From the Graduate Student Committee

The committee focuses on finding and supporting psychoanalytic students

By Scott Swan, MA

At major universities, training in psychoanalytic psychotherapy has become endangered. Clinical psychology departments have shifted their training models and curricula away from psychoanalytic theory to cognitive and behavioral approaches, while moving away from training in technique and interventions, towards the more academic pursuit of grants and funding. Many academics now dismiss psychotherapy as an afterthought to the “real” work of research.

Some psychologists demonize analytic work as unethical because it allegedly lacks empirical support, as if psychoanalytic technique were a modern form of witchcraft. Students anxiously hide their interest in analytically oriented training, for fear of exclusion from coveted doctoral training, practicum sites, or internship programs. A colleague of mine recently equated her intentions to become a psychoanalytic clinician to being in the closet. Sensing that many find our ideas threatening, I cannot help thinking that we are being socially marginalized from within our own field, solely because of our professional and theoretical values. With graduate students as its future members, this poses an important challenge to Division 39.

Fortunately, I trained in a program that carries some respect for psychoanalysis, continuing to recruit analytic supervisors. Supervision has probably been the single most important factor in the development of my professional identity. However, even there the psychoanalytic tradition is fading. As each faculty member retires, they are replaced by researchers harboring an animus towards psychoanalysis. The most challenging and rewarding aspects of my training may soon become extinct.

How can students in situations like mine supplement a graduate education to include the tradition of sychoanalysis? Seminars provided by our local chapter, psychoanalytic reading groups, and my own therapy with an analyst each expanded my knowledge and challenged me clinically. At spring meetings, and at division-sponsored events at APA’s convention, I have witnessed and participated in live supervision, heard and given papers, and met with speakers in small workshops reserved for graduate students. I have never taken for granted efforts by Division 39 to provide such opportunities, because each has uniquely enriched my understanding of our work.

Given the current situation, the importance of mentoring graduate students cannot be underestimated. Future Division 39 members are out here, but many are in hiding or are simply misinformed. Some realize only after starting training in academia that they prefer clinical work to research. The research/clinical split poses a broader challenge, but more immediately, we need to reach out and support successful psychoanalytic practitioners and academics, otherwise many graduate students in psychology will miss the professionally and personally challenging training opportunities the psychoanalytic community has to offer.