formation of analysts was very simple. The analyst is self-authorised, but this self-authorisation does not preclude the guarantee of a school.
In Australia, in contrast to some other jurisdictions, ‘psychoanalyst’ is not a legally protected term. Anyone who wishes can self-nominate as a psychoanalyst. The question, then, is what to do when it comes to the recognition of this self-nomination by a school. Somewhat paradoxically, self-authorisation is necessary for the school because it is only by this method that one can acquire the clinical experience and clinical supervision necessary for one’s formation.
Why should anyone seek the formal recognition of a school? Obviously, I cannot answer for anybody else, and I can concede that, if it makes no legal difference one way or the other, we are faced with a similar claim to the notion that, like a marriage, it is just a piece of paper. In my experience, however, commitments that are ratified in the symbolic have effects in the real. Moreover, a commitment in this case does not preclude the possibility of annulment. Notoriously, psychoanalysis has involved more than a few divorces. The criteria by which the LCA specifically will undertake the recognition of analyst members is still being determined, but it can be said with certainty that it will involve the three pillars mentioned here. Likewise, for the school itself to practice ethically, it is necessary not only that admission not be a tick-a-box exercise, but similarly that it not occur via arbitrary decisions or in the service of personality cults. Some important responsibilities sit with the school, and not only with the would-be practitioner.

What psychoanalytic training is not, and for whom psychoanalytic training is not
It is a good time to pause on those things that a psychoanalytic training is not.
Psychoanalytic training involves social bonds, and therefore discourse. There is only one discourse, however, that it aims at, and that is the analytic discourse. Each of the other 4 discourses occur within psychoanalytic institutions, and this is part of the reason why the history of psychoanalysis and its institutions is filled with schisms and fragmentation.
A few months ago, some of us at the LCA consulted with our colleagues in Europe about the question of membership. The two signifiers that stood out for me in the discussion, among the criteria for admission, were collegiality and stability.
Let’s start with collegiality. Colleagues can form a social bond, but it is not necessarily a bond of love. It requires a desire among the colleagues which is, if not shared, exactly, is at least minimally overlapping. Part of the role of one’s personal analysis is to question one’s own desire in attaining to the position of psychoanalyst. Let us be honest: as a desire, the desire to analyse could easily conceal motives of jouissance, domination, and wild transference. Collegiality – a shared project – can only proceed on the basis of an interrogation of one’s desire, and a certain stabilisation of one’s bond with the other. This can be a challenge. Psychoanalytic groups inevitably attract outsiders.

This, of course, leads to the signifier of ‘stability’. To my mind, this is not a question of diagnosis. There are psychotic analysts. And, whether psychotic or neurotic, each analyst must recognise and accept his or her limits, and blindspots. Thus, a ‘favourable’ diagnosis is not the sine qua non of practicing as an analyst.
On the other hand, there must arise a question in the case of an analyst whose plan for life is suicide. There is, at the very least, a question as to what the status of the Other would be for such an analyst. Likewise, both collegiality and stability preclude the jouissance of the beautiful soul. Or, to put it differently: if you think that a school or its members are persecuting you, then you need to find another school.
The praxis of psychoanalysis involves the renunciation of a portion of jouissance, and among that portion is that which derives from the life of the ego. In the Lacanian tradition, the ego is radically distinct from the subject, and counter-transference is a question for one’s personal analysis more than a question for supervision, though of course, there are exceptions.
The analyst cannot be themselves in the place of the exception. From the analysand’s perspective in the context of a psychoanalytic treatment, it is true, the analyst may constitute an exception of sorts, that of the at-least-one. But, beyond the confines of the treatment, the analyst is not an exception per se, and is not outside the law, which is not to say that they are reducible to the role of the law’s administrators’ or bureaucrats.
All of that said, the practice of psychoanalysis is not an ascetic ideal. The analyst may – perhaps must – have a life of his or her own, and his or her own modes of jouissance, on the condition that this jouissance is not realised in the clinic itself.

The LCA Clinic
The LCA is presently in advanced discussions regarding the founding of a clinic. The aims of the clinic are twofold: first, to provide clinical training to those who would otherwise lack it, and second, to provide psychoanalysis to those in the community who lack the means to acquire it otherwise. It is not yet decided, but I think that the clinic should be local. Habeus corpus applies to psychoanalysis also.
The city of Melbourne, for all of its flaws, is already a regional capital of sorts for the practice and transmission of psychoanalysis. The clinic will proceed with ethics at the forefront and, by avoiding mere philanthropy – which, as we all know, is principally for the benefit of the philanthropist – it will aim to provide a low-cost analysis. To be clear, this is not the same as an analysis without limits. But by allowing people of low-income to access analysis, and by definition, to become analysts themselves, if they wish, we aim to refuse the typical reproduction of class and ideological bias that is characteristic of other institutions.

The benefits and tensions of a school
A commitment to recognition as an analyst is, defacto, a commitment to a school, and thus a group. I encourage everyone to read Freud’s paper on group psychology, with its remarks on identification, on the leader, and on the satisfactions to be found in groups. These remarks apply no less to psychoanalytic schools, even if one might imagine that said schools should know better.
Lacan made a very interesting, forgotten remark in Seminar 3 about the nature of psychoanalytic writing. ‘It seems that the ultimate point of the discourse is to give a sign to its readers and to prove that the signatory is, if I can put it like this, a non-nobody, that he is capable of writing what everyone else writes.’ Lacan’s comments here remain true. That which passes for psychoanalytic theory, or even a psychoanalytic pass, is very often a performance of transference and ideology. I raise this not in a spirit of criticism. Most of us need to belong to something bigger than ourselves. But we cannot pretend that Lacan, or his followers, resolved the difficulties of the institutional transmission of psychoanalysis, or the training of psychoanalysts. Let us recall that one of Lacan’s final public gestures was to dissolve his own school.
When we hear from contemporary Lacanians it is all about the real. The clinic of the real, the real unconscious, and so forth. Don’t be fooled. This field is absolutely saturated with the symbolic and imaginary dimensions of transference, with all of the latters’ enjoyment, acting out, idolatry and imaginary battles.
Traversing the fantasy – progressing through analysis such that one can practice as an analyst – does not mean simply acquiring group identifications and master signifiers, but rather, establishing some distance between one’s subjecthood and these elements.
It takes many years to develop the skills to be able to distinguish between psychoanalytic praxis and ideology. Entire doctrines are reduced to slogans, and even these take on a soporific quality. You ask for a rationale from first principles, and your interlocutor starts stuttering. If we wish to be Lacanians in spirit, and not merely by ideology, we should aim not so much to assimilate doctrine as to wake people up.

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