Who can become a psychoanalyst?
In Spain, as in most of the Western world, current legislation requires that those who wish to study psychoanalysis must previously have undertaken studies in psychiatry or clinical psychology.
These preceding studies guarantee a solid enough grounding in psychopathology, differential diagnosis, brain functioning, psychopharmacology, research methods, treatment options and social psychology that are essential for clinical practice.
However, those studies are not enough to be a psychoanalyst. There are certain personality traits, of those who wish to undergo further training in order to become psychoanalysts, that must be present in order for that wish to become a reality. These traits are not necessarily fully consolidated at the beginning of an analyst’s training, but there has to be at least a core that can be developed.
Those who wish to train in psychoanalysis in Madrid, in the Asociación Psicoanalítica de Madrid, will go through interviews where these qualities will be assessed, as well as the depth of self-knowledge acquired through personal analysis.
What are they then?
Emotional and intellectual honesty:
Every psychoanalysis and psychoanalytic psychotherapy rests on the quest for finding the patient’s inner truth, whatever it may be. This comes with a requirement of honesty on the patient’s part, but also on the analyst’s. Due to the sensitive material that they will work with and the trust it requires, the analyst must be willing to recognize that he is not infallible and can make mistakes, and he must also be willing to face whatever may arise during the treatment –– analysis is not an ascetic intellectual exercise and strong emotions will most likely appear at some time.
Although the analyst never talks about himself, and thus preserves the patient from any interference, he must be receptive to whatever the patient may make him feel throughout a treatment because it is a valuable source of information on the patient’s inner functioning, and may indicate how the patient relates to significant people in his life. This receptiveness on the analyst’s part requires a fundamental emotional honesty, not fleeing what one feels, no matter what it may be, and not acting on it. Needless to say, this honesty is also the cornerstone of the psychoanalyst’s professional ethics, an ethic that forbids any utilisation of the patient for the analyst’s benefit, and is also bedrock of the therapeutic setting.
With regards to intellectual honesty, one must begin with the fact that psychoanalysis is a discipline of enormous theoretical diversity and wealth. From its outset, the contributions of analysts working with children, with groups, with families, and with severe pathology have significantly broadened our knowledge of mental functioning, but such breadth has also considerably complexified the field and there remain numerous areas that require further and deeper research.
This means that analysts must not only have an open and critical attitude towards new theoretical developments, but also a judicious approach to clinical work, where, like in any other scientific discipline, they must be careful not to single-mindedly look for what they want to find (a common bias), but rather be open to unexpected discoveries that may contradict what they originally thought. The foundation of this intellectual honesty is, of course, the acknowledgment of the limitations of our knowledge, and this allows us to refrain from rushing to hasty conclusions.
In order to become a competent analyst it is essential to be sensitive to other people’s suffering. Empathy means being able to feel with the other person what that person is feeling, it implies an emotional resonance, a receptiveness to being touched by others, to be able to imagine what they feel. It is sometimes confused with a perfect symmetry between the experiences of the one who suffers and the experiences of the one who is empathic; if that were the case it would seriously restrict our ability to understand others since our individual experiences are necessarily limited.
Sensitive human beings can feel and imagine well beyond the boundaries of their personal experience. That said, someone who has never suffered, or who has never allowed themselves to feel emotional pain, with have trouble being empathic. Future analysts will often have been children or teenagers that naturally listened to others, consoled them, and were sensitive to their needs. This empathic trait will be deeply worked on during an analyst’s training so that he can be close enough to the patient to understand him, but also distant enough to not confuse his feelings with those of the patient. This is a dynamic equilibrium that changes with every patient, during every session, and requires sensitivity and flexibility.
Psychoanalysis rests on the repeated clinical observation that seeking deep emotional knowledge of oneself frees the individual from unnecessary suffering. In order for this to knowledge to be gained there needs to be a working methodology ––free association for the patient, free-floating attention for the analyst–– applied within a stable framework that creates the conditions for the analysis to be thorough. A psychoanalyst is a researcher: he must have the curiosity, the wish to know, to discover, to understand. Those who wish to be psychanalysts will be naturally curious people, often beyond the bounds of psychoanalysis, motivated by numerous interests.
Curiosity, sometimes called the epistemophylic drive, is a tremendous source of energy for analytical work –– many authors have written about the beauty and the surprises afforded by the psychoanalytic profession, the privilege to have access to the three-dimensional labyrinths of the human mind. This same curiosity is also essential for the patient to be able to identify with an investigative attitude towards himself, wanting to know what’s going on inside, getting to the bottom of things. For analysis is indeed a two-person research project: one who provides the material, the other who guides the research, and both who work on the understanding. Curiosity is the origin of all scientific discoveries, of all progress, it’s what allows us to emerge from obscurity.
The psychoanalytic profession does not require one to be a genius, to be sure, but it couldn’t be practiced well without a certain degree of intelligence. What kind of intelligence are we referring to? Firstly, the intelligence to understand psychoanalytic theories ––often highly sophisticated–– in depth, and above all to understand the nature of the kind of knowledge they offer. The phenomenal complexity of the material with which psychoanalysis works, the human psyche, does not allow for the creation of as many “proven facts” as those that can be found in the so-called “hard” sciences.
Psychoanalytical knowledge is based on models of mental functioning, that rest on a very large number of clinical observations, but are always subject to revision. These models must not be reified (turned into concrete objects), a mistake that is often made by those who cannot bear the inherent uncertainty in many areas of life and want to establish absolute “truths” that would reassure them at any price. Thus what we say to patients is almost always under the form of a hypothesis, that opens the field of thought, and that can be confirmed or disconfirmed by the patient’s associations.
Psychoanalytic knowledge requires an intelligent and subtle articulation of two different realms of knowledge: a), the clinical intuition of unconscious processes that do not function according to the rules of logic; b), the ability to translate these intuitions into a language that can be understood by the patient, as well as being rationally debatable in scientific meetings.