Power Games: Influence, Persuasion and Indoctrination in Psychotherapy Training (Book Review)

Author:  Raubolt, Richard
Publisher: Other Press 
Reviewed By: Rochelle Kaine, PhD, Vol. XXVII, 1 (Winter 2007), pp. 65-66

There was a once-upon-a-time in the history of psychoanalysis when the findings gained through a self-analysis were cloaked in the anonymity we grant our patients, and no mention was made of the author’s true identity. Freud is perhaps our most notable example, and we have come far with some of his disguised self-disclosures. Even in contemporary analytic writing, it has been said that Kohut was actually the Mr. Z of his groundbreaking paper, “The Case of Mr. Z.” The frank autobiographical stories that make up Power Games in this important volume serve as a reminder that we have become increasingly comfortable with self-revelation both culturally and professionally.

Analytic stories of the self are often twice-told tales. First, we tell the tale of our becoming, and then we write the sequel of our analytic re-making. The nature of the revelations in this volume makes them serve as cautionary tales. Power Games supports revealing our troubled stories in the public good, especially when attempts to re-make us were harmful. When I first heard Richard Raubolt, the book’s editor and contributing author, present a paper on the disastrous course of his immersion in a training institute headed by a charismatic but deeply controlling psychiatrist (who was shockingly later killed, in his office, by a former patient, who then shot and wounded members of his past therapy group before he committed suicide), I was impressed with his important and very well written account of his journey.

His own story was complemented by the paper of Linda Raubolt told from the viewpoint of a wife deeply affected by her husband’s withdrawal into the malevolent aspects of his group supervision experience. That they have survived and flourished is an important part of the tale, and gives it its satisfying ending. These tales gave the momentum to Power Games, which also includes a variety of papers from colleagues on the power issues in their own supervisory, therapeutic, and institute experiences.

Power Games reminds us that we are no strangers to destructive situations: Freud has helped us understand that we have an all-too-human instinct for destructiveness alongside our instinct for love; the psychology of the self helps us better understand the crushing disappointment and harm we suffer because of the pathological narcissism of our authority figures, and our knowledge of masochism (particularly through the work of Esther Menaker) helps us understand why, in defense of the ego, people find and keep themselves in abusive situations, and may in turn abuse others.

Many of the papers are about the destructive aspects of situations that were initially entered into voluntarily, and in eager anticipation of the good that could come of it: therapeutic healing, enhanced professional identity, and a thirst for increased knowledge and skill. The more interesting question, answered somewhat indirectly by the various papers, is what are we really seeking when we enter into an alliance—be it therapy, supervision, or an institute—that may demand a submissiveness that is not in the best interest of the individual?

Is it connection that we seek when we give ourselves over to the Other? Certainly, this need is a core part of our being. The papers speak to a human wish to connect and belong, as well as to master our craft and learn from the wisdom of others, and to avoid the pain of isolation. We do fear exclusion, and it is usually the condition of not belonging that leaves us hungry and in discomfort. But in this volume of essays by analytic practitioners in a variety of training situations, we are presented with the vulnerable underbelly of connectedness to an institute, analyst, or supervisor that becomes coercive and ultimately, stifling.

The important message of these papers is that the desire to belong can do damage to one’s mental well being and, and as both Linda and Richard Raubolt attest, to the structure of one’s family life. When belonging to a training institute that reflects the pathological narcissistic features of an all too charismatic leader (to the detriment of the students), the picture drawn is not pretty. The same situation may prevail in individual supervisory and therapeutic undertakings as well. The crossing of boundaries, the blurring of the lines of self and other, all result in the giving up of the self to no good purpose or end.

By inference, the essays underscore the fact that there is no substitute for healthy self-determination, no matter how compelling the comfort or security of belonging with the Other. The papers make clear that, if belonging necessitates the giving up of one’s own creative will, good judgment, and peaceful mind, then one cannot be in a house of good. The thrust of all of the papers are against domination, subjugation, and mimicry, whether in the analysis or in training. How can they be avoided? Two of the papers by experienced analysts (Kavanaugh, and a joint paper by Molad/Vida) imply that it takes the strength of one’s own creative will to avoid the traps of coercion and submissiveness.

In his detailed study of the philosophical underpinnings of the developments in analytic training, it is clear that Kavanaugh never bought the philosophy of the institute medical model. He was part of the history of the movement led by analytic psychologists to be autonomous (helped in great part by the strength gained from the formation of Division 39). Some of us were part of the scene when non-medical people were denied access to analytic institutes; and for some it proved a fortunate road to independence and creativity. The earlier exclusion of psychologists from analytic institutes had the paradoxical effect of strengthening their wills (the famous Lawsuit) and fostering a spate of less constricting training situations, although any organization with a hierarchical structure has a potential to create the very problems addressed in the book.

In the finding of one’s authentic voice and inspiration, Gershon Molad and Judith Vida tacitly address issues of the intimacy, comradeship and connection that we seek, and feel that it does not have to be at the cost of losing one’s individuality. They make open use of their individual and joint selves—becoming “Gersh” and “Judy” to their public. While their autobiographical accounts avoid the blatant “ME” of Juney B. Jones (now popular in children’s literature), it has clearly been to their creative and personal advantage to feel free to express themselves openly and in the manner and style they see fit to do so. They show, correctly, that love is more authentic than submission.

The inspiring nature of comradeship in creative endeavors has a long and positive history in literary and artistic undertakings, and Molad and Vida’s work is in this spirit. Its success is probably based on being able not to blur the outlines of the self, and having well-defined boundaries. Informality and intimacy with another is then not only possible, it is the condition for creativity.

The French analyst Michael Larivière assessed the effect of Lacan and Lacanian training, especially among those followers who strove to imitate him. His strong message is that one should not mimic the Master and his paper was especially delightful in its indignation. How is mimicry to be avoided?

I had once turned to Lacan in the course of developing my own clinical metapsychology; and that was for his poetic, but extremely lucid distinguishing between the Imaginary and the Real. I did not mimic Lacan by becoming in any sense a “Lacanian” but rather, used his imagery to describe the terror of abandonment that a patient of mine could sometimes feel if her husband just went into the next room. His going into the next room could be as terrifying to her as his going away on a trip. At that moment, her Imaginary became the awful Real. But generally, I had not turned to Lacan because I found him too obscure for comfort.

Larivière addresses the “mimetic” (i.e., imitative) quality of Lacanian followers. He complains that they all began to sound like him, as Lacan predicted, and dress like him; and while strongly objecting to these trends, Larivière delighted me with this passage in an otherwise well-written essay:

“Lacan strove, through the use of deliberately arcane, sometimes seemingly almost amphigorical, indeed often baroque, magniloquent, euphistic language, to incessantly dismantle the implied unity of meaning, because the truth of the unconscious was in his view incompatible with monolithic, indivisible, indiscerptible sense” (p. 164).

It made me laugh, and wonder if he were pulling the reader’s leg?

Power Games presents essays and commentary by other distinguished colleagues. The book confirms some of my previously held notions: it is easier not to bend to a theorist if one does not strive to totally belong to their school.There are only a few truly brilliant ideas that succinctly hit the nail on the clinical head, and those are to be found widely scattered among the different (often non-communicating) schools of thought. It is also incomprehensible to me that only one school of thought could help us understand the complexity of the psyche. It is also almost a miracle for one’s analysis to be the source of true personal growth and deep satisfaction. There are only a few master analysts who can read and confirm your subjectivity while helping you re-structure the pathological part of the self so that you may fulfill your ideal self. One is lucky to find such an analyst. Also, there are probably not enough gifted supervisors for all the students that need one. Pick and choose wisely; keep in mind that one can also learn much from one’s patients. Every time a patient is disappointed in us, and we can contain its expression, we learn a truth.

Coercive aspects of psychoanalysis are not limited to American brands, as Larivière’s paper suggests. Nor is coercion and destructive narcissism limited to analytic institutes. Shaw’s paper mentions its presence in the religious organization, Siddha Yoga and its current leader, a beautiful woman named Gurumayi. She herself was the hard-won disciple of a charismatic Guru, beating out her brother who was his first favorite. The practice there has been to urge the therapists who come to learn to meditate to influence their own patients to join the organization, among other serious offenses. If true, it made me sad, for I have so loved the record of Gurumayi’s soothingly beautiful chanting, but it is clear that the group overstepped its boundaries. A 12-Step principle comes to mind that helps with these inevitable disappointments: keep the best and leave the rest.

This also brings up the issue of authority, which is an unspoken underpinning of the book. What is the nature of our own authority and how do we come by it? Otto Rank said that both the hero and the artist must be self-appointed. Self-appointment is most likely based on our capacity for authenticity. Probably it is in our ability to affirm our subjectivity that gives authority to the self. We can be wrong, and we may come to understand something in another way, but at each moment of our subjective development, we are nonetheless authentic. It is up to our transitional figures of authority to honor and give words to the “unthought known” of our subjectivity, both emotional and intellectual. We probably should accept no less. This book may well be a manifesto to that end.

Reviewer Note

Rochelle G. Kainer

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