Letter From Dr. Paola Mieli to Her Colleagues in the USA (1)

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The priority given to the selection of candidates (with all the requirements attached to it) manifests the spirit of the US tradition in professional analytic training. Considered from its inception as one therapy among many in the field of mental health or “mental hygiene,” as a branch of medicine, psychoanalysis continues to be approached as a profession requiring standards of training comparable to those of other professions. The analytic institute has come to represent an establishment devoted to the production and the reproduction of a certain business, just like other professional schools, for instance, those for law, dentistry, accounting and so on. Once a candidate is deemed “fit” for the profession, s/he is already on track, and the experience to come proves predictable for most aspiring psychoanalysts. The candidate will simply have to follow the particular institute’s regulations and duly meet its requirements, which may call for variations in the length of training according to individual “character and disposition.” Within this framework, high standards encourage conformity. Professional quality coincides with business interests.

It is striking that, in the history of North American Psychoanalytic Institutions, this order of things has never been seriously questioned. In fact, as Freud always insisted, psychoanalysis implies by its very nature a training that is not comparable to that of any other profession, since it implies the experience of the subjective division between unconscious and consciousness and, therefore, the confrontation with the unknown (including the unknown of one’s own vocation, which may radically contradict one’s career choices). It is not by chance that Freud considered personal analysis to be the condition for becoming an analyst: we cannot know what the outcome of a personal analysis will be. The desire of the analyst can only be the consequence of one’s personal analysis, not its condition. Such a desire cannot be confused with the wish “to become” an analyst, which, as an ideational formation or ideal identification, is nothing more than a symptom among others to be analyzed.

To assess “eligibility” prior to analysis on the grounds of involvement and experience in the mental health professions, implies the confirmation of a choice already made , granting to it the status of a requirement, prior to giving a person the chance to analyze it and question it. As supervision attests, this results all too often in the institutional re-enforcement of symptoms, rather than their resolution.

It is of course to be wished that people who have chosen to work in the field of mental health — social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, nurses and so on — will decide to undertake an analysis. This will certainly be helpful in the choice they have already made. Occasionally their analysis will make them into analysts. But to require involvement in a mental health profession as a main condition for a candidate to be eligible implies an error of timing, indicating an error of judgment, a problematic misunderstanding of the specificity and uniqueness of the analytic field. There is no way of shortcutting the process of analytic formation. The outcome of an individual’s own personal analysis should be the grounds for his/her decision to become an analyst, for the discovery of that vocation; this will then imply the appropriate theoretical studies and clinical experiences, which the analytic institution should provide and supervise, independently of any previously made career choice.