It’s not an unreasonable question for me to ask who/what/where…is a psychoanalyst (?). The process of becoming an analyst, the formation, is one that proceeds for a lifetime, a wee bit like the formation of a samurai warrior. In much the same way as the samurai, one is at risk of a great loss, of one’s existence, if you rest on your laurels as to where you have gotten to. Again, similarly, it takes all of your being and resources to continue with the struggle of becoming. So, what is it all about?
I started working with my own training analysis four years ago. This has meant that I have worked with a psychoanalyst twice a week during this time, or approximately two hundred clinical hours ‘on the couch’. It goes with the additional hundreds of hours working with other analysts.
What I can honestly say is that process has been one of navigating around what the Jungian analyst James Hollins called the Three A’s – Anxiety, Ambiguity and Ambivalence. It can be absolutely excruciating at times lying on the analyst’s couch, not being able to construct a meaningful sentence, feeling very foolish and embarrassed, mired in futility, but understanding that trying to work through these blockages is at the core of the work.
My own analysis is at the root of my own work with clients. How could I ever ask something of a client that I would not ask of myself? And often I find that the work of my clients sets a higher bar for my own analytic work.
And what do I encourage in my own analytic work? The following are a number of basic precepts that provide a framework for the development of the ‘transference’, or what is commonly called the ‘therapeutic alliance’.
Firstly, I encourage people to speak freely, without trying to censor what they have to say. The analytic encounter is certainly not one where you will be judged or have the morality of society called out against you. Call it out, say it as it is, say the first thing that comes to your mind, try not to be worried about what I or anybody else might think. The root of this comes from my own experience working with prisoners in a jail in Dublin in a listening role – I realised that the most important thing was allowing people to hear themselves speak their own words, their truth, without needless interruption (or judging) by me. It also comes from the foundation idea of Sigmund Freud who wrote about the importance of ‘free association’, in part because he was well aware of the processes of censoring that occurs in psychical processes such dreams – and thus he encouraged the client to try to get around the censoring process by speaking and associating freely.
A second idea I have about the analytic work is that the psychoanalytic encounter is not an ordinary conversation or dialogue. Sometimes I might have something to say in response to what is said to me but, equally, I may not. Allowing the client to work through on their own, accompanied by an attentive listening, is often a mainstay of the work of engaging with the Three A’s I mentioned earlier – anxiety, ambiguity and ambivalence. There aren’t any easy answers, and certainly I’m not the person who can provide the ‘quick fix’. What is critical, always, is what the client has to say.
My third precept is about knowledge and meaning. You are only coming to me because you do not know the root cause of what ails you. But nor can you know what lies of the root of everything, and it’s important to free yourself from the burden of having to know or feel that you should know. And I also recommend that you free yourself from the burden of feeling that you have to help me to make sense of everything – why not start on the basis that I might never know the whole thing, but what is most critical is to get you to a place where you will know enough to be able to have better relationships and to work better – as Freud suggested might be the outcome of an analysis?
Beyond this, I don’t really have much more to say about the process of psychoanalysis. I just know that it takes a long time to develop insight as part of the process of change. And that the process of change starts with having the opportunity to speak freely without censoring or needless interruption. And to trust that what I have set out above may be a good place to start the work.