Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Analysis as Apprenticeship

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on December 8, 2016

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How do you make a psychoanalyst? No one knows, is the short answer. The tradition has relied on a tripartite model in which the student, a licensed clinician, enters into a personal analysis, attends four years of classes which are four hours a week, associated with one-hundred pages of reading per week, and has three psychoanalytic case control patients, which means three patients come four times a week, and each of those patients is associated with a supervisor who discusses the clinical work. This is a daunting task for most students who have loans to pay and children to raise, and yet, year after year, the five psychoanalytic institutes in town, get students, and every year there are students who graduate, now thinking of themselves as psychoanalysts. To paraphrase Mark Twain, the reports of the death of psychoanalysis are premature. Having said that, there is no agreement about how to develop a psychoanalyst, or how to develop a psychoanalytic practice, and yet, my task is to teach this subject to first-year students. As you could predict, I pull the curtain back and expose the fact that we do not know precise definitions of a psychoanalyst or psychoanalytic treatment, but we accept that we work in a fuzzy field, in which we cannot scientifically prove that we offer help, and yet, we have the conviction that we do. To work with conviction sounds awfully like a religion, and so we discuss that too. In essence, we have, what amounts to apprenticeships, where students find mentors who guide them through their work, and so traditions are passed down, which may or may not be helpful. The student, I emphasize, must find the path that makes sense for them. This provides little comfort, as the mandate is purposefully vague. I have one more class to teach. My students are enthusiastic and confused. I think I did my job.

2 Responses to “Analysis as Apprenticeship”

  1. Shelly said

    If there are five psychoanalytic institutes in town, do all five teach the same principles and practices? Do all teachers have the same things to say, or is it individualized based on experience? Does a teacher have to go with the spirit of the institute when they teach and are there differences between the five?

    • The five institutes have different interpretations of psychonalysis and so the curriculum is different. Where I teach, I have independence in my teaching, but some institutes are rigid and they demand a certain set of readings which sets a very specific tone for the class. The differences are interesting and how students gravitate to different institutes is also interesting. Thanks.

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