Letter to the editor

Ahmed Fayek reflects on the crisis faced by a discipline undergoing constant evolution

Something is missing in the discussion about “the crisis in psychoanalysis.” Namely, which psychoanalysis are we talking about? We do not have one psychoanalysis as before. There is also no denying that the fancy names of the contemporary schools of psychoanalysis have produced theoretical rebuttals of the Freudian doctrine but no comprehensive theoretical replacements. Those theories do not have a model of development (necessary to refer psychopathology to a point of fixation or repetition compulsion) or a system of diagnosis based on their theoretical premises (to connect theory with technique) to claim the right to be psychoanalysis.

This is not the problem; this is the symptom of a problem. The problem is that Freud left us two theories. The one we are familiar with is an extension and elaboration of the catharsis theory, which is based on the repression of unacceptable urges, ideas, fantasies, etc. The other is what he discovered from listening to his patients’ associations, but did not articulate in a final form. Just to mention some of its features: between 1900 and 1905 he discovered the working of the primary process, infantile sexuality and the function of the after-effect, Trieb and mental representation and the system Ucs. Between 1913 and 1915 he discovered the formative process of identification (not a pathological mechanism), narcissism as the replacement for the libido theory, and revised, in a major way, the three concepts of Trieb, the unconscious and repression (wrongly assigned as papers on metapsychology: they are papers on psychology). He remained captive of the useless framework of the theory of catharsis and nobody dared to criticize it while he was alive.

After his death the situation of psychoanalysis unraveled: a flawed articulated theory of catharsis and a flawless theory of psychoanalysis that is waiting to be articulated. The disintegration in our indiscipline with the controversies in Great Britain, the splits in France and the collapse of ego psychology in the US created the need for substituting Freud’s authority with the authority of the institution: an authority that has no real foundation in the form of a defined theory, therefore it had to invent rituals, rules, hierarchies, and other paraphernalia to sustain itself…and farewell to substance.

The unbehagen in psychoanalysis is stemming from the honesty of the young idealizing generation who discovers that they did not learn enough, train well, guided and supervised properly. I know that from experience. When I was teaching in The Montreal Institute and the other branches of the Institute, the candidates expressed their disappointment that the first two years that were dedicated to Freud were not enough. Some who knew better asked for studying some of the French works because they wanted to learn of the “other” things about Freud.

My take on the matter is that because Freud’s real theory of psychoanalysis is lying there in his text unspecified, psychoanalysis has become sclerotic with the remnants of the theory of catharsis. A new generation of training and supervising analysts who are in charge of the institutes at the present time, and the institutes of the “contemporary” institutes have a very poor conception of the Freudian doctrine and are doing a bad job teaching and supervising. Could that defect be remedied: yes but only when we agree to put our cards on the table: which psychoanalysis are we talking about?

Ahmed Fayek, Ottawa, ON