The Institute as Crypt of Psychoanalysis

Richard Brouillette, LCSW

The psychoanalytic institute plays a repressive role for individual members and candidates at both a personal and social level, thereby inhibiting psychoanalysts from operating as public citizens.  The author reviews previous critiques of institute structure and attempt to deepen the critique via the work of Jacques Derrida and Maria Torok, contending that institutes establish a falseness among candidates and members, which operates like a psychic crypt.  He closes by calling for the rejection of the institute model and suggests alternate paths for individuals to become psychoanalysts.


The Stakes

“Trump Said ‘Torture Works.’  An Echo Is Feared Worldwide,” reads a January 5th New York Times headline.  The article was co-authored by James Risen, a journalist instrumental in breaking the news that the American Psychological Association (APA) had been influenced by figures in the George W. Bush administration into becoming a key support for the American torture program and alleged war crimes.  With two words, “torture works,” the American president-elect degraded the global state of human rights.  If any profession should have something to say about torture, it would be psychoanalysis, as it takes the human soul as its subject.  When would it be correct and professional for a psychoanalyst to go against the status quo and denounce a sitting president by name?  In the case of the alleged APA involvement in torture and war crimes, it was two psychoanalysts, Steven Reisner and Stephen Soldz, who led the charge for accountability.  Dr. Reisner is not institute trained, while Dr. Soldz directs a university-style psychoanalytic degree program that is not a psychoanalytic institute.  Would it be fair to argue that these two psychoanalysts took risks because they are not institute affiliated?  It is likely not a coincidence.

Institute life exerts a great unconscious pressure on candidates and members to remain enclosed and isolated within a field-specific bubble; this process has already nearly destroyed the profession, as it is increasingly surpassed by media savvy representatives of cognitive therapy and neuroscience.  When it comes to human rights abuses, psychoanalysts hold symposia and speak to each other.  They create publications by and for psychoanalysts.  But by and large, they do not engage the press, other mental health fields or approaches, or write articles for a popular audience; nor do they tend to engage government and elected officials.  Only with the rise of Trump has a minority of more socially conscious psychoanalysts begun to enter the public sphere with letters to the editor.

Aside from iconoclast exceptions, psychoanalysts are notoriously apolitical, or as some may say, “neutral.”  This neutrality starts within the culture of institutes themselves, but then slips into a general implied prohibition against engaging the social and political spheres outside institutes as well.  How does this happen?

We might begin by asking: where is there space for a candidate in a psychoanalytic institute to address issues related to the sociopolitical moment?  How does a candidate build the capacity, in terms of theory and technique, to address sociopolitical aspects of the psychoanalytic process?  Do institutes prepare candidates to become psychoanalyst-citizens who can bring psychoanalytic discourse into plain discussion among peers in a democracy?  In a word, I believe the answer is no.  Psychoanalytic institutes, by a design going back to Freud, preclude interaction with the outside world.

This paper is part of a larger piece originally posted on the “Psychoanalytic Activist” blog, which was intended as a plea to psychoanalytic institute members and candidates to consider why institutes close off participation in the outside world and inhibit engagement with the public on sociopolitical issues.  In that piece I drew a parallel between psychoanalysts’ ritual of neutrality with the problem of neutrality for journalists who, in the era of Trumpism, are faced with one political party that explicitly promotes lying.  The institution of journalism is foundering as it loses credibility in trying to maintain a balanced, “both sides do it” position.

The analytic community, too, must understand that the illusion of neutral separation from the world can no longer stand.  If this illusion of separation continues, psychoanalysis will reach near total social invisibility, and those who openly practice it will be considered incompetent, outdated psychotherapists.  No one feels more anxiety about these realities than candidates, who (in the current neoliberal environment of “evidence-based” efficiency fantasies, popular neuroscience journalism “listicles,” insurance review boards, and mass prioritizing of economic self-interest) will face the prospect of transitioning a client from weekly psychotherapy to a slow, multi-session per week, years-long analysis.  Reverie does not seem efficient.

For too long, the psychoanalytic community has maintained the illusion that issues of economic class, gender identity, racism, misogyny, social inequality, and the destruction of communities and climate were “subspecialties” one had the privilege to choose to pursue — or not.  This is most clearly reflected in training institute curricula.  Check off the box that you took the class on prejudice, then get back to studying “psychoanalysis.”  The separation of the two in a curriculum has implications both conscious and unconscious.  It has become painfully obvious that we cannot solve the problem by making curricula into a jalopy of social issue add-ons.  All of these issues bear on the formation of and sociopolitical demands on human subjectivity (which was presumably the actual subject of psychoanalysis).  It has taken too long for established psychoanalysts to come around to addressing sociopolitical issues, and their response has been anemic in spite of the clear, urgent need.  There are engrained, institutional reasons for this hesitant, passive response to the outside world.

The excerpt of the piece reproduced here is my effort to understand and explore how institutes reproduce inhibition across generations, dating back to Freud’s original founding of the International Psychoanalytic Association (IPA); and further how this closure is reproduced at the level of unconscious fantasy among members, candidates, and institute group process.  I survey well-known efforts to understand how psychoanalytic training models establish and reproduce closure among candidates and members.  I then build on those efforts by introducing a reading of the work of Maria Torok, in order to discuss incorporation as a means of understanding the personal stakes of closure for candidates in training analysis.  My argument is that the closure induced by institute training creeps into a tacit prohibition, aimed at candidates and analysts, against engaging a popular audience on theory or addressing sociopolitical issues; and this at a time when the work of psychoanalysts is most needed to address failing institutions in the outside world.

As the location of transition from one generation to the next, the candidate is the essential pivot in transforming the field of psychoanalysis.  Notice I do not say that candidates need to transform institutes — rather, they must transform the field.  As I attempt to argue, psychoanalytic institutes are zombie social entities that are beyond hope. 

The core dysfunction permeating institute life is reproduced with(in) the candidate, and it could potentially be stopped by candidates as a group.  My conclusion is a call to action that some may find unthinkable: abandon the institute.  Reject cross-generation cultish insularity and, in so doing, open a path for actually engaging and resisting neoliberal instrumental reason, rather than hiding from it.  If we do this, we will better open ourselves to the conflicts of our patients and be more ably attuned to their reality and needs.

To Forget Without Ado ...

Doing the symptom, I will pretend to make a brief, irresponsible, and very illegitimate contribution here to the discussion …

Jacques Derrida (2007, p. 324)

This paper is, in large part, a response and paean to Jacques Derrida’s 1981 challenge to the psychoanalytic establishment on the issue of closure, and specifically, to the simple question Derrida raises toward the end of his paper: Why psychoanalytic closure?  You could say this is a kind of “fan fiction” as I am identifying with Derrida by taking up the position of “foreign body,” or symptom, in raising the question.  You also could say that my identification with the symptom has led to my own personal choice to abandon institutes for the ethical, theoretical, and practical reasons I sketch here.

Derrida presented his “geopsychoanalysis” paper to a Franco-Latin American meeting of psychoanalysts in Paris in 1981.  This was a meeting dwelling on outsides: held outside the auspices of the IPA, with an outsider giving the keynote.  Derrida’s presentation kicked off the meeting with the first morning slot on the first day and he made a show of asking aloud why he was invited to speak; he, not a psychoanalyst, not even in analysis, an outsider.  This interrogation led Derrida to treat the meeting’s program brochure as analytic material and the notion of Latin America as outside the geography of psychoanalysis, as well as what it means to be foreign or a foreign body vis-a-vis the institutional gaze of psychoanalysts.  Derrida referred to Freud’s New Introductory Lectures, nos. 30-31, as well as Freud’s notion of the symptom as “a body foreign to the ego.”  “That is what I am doing here,” Derrida says, “I do symptom, I do the symptom, I am the symptom, it’s a role I’m playing, if not for each of you, then at least for a certain ego of the analytic institution” (p. 321).

By “doing the symptom,” Derrida departed from his initial playful tone and rebuked the psychoanalytic establishment for their failure to adequately address and denounce torture and human rights abuses in Argentina and across Latin America.  Derrida read minutes from an IPA meeting as if they were minutes from a clinical encounter, where, in language reminiscent of current Trump-era institutional prevarications and equivocations, the IPA president refers to “rumors of alleged violations of human rights” in Argentina, and claims that “the IPA … condemns the violation of human rights of citizens in general, of scientists, and our colleagues in particular.”  Without going into the subtleties of Derrida’s textual analysis, he understands the IPA reaction to a specific ethical and political situation as precisely unpsychoanalytic in its own neutrality, its unwillingness to name names: to say “torture,” to say “Argentina,” to say “Latin America.”  Derrida describes this generalized statement as a “reference to a doctrine of human rights which is itself nonspecific ... one [that] takes shelter in a language that takes no psychoanalytic risks and that ought not to satisfy anyone here.”  He went on to say that any organization using such vague language without naming names lends itself to being “more easily integrated and appropriated” by “political and police authorities, for psychoanalytic power to be abused” (p. 330).

Derrida is making a crucial point that is nearly lost today: neutrality can be unpsychoanalytic.  In the context of the sociopolitical, neutrality — or the refusal to name names — is a defense, a splitting from reality.  He tries to investigate and to comprehend the IPA’s avoidance of the politics of the moment, pointing out that psychoanalysis fails to translate and communicate its own ideas into “politicojuridical and ethical-juridical concepts” and stating that this avoidance is proof of the profession’s failure to establish a “discourse on ethicopoltical action” (p. 334).  At the end of the day, however, Derrida remains baffled as to the reasons for this failure and can only ask:

[D]oes the actual state of psychoanalysis include, in its dominant schools (and by “school” I mean both school of thought and the apparatus of training and           reproduction), an element that is unanalyzed but in principle analyzable, an occlusion … that prohibits effective emergence of an ethics and a politics                    contemporary with psychoanalysis?  To make of psychoanalysis one’s own/its own contemporary, is such a thing thinkable (p. 335)?

This stunning passage opened the door for my effort to address the question of this occlusion: that which is unanalyzed in institutes and which forecloses the political, ethical and juridical … and the rest of the world.  Yet as Derrida says in the opening to his morning presentation in 1981, “if you want to understand the foreigner or stranger very quickly, early in the morning, then perhaps it’s also in order to make the symptom disappear, as quickly as possible, to file away this discourse without delay, in other words, to forget it without ado” (p. 321).  Since Derrida’s time, psychoanalysis has hardly improved its record with respect to contemporary ethics and politics and in this sense his claim was prescient; yet for this reason we must continue to provoke the symptom’s reappearance, with the hope that this time it will not recede.

Institute as Silent Partner: The Fear of Being Un-psychoanalytic Is Anti-psychoanalytic

When Derrida spoke about doing the symptom, he said that it was “a role I’m playing, if not for each of you, then at least for a certain ego of the analytic institution.”  I read this “ego of the analytic institution,” as aligned with the “superego complex” put forth by Jurgen Reeder and explored below.  Otto Kernberg has done extensive work articulating the negative impact of the institute structure on creativity in the psychoanalytic field.  I would argue that the institute informs the superego complex, which operates at a preconscious level or is disavowed, is seldom actually vocalized, and affects deeply personal aspects of each individual’s professional identity and sense of competency.

Starting with their training and extending throughout their professional lives, psychoanalysts are implicitly and explicitly indoctrinated to believe that acting outside of established convention and authority risks professional shame, or the accusation of being “un-psychoanalytic”— whatever that means.  This is the “immanent pedagogy” described by Reeder in Hate and Love in Psychoanalytical Institutions.  Immanent pedagogy is the non-verbal form of training that is communicated implicitly within the candidate’s experience of the structure, organization, and power dynamics of an institute.  As Reeder writes, “a pedagogy that is immanent exists outside the realm of what is openly stated and immediately visible” (p. 167).  For Reeder, the immanent forces in institutes form a system.  The professional superego of the individual (“I’m afraid of being un-psychoanalytic”) combines with the institutional superego system (institute groups deciding what and who are un-psychoanalytic) to form the “superego complex.”  This superego complex establishes a feedback loop of unconscious fear and hate between the individual and the group by using the institute’s rules and organizational chart to its advantage.  Most importantly, institutionally-fostered unconscious fear and hate remain silent.  I would add: they are expressed with silence.

Like Reeder, Kernberg suggests that training analysts — that is, analyst members of the institute who also treat candidates, teach classes, and serve on committees — are a major factor in the closed, indoctrinating, and immanently repressive nature of institutes.  Citing institutional authoritarianism and conventionality, Kernberg warns that the profession’s future is in danger if current structures remain unchanged.  The primary argument against the role of the training analyst is that such clinicians occupy a position that inherently compromises confidentiality, as they represent both the institute’s interests and the candidate-analysand’s need for a neutral analyst.  Such a conflict of interest renders all involved vulnerable to, as Kernberg says, “displaced, repressed or dissociated sadistic and narcissistic needs” (p. 214).        

I would add, synthesizing both Reeder and Kernberg, that such conflicts of interest promote and propel the superego complex.  The core logic of the superego complex is profoundly unpsychoanalytic in its disavowal of the unconscious among candidates and members.  The institute expects that a candidate will repress conflicts of interest without falling into falseness and that their unconscious will not proceed to forge associations; it expects candidates to believe that their analysts can remain neutral while also representing the institute and that criticism of their performance in a class or training is not a rejection of them personally due to the material in their analysis.

Reeder and Kernberg each lay out suggestions for how to improve the situation.  Reeder suggests separating training analysis entirely from training, along the lines of the French model, where analysis is finished prior to training.  Kernberg suggests keeping training analysts away from any institutional contact with their candidate-analysands to remove pressure.  Both authors advocate for more openness regarding how institute members are selected, for more transparency in how decisions are made, and for strengthening the supervisory function.  It is my contention that these solutions do not address the issue at the level of unconscious association, to the extent that regardless of these reforms, a candidate still knows at a symbolic level that his or her analyst is a member of the institute. 

In a 2010 paper, Howard Levine also argues that narcissism and sadistic defenses are circulated in a whirlpool of institute structure, generated by the wellspring of candidates identifying with their training analysts (their techniques and theoretical loyalties) as well as by the “epistemic anxiety of the inherently subjective nature of the enterprise” (p. 48).  Such defenses are deployed by those in leadership roles who carry the institutional power “to decide what is to be considered psychoanalysis and what is not” (p. 44).  He links the current state of institutional power dynamics to those originally instituted by Freud, who was driven by his “narcissistic investment in defining the field of psychoanalysis and determining the directions of its development … [as well as] his attitudes toward dissent” (p. 45).              

Reeder, Kernberg, and Levine lay out detailed studies based on their broad experience, and ultimately they call for responses that this essay cannot address in detail.  They all leave room for further exploration of how institute structure — dating back to Freud’s founding of the IPA — establishes a set of fundamental incorporations, identifications, and unconscious fantasies that are instilled at the individual level and quell psychoanalysts’ motivation to extend themselves beyond what has already been established by their authorities.  This defensive, conservative posture — along with attendant unconscious paranoid fantasies — is an open secret in institutes and is responsible for their blank avoidance of the political, both within themselves and in the ethicopolitical world outside.  I believe this is the unanalyzed occlusion Derrida addresses that “prohibits effective emergence of an ethics and a politics contemporary with psychoanalysis” (p. 335).


Silence as Symptom and Quiet Entombing of the Social


Father, thundering, his voice full of bracken and leaves,

leaves that in the autumn clogged the gutters.  “Who goes over the bridge?

Who goes there?” the billy goats stammering, pawing the air.  But I am

the goat and the troll and so cannot pass nor grant passage.

Cynthia Zarin, “Sunday” 

The silence and insularity of institute life first raises the question of inhibition and falseness among psychoanalysts as individuals.  While it is certainly possible to argue that this falseness implies an underlying “analytic true self,” we must first ask, what is the cause of this inhibition?  It may be due to the preservation of an internal object that analysts protect from the external world.  In institute experience, this preserved, hidden internal object would be some combination of idealizations: an idealizing of one’s training analyst or supervisor, or of a certain subset of psychoanalytic thought and its founder, and of course of Freud himself.  But there is a pattern and coherence to these idealizations.

It is no coincidence that the training model established by the IPA reproduces the power dynamics of Freud and his original “Secret Committee” of followers: a group of practitioners operating as scientists by day … and by night, bearers of the “Secret Ring” disseminating the true form of psychoanalysis as defined by Freud alone, complete with the threat of excommunication for those who were un-psychoanalytic.  Indeed, the founding of the IPA was a Totem and Taboo tale of the murder of the primal father in reverse: a closed society was established by the self-castration of followers in the presence of the primal founder.  Ever afterward, candidates would enter the same inhibition in preservation of the father, always hoping to find the proper (read, fetishized) interpretation of Freud at the expense of some thinker or school that misses the point or fatally diverges.  Thus the Primal Freud as the original and only psychoanalyst is preserved to this day as an inhibiting object within individual psychoanalysts, while his ghost is summoned in every institute committee meeting: each one a séance informing the tribe what and who remains psychoanalytic.  (While I am focusing specifically on the rituals of IPA institutes because they specifically carry the supposed torch of Freud’s original wishes and therefore transmit the Primal Freud in name, I would suggest the phenomena of Primal Freud and the super-ego complex are not confined to these places.  Otherwise, the field itself would not be so isolated and at risk of extinction.)

For institute psychoanalysts, what elements of self or practice are actually sacrificed at the altar of the Primal Freud?  First, one might consider what qualities the Primal Freud retains.  As founder, Freud naturally held a professional going-on-being: the authority to experiment, to try new ideas without the fear that they would be deemed un-psychoanalytic, and to engage with the world in a dialogue on the ethico-political elements of his new theories.  And he did so in language and arguments that were not burdened with jargon that any interested layperson could not engage.

This lively analyst, free and untrammeled by the superego burden of having thinking approved by an authority, is preserved internally with a vitality forever present but forever inaccessible.  The institute-trained psychoanalyst learns to preserve a silence and passivity that guards the Primal Freud, thereby foreclosing the analytic true self’s access to the world.

Maria Torok’s approach to what she calls the “illness of mourning” is very helpful here, if we apply the logic of her clinical and developmental concept to a candidate’s experience in training.  What I am calling the Primal Freud, retained as introject in each institute candidate and member, is the inhibiting object protected and entombed, or, to use Torok’s language, preserved in a psychic crypt.  How does this “encryption” occur?  Initially people are drawn to become psychoanalysts in response to their own particular symptom, their own need, pain, and loss.  (For example, Sheldon Bach observes that a “frequent motif in our own profession,” that is, what draws people to become psychoanalysts, “is when a mother is endangered, sick or unhappy and the child dedicates his life to curing or rescuing her” (p. 189).  This need/pain/loss is unspoken and becomes the desire to be a psychoanalyst.  For a psychoanalytic candidate, while the effects or symptoms of this dynamic are addressed by an analysis, the cure is hijacked by the incorporation of the super ego complex and Primal Freud as an imposed object.  Torok’s language captures this process: “The abrupt loss of a narcissistically indispensible object of love has occurred, yet the loss is of a type that prohibits its being communicated.  If this were not so, incorporation would have no reason for being … Incorporation results from those losses that for some reason cannot be acknowledged as such” (p. 129).

That is, my contention is that institute structure solders the Primal Freud onto each candidate’s original unmourned loss via (to use Torok’s language) incorporation, thereby leaving original symptoms only partially analyzed, and the candidate dependent on Primal Freud (and the institute) as chronic symptoms.  The fear and anxiety of being un-psychoanalytic is not just about training; it also feels like the loss of a very personal object, as yet unrecognized and unspoken.  The Primal Freud is a prosthetic, IPA-endorsed, ready-made object, incorporated by the candidate and reinforced by the institute’s rituals.   

Can we deny that people are drawn to be analysts out of the need for talking, the need for silence and listening, for a repetition of frustrated transference gratification and the rupture of resurgent meaning that is the unconscious? In short, we are drawn to what Torok calls “mouth-work.”  She writes:

The crucial move away from introjection (clearly rendered impossible) to incorporation is made when words fail to fill the subject’s void and hence an imaginary thing is inserted into the mouth and their place.  The desperate ploy of filling the mouth with illusory nourishment has the equally illusory effect of eradicating the idea of a void to be filled with words.  We may conclude that, in the face of both the urgency and the impossibility of performing one type of mouth-work — speaking to someone about what we have lost — another type of mouth-work is utilized, one that is imaginary and equipped to deny the very existence of the entire problem (p. 128).

It is my contention that the Primal Freud provides for the candidate the imaginary nourishment of an incorporated ideal, on the condition that the candidate remains silent about it.  To leave behind this incorporated ideal would feel not only like a betrayal of the Primal Freud but also of psychoanalysis itself.  The daily threat of being unprofessional or unpsychoanalytic is assuaged by the presence of the Primal Freud as object.  It is high time psychoanalysts feasted on the Primal Freud in a totem meal, so we can move on with our lives.  This would also mean relinquishing mass nostalgia in exchange for a lively interaction with the world.

The Sense of Endings: Revolutionary Mourning as Cure for Primal Freud

Concerns about the state and fate of institute training must be lodged in a socio-political context.  This is the pivot where personal experience in training and institute politics fuses with the socio-political sphere itself.  Falseness, reserve, guardedness, and lifelessness become associated with psychoanalytic neutrality in line with the super-ego complex, and any step outside of neutrality becomes cause for the group to question one’s analysis or Oedipal motives.  Candidates learn to be guarded in order to survive in training.  Members learn to be guarded in order to survive in administration and supervision.  You could say they learn to be apolitical.  But these forms of falseness are also a powerful cynicism about the function of administration and genuine politics.  The closest an analyst gets to being part of the social is when she is in a group composed of other analysts.

I define the political as conflict over ideas about what drives people in their relations with each other — as a struggle over the definitions of justice, security, respect, and care.  Were psychoanalysts to engage those outside of institutes and associations in conversations on political questions, they would naturally be forced to revisit the founding principles of psychoanalysis.  They would have to be open to rethinking and revitalizing everything in order to make psychoanalysis genuinely contemporary — or as Derrida says, “to make of psychoanalysis one’s own/its own contemporary.”

Because of this pivotal moment in history, each of us must consider the ways that our various (and not only psychoanalytic) institutional attachments keep us paralyzed as social entities, and we must contemplate real separation from those institutions.  This separation will require mourning the daily life that was and opening ourselves to the daily life to come: that is, it will require revolutionary mourning.  

I would like to suggest that mourning becomes revolutionary when one accepts social objects such as institutions or established authorities as unhelpful, non-nurturing, or toxic — that is, as essentially absent and in need of replacement.  In The Ability to Mourn, Peter Homans charts an expansion of Freud’s original concept of mourning in the notion of progressive de-idealization.  He states that mourning is in part a de-idealization, but one that is “progressive in its outcome, leading as it does to new values and new psychological structure, whereas mourning as Freud conceived it was essentially conservative, only consolidating, repairing, and rescuing lost parts of the ego from the wreckage inflicted upon it by the demands of reality” (p. 26).

Sally Weintrobe captures this experience in her discussion of the 2009 Copenhagen climate talks, when participating world leaders acknowledged the reality of the catastrophe facing the planet, yet still took no decisive action against climate change.  As she writes, “the message — and I suggest we do hear it — is that we are not cared for at the very level of our survival” (p. 43).  Once we do the difficult work of recognizing our denial regarding the failure of a fundamental institution — in this case, the combined authority of world governmental leaders — we can begin the mourning process by letting go of old institutions and opening up our innate capacity to build new ones.

As psychoanalysts, we need to understand this (as I am calling it) revolutionary mourning in order to introject it into our practice.  And we need to start in our own house, with how our own values are influenced by an authority both consciously and unconsciously felt.  This call to question the institutions of the status quo is a global one, operating at registers of the political and the unconscious, and the field of psychoanalysis cannot avoid it, especially since the inhibitions instilled by institute life carry through beyond the politics of institutes into the broad socio-political sphere. 

Taking Psychoanalytic Risks

We are witnessing an era in which norms are being both threatened and challenged.  Institutions can no longer maintain the symbolic authority that has previously supported them.  This is a time to respond to Derrida’s call to name names.  In a period in which the American federal government, presidency, congress, political parties, and financial system have lost credibility, in which there has been a system-wide failure to address catastrophic climate change, in which the social safety net is collapsing due to inequality, and in which millions of people on every continent are rejecting the new status quo in marches and activism, how will psychoanalysts contemplate social change, and how will the field open itself to change?

To the candidate reader, I suggest you contemplate leaving your institute and forging new ways.  For example, if you are a candidate with a mental health license, you are probably already licensed to use the psychoanalytic method.  Join a psychoanalytic membership organization that does not train or dictate your analyst.  If you do not have a mental health license, consider forgoing psychoanalytic institute training and become a social worker.  Find an analyst based on your own desire, not a list provided by an institute.  Find supervisors you like and feel a rapport with.  Read and study with them.  If you are already an institute member, contemplate publicly announcing your departure, and offer supervision outside the institute.        

In this way, psychoanalysts will attain the position of “outsider” as sketched by Derrida, thereby becoming better able to engage with the outside, sociopolitical world as unrestrained citizens, with a critical perspective on psychoanalysis as a field and practice that can only evolve by recognizing its deep entwinement in the socio-political sphere.  Most important, the profession of psychoanalysis must address the ongoing assault on people’s ability to act politically and collectively with real results.  Our patients are struggling with this affliction and it is looking like the fight of the century.

One of the main elements of neoliberalism, as so thoroughly charted by Foucault, is the notion that our own minds are silencing us and inhibiting — disavowing, even — transgressive action.  Equally insidious is Neil Postman’s question as to whether we are in Huxley’s Brave New World, willingly sacrificing autonomy for pleasure, with freedom more defined by “pulling the plug” from our cable TV provider than by taking collective action to reduce ever-extending working hours.  Neoliberalism is, if anything, a condition of the mind, a socially shaped inhibition intertwined with one’s personal psychology, which is reinforced through our experiences of the workplace, healthcare, education, the political system, social media, and in so many unconscious ways, the experience of being part of an institution.

As Jodi Dean writes, “capitalism strives to separate and individuate us, to instill in us the conviction that self-interest matters above all else … It blocks from view the systemic determination of choices and outcomes, not to mention the power of collectives in rupturing these systems” (p. 260).  Neoliberalism is spiraling into glaring, brutal inequality.  It has caused the growth of authoritarian Trumpist governments across the globe.  And as the catastrophic effects of climate change become more frequently evident, the draw of fascism will become more powerful.  The antidote is collective action grounded by a new popular understanding that everything is not going to be okay, that “normal” is a concept that is now historical.  Psychoanalysis, ironically, is uniquely capable of addressing the disavowal of reality that happens amidst a pathological status quo.  But psychoanalysis also has a long history of reinforcing passive normality.  Amitav Ghosh offers a powerful critique of the history of normalcy in the popular imagination, claiming that while “human beings are intrinsically unable to prepare for rare events,” unremarkable, stable normalcy is “rather an aspect of the unconscious patterns of thought — or ‘common sense’ — that gained ascendancy with a growing faith in the ‘regularity of bourgeois life’” (p. 25).  Capitalist atomizing and individualism, combined with the tendency to normalize, are two major factors at play in the ongoing survival of liberal democracies and civilization itself — and both are states of experience psychoanalysis must engage head-on. 

Ironically, psychoanalysts are also facing this exact crisis within our field: our institutes have failed us and any sense of normalcy in them is toxic.  In order for psychoanalysis to survive we must reinvent it via an ending and via revolutionary mourning.  We must pass through the mourning of lost institutes knowing we will be treating patients as they pass through the mourning of a lost sense of normalcy.  We must grieve the loss of failed institutions and accept the responsibility of ushering psychoanalysis into its living present and future.


Abraham, N. & Torok, M.  (1994).  The shell and the kernel, vol.  I.  Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press

Dean, J.  (2016).  Crowds and party (p. 260).   London, UK and New York, NY: Verso.

Derrida, J.  (2007).  Geopsychoanalysis and “the rest of the world.”  In Psyche: Inventions of the other, vol.  I (pp. 318-343).  Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Ghosh, A.  (2016).  The great derangement: Climate change and the unthinkable.  Chicago, IL and London, UK: The University of Chicago Press.

Homans, P.  (1989).  The ability to mourn-disillusionment and the social origins of psychoanalysis.  Chicago, IL and London, UK: The University of Chicago Press.

Kernberg, O.  (1998).  Ideology, conflict, and leadership in groups and organizations.  New Haven, CT and London, UK: Yale University Press. 

Levine, H.  (2010).  The sins of our fathers: Freud, narcissistic boundary violations, and their effects on the politics of psychoanalysis.  International Forum of Psychoanalysis, 19: 43-50.

Reeder, J.  (2004).  Hate and love in psychoanalytical institutions.  New York, NY: Other Press.

Weintrobe, S.  (2013).  Engaging with climate change.  London, UK and New York, NY: Routledge.

Zarin, C.  (2016).  “Sunday.”  Poetry.  


Address correspondence to:

Richard Brouillette, LCSW

113 University Place, 9th Floor

New York, NY 10003



Richard Brouillette, LCSW, is a psychotherapist and psychoanalyst in private practice in New York City, a member of the American Psychological Association’s Division 39: Psychoanalysis and a member of the American Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies.  Prior to working in private practice, Mr. Brouillette was a staff clinician in a community mental health center, a community organizer, and a social worker with political asylees and survivors of torture.