Splitting: The Meaning of Switching Institutes

Karen Dougherty, MA, RP

I live in a city with two psychoanalytic institutes.  I trained for two years in the newer, “contemporary” institute before switching to the older, “conservative” one, at which I am now a second-year candidate.  In this paper I explain what motivated my decision, the challenges in its execution, and how it has affected me.  I also explore the meaning of such a move, how switching institutes might be read and held by the psychoanalytic community, what sibling rivalries may have been stirred up, and whether it might be possible to leverage the experience and my “place” as a subject to help “bridge the divide.”


Coming to know ones “place” as a psychoanalytic candidate is a complex journey. Despite being at the bottom of a hierarchical structure, candidates possess power.  They embody the hopes and competencies of their institute; they keep it alive, financially viable, and in a state of renewal.  They are the conduit through which traditions, orientations, and values are passed on via teaching, training analysis, and supervision.  But their power is often disavowed and rarely explicitly exercised.  When I left one institute to train at another, I expressed my agency as a candidate in the most blatant manner.  There have been many instances during my journey where this has been made clear to me, leading me to think deeply both about the wider meaning of such a move and also its particular effect on me as a psychoanalytic thinker and practitioner.  I believe my experience of changing institutes has afforded me a unique vantage point to offer a commentary on broader issues related to candidacy.

I live in a city in which there are two institutes: the “old” (the Toronto Institute of Psychoanalysis or TIP) and the “new” (the Toronto Institute of Contemporary Psychoanalysis or TICP).  When there are multiple psychoanalytic institutes in any city, there is always a story.  The TICP, for example, was founded following a mass defection a quarter of a century ago.  I trained for two years at the Contemporary before switching to the TIP three years ago.  Making the decision to start over at the “old” institute was no small matter.  Training is expensive, psychically taxing, and time-consuming, it is true, but there were also political and social considerations.

The history of psychoanalytic institutes is notoriously fraught with splits, exiles, “discussions,” scandals, and other persecutions.  These splits and anxieties become embedded in the psyches of institutes and societies and are both consciously and unconsciously transmitted to candidates.  When a split takes place within a psychoanalytic community, it is always traumatic and not always adequately metabolized by either body, as history shows.  A mere seven years after the American Psychoanalytic Association (APsaA) first provided for the “recognition and licensure of psychoanalytical institutes” in the U.S. (Freud 1934, p. 363), chaos ensued at the New York Psychoanalytic, as Kenneth Eisold colorfully describes:

American psychoanalysis began to split apart, literally, on 29 April 1941 when Karen Horney, Clara Thompson, and three colleagues stalked out of a meeting of the New York Psychoanalytic Society.  Clara Thompson reported that the five rebels sang the spiritual “Go Down, Moses” as they jubilantly walked down the street, expressing the deeply felt — if highly dramatized — interpretation that they were victims escaping an authoritarian power seeking to enslave them (Eisold 1998, p. 871)

These “rebels” went on to found several important organizations, including the William Alanson White Institute and the Association for the Advancement of Psychoanalysis.

The New York split is just one example among many.  Factions, splintering, and simmering tensions always have plagued psychoanalytic institutes and societies.  Fractiousness and schisms are perhaps inevitable in organizations that traffic in the unconscious.  Eisold theorizes that because “psychoanalysts tend to be scornful of institutional life, given the fact that they practice alone, and that typically their allegiances are to their own analysts and supervisors and the schools they represent, not their institutes.  Thus, the schismatic solution seems relatively attractive” (Eisold 1998, p. 873).  Further, he acknowledges that “each schism is a response to a particular conflict at a particular moment in history: a vital interest is always at stake” (Eisold 1998, p. 873).  That vital interest may be autonomy or respect; it may be of the theoretical persuasion; and it may unconsciously mirror larger political realities. Across the Atlantic, as the New York Society was at war, the so-called “Controversial Discussions” were raging in London against a backdrop of German air raids. Although no new institutes emerged from these fierce debates, the resulting “Groups”— the Kleinian, the Freudian, and the Middle or Independent — fracture the London Institute to this day.

In the early 1990s, psychoanalyst Estelle Shane helped form a new Los Angeles psychoanalytic institute because, she says, “I was offended by the way psychoanalysis was being taught at the American Psychoanalytic Association affiliated institute where I was trained, and in which I was a training analyst” (Breckenridge 2007).  Disappointing experiences, and a growing interest in the theories of Heinz Kohut, led Shane and others to feel that “it was time for a change, time for the creation of an institute independent of an overall governing body, for an institute that was organized by a pluralistic curriculum where no one treatment model trumped all others” (Breckenridge 2007).  The resulting Los Angeles Institute of Contemporary Psychoanalysis relates its origin story on its website:

 In 1991, twelve senior training analysts in Los Angeles congregated to discuss their respective concerns about the state of contemporary psychoanalysis.  In contrast to the climate of the time, they wanted to create an institute that would be self-regulated and not compelled to look to external figures for permission or approval to operate as it saw fit … Out of their meetings the twelve founding mothers and fathers created the Institute of Contemporary Psychoanalysis (http://icpla.edu/about/).

Beneath this benign creation story lurks a darker narrative, however.  One of the “founding fathers” of the group, David Markel, is more pointed about the reasons for its mutiny: in pushing for more openness and transparency members of the group were subject to “petty, even puerile attacks” by the “old guard” who were “undemocratic … authoritarian, exclusionary and self-serving” (Markel, “Autobiographical note,” http://icpla.edu/history/).

At the same historical moment, a group of Toronto analysts was mounting its own insurrection, inspired in part by Stephen Mitchell and Jay Greenbergs relational revolution in New York.[1]  The TICP founding narrative echoes that of the Los Angeles group: a new guard throwing off the shackles of the old; flexible, pluralistic, and open-minded as opposed to dogmatic and authoritarian.  When a new institute splits off, it is a de facto repudiation of the old, a persecutory event, a betrayal, a violent act; the perpetration of a narcissistic wound. In my view, it is almost always splitting: a declaration of Us (good) vs. Them (bad).  To this day in Toronto, there exist caricatures of each institute: the TIP is stuffy, formal, and rigidly Freudian; the TICP is lax, disorganized, and so “relational” as to be non-psychoanalytic.  Nevertheless, many instructors teach at both Institutes, leading one to suspect that “narcissism of minor differences” might be at play in exaggerating distinctive identities (Freud 1918, p. 199).

I perceived differences between the two institutes that led me to switch: these included curriculum, teaching, and theoretical underpinnings, as well as training analysis, approach to candidate selection, and supervision.  The TIP starts candidates off with a foundational year dedicated to reading the works of Sigmund Freud.  By contrast, the first-year TICP syllabus proceeds along “comparative-integrative” lines: a module called “The Freudian Framework,” including an overview of ego psychology and contemporary Freudian practice, is followed by modules on Object Relations Theory and Self Psychology.  The final first-year module, Relational Psychoanalysis, is the most heavily emphasized and enthusiastically taught.  It colors the teaching of all modules and reflects the fundamental beliefs of those who formed the institute.

The TICP was founded mainly by psychologists and is affiliated with Division 39 of the American Psychological Association.  As a non-psychologist with a background in literature, film, and British object relations theory, I was something of an outlier among my fellow candidates.  Being an outlier has its challenges but also, in my experience, generates a unique perspective that allows for greater freedom: to ask questions, to disagree, to not understand.  This was my position and stance at the TICP from the start and is part of the reason, I believe, that I was able to countenance the notion of switching institutes.

When I applied to the TICP, I erroneously thought that relational psychoanalytic theory was the American version of British object relations.  Over time, I came to believe that it had more in common with psychology than psychoanalysis.  In a way that I could not at first put my finger on, it did not feel truly psychoanalytic to me.  I could not have known this without spending a period of time nourished, as it were, at the “relational breast.”  I found myself frustrated with some of the seminars and assigned papers.  I began to identify, with the help of discussions with like-minded classmates, it must be said, the specific issues that were troubling to me.  Where was the unconscious in the relational papers?  It appeared to be missing, disavowed, and replaced by an emphasis on affect.  Why was so much time given to the issue of self-disclosure, in readings, in classroom instruction, in conferences?  Why were words like “resistance” and “defense” so resisted and defended against?  Why was Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, vociferously maligned, little more than a straw man to be knocked down at every turn?  Those of us with serious questions about, for example, our perceived disavowal of the unconscious in the relational papers, or the dangers of gratification in self-disclosure, were often met with impatience or, worse, dismissed out of hand.  Increasingly I felt pressure to toe the line and to stifle my epistemophilic tendencies.

Another major difference between the two Toronto institutes is in the approach to training analysis.  The TIP has approved training analysts and supervisors.  The TICP does not.  At the TICP, any psychoanalyst can be considered; there is no list of approved training analysts.  This innovation is presumably meant to address the sense that the traditional institutional approach to training analysts, as one senior analyst once told me, is little more than a “Ponzi scheme.”  Free to choose, I happened, accidentally really, to find a training analyst who was TIP-affiliated.  Before long, it became clear to me that the reputation of the TIP as stuffy, rigidly Freudian, and hopelessly outdated was undeserved.  It might be said that this means that the lack of a training analyst system at the TICP, designed to avoid perpetuating ideological authoritarianism, worked brilliantly.  It enabled me to receive classroom instruction at the TICP while receiving a TIP training analysis.  This pluralism gave me experience with and insight into both institutes. It inspired me to think for myself.

As I struggled at the TICP, I began to fantasize about the ways in which the TIP might be a better fit.  I was being told that the TIP was stuck in drive theory, that members were hopelessly out of touch, abstinent, and authoritarian.  This was markedly out of line with my experience on the couch and made me wonder what other false narratives were circulating about the TIP.  In my first year at the TICP I attended an information session at the TIP.  It was extremely well-organized.  There were presentations by senior analysts, recent graduates (including one who had trained at both institutes), and a fourth-year candidate.  There was a collegiality and friendliness that was warming.  Moreover, I perceived a fundamental respect for the ways in which the unconscious operates in groups.  The session was handled in such a way as to diminish any persecutory anxiety.  Curiosity was welcome, encouraged.  Ultimately, to me, what was on offer felt like psychoanalysis.  It felt like home. I believe I made the decision to switch institutes at that presentation, although I did not apply for another year.

Another difference between the two institutes that profoundly affected my choice to switch concerns candidate selection.  The TICP divides candidates into academic and clinical streams (though candidates attend classes together).  Academic candidates are those who either do not have a clinical practice or who do not wish to do control cases.  They do not graduate as practicing psychoanalysts.  Clinical candidates are bona fide psychoanalysts after completing four years of classroom instruction and three control cases.  Although I had a background in psychoanalytic theory, I had very limited clinical experience at the time and thus was accepted into the academic stream.  I asked for permission to work toward transitioning into the clinical stream and was told it would be possible — once the TICP decided on the necessary requirements.  It became evident that the faculty could not agree on those requirements and at the time of my departure they were still not ratified.  It was rumored that there were those on the faculty who did not support the transition of the academic candidates into the clinical stream (or, indeed, even the acceptance of academic candidates into the program).[2]

Always these sorts of divisions in the upper ranks are transmitted unconsciously to candidates.  If not carefully handled they create fallout.  And this is what happened in my class, in which there was an institutionally structured “us” versus “them”: an internal split, as it were.  According to some clinical candidates, academics were “too theoretical” and could not contribute adequately to clinical discussions.  The clinicians, according to the academics, “fled from theory” into concrete clinical examples.  We had our first casualty in the first month when a clinical candidate quit in vocal dismay over being placed in the same class as the academics.  The academics, in turn, myself included, felt as though a large red “A” were painted on their foreheads.

This manufactured split was never adequately interpreted or contained and resulted in a great deal of persecutory anxiety in the group.  It contributed to my departure because I did not feel particularly valued or held in mind.  I wondered whom the split served: was I a cash cow?  Was I accepted into the program only because I applied?  Were the academic candidates in fact rejects?  I was often left with the sense that my ideas and opinions did not carry weight.  This became all the more palpable as I wrestled openly with the relational model.[3]

It is true that anxiety and controversy around how candidates are selected and trained is as old as psychoanalysis.[4]  Charles Levin suggests there is a climate of paranoia going back to Freuds “inner circle” in which “the applicant for psychoanalytic training is viewed as a questionable claimant to the grand psychoanalytic legacy” (Levin 2014, p. 179).  There is always concern that candidates reflect the values of the institute.  The TICP skirted the complexities of candidate selection by accepting candidates they did not feel were suitable with the provision that they not be trained as analysts: an institutional paradox.  Interestingly, the TICP was formed, in part, in answer to a prejudice against lay analysts (specifically psychologists) but then moved to devaluing or excluding non-psychological candidates — the lay question in disguise.  This approach to academic candidates represents an unconscious recapitulation and reversal of the historic exclusion of psychologists from American psychoanalytic institutes.  Where historically the “lay candidate” was a non-physician, at the TICP, the “lay candidate” was a candidate with little or no clinical experience as a psychologist, physician, therapist, or social worker.  The academics were not kept out of the institute; but they were separate, distinct, and the de facto lesser candidates.

Another dissimilarity in the two institutes’ approaches to candidates is tied to new licensing procedures for psychotherapists in the province of Ontario.  Training institutes in psychotherapy and psychoanalysis now must decide if they will apply for status that would give those of us without a college (that is, those of us who are not psychologists, medical doctors, or social workers) license to practice psychotherapy in Ontario.  Psychoanalysts in Ontario are required to belong to a college.  All “lay analysts” have had to apply for licensure. Because most of the TICP candidates, at least the “clinical” candidates, already belonged to a college, the institute decided not to apply.  Academic candidates, even those who successfully switched into the clinical stream, were on their own, and would have to apply as individuals.  In contrast, the TIP took the time to go through a rigorous application process that necessitated updating and filling out the curriculum with additional courses on psychopharmacology, ethics, and jurisprudence, gender and race issues, and so on.  Their work paid off and their application was recently approved.  This means that all graduates of the TIP will automatically be licensed to practice psychotherapy in Ontario.  Through this arduous process, the TIP showed its dedication to all candidates.  I managed on my own to register as a psychotherapist but it is the principle that stands out for me: the TIP has clearly conveyed its commitment to and valuing of lay, or academic, analysts.

When it comes to splits, the abandoned, “old” institute is the Father whose phallic authority is vanquished and purloined (Freud 1913, p. 132).  What I have come to see, however, is that a new institute, while seeking to murder the old, also gives birth to it.  The “old” is always reinvigorated.  Sometimes that means re-entrenchment, as in the case of the New York split mentioned above, but more often it leads to a period of self-analysis and growth.  The formation of the TICP, for example, opened the way to more non-medical candidates at both institutes (Carveth 2006).  In addition, the TIP has embraced a wider range of psychoanalytic ideas and orientations.  It has become more pluralistic and fertile.  Additionally, I believe that leaving the old institute for the new would have been a less radical move than leaving the new for the old.  My rather public decision most certainly invited introspection and self-analysis at the TICP.  Several faculty members reached out to me to ask me about my reasons for leaving and to ascertain whether there was something they could do to improve the program.  Some expressed sadness; others, hurt feelings.  There are perhaps those who are angry with me and feel abandoned or criticized.  Undoubtedly there are many projections, few having to do with me as a person.  Some of my classmates and instructors have expressed admiration at my ongoing pursuit of what is right for me, despite the hurdles.

I am, at the very least, the object of ongoing curiosity and interest.  People want to know whether I had to “start over from the beginning” (I did: moving through four years of training with my cohort feels essential to my future.  My classmates will be my family, peer support, and community going forward). People want to know why I switched.  One reason was pure practicality: my current institute is IPA-affiliated and that means something to me.  In essence, though, I felt the adherence to tradition in the teaching and supervision more personally and professionally containing.  I came to understand that my own learning style requires grounding in the fundamentals.  The emphasis on reading Freud so fully in the first year ensures candidates imbibe the way Freud thinks, not only what he thinks.[5]

There is no doubt that as a candidate I have benefitted from the Toronto split 25 years ago and the ensuing revitalization of the TIP.  I also have benefitted from the two years I spent at the TICP, an experience I value deeply, and that introduced me to so many ideas and thinkers.  I believe I have avoided becoming a persona non grata by continuing to associate professionally and socially with former instructors and classmates and attending TICP conferences and events: we are, after all, committed to the shared project of psychoanalysis, even if we occasionally differ on what constitutes psychoanalysis.  I have wondered if it is possible to leverage my experience and “place” as a subject to help “bridge the divide.”  This is perhaps merely the wishful thinking of a budding psychoanalyst (or the child of a broken home): to bring together warring factions by understanding the perspective of each.

As to how this switch may have been perceived at each Institute I can only speculate.  Was I stolen away or was I a traitor?  Did my leaving set off alarm bells, trigger a call to arms?  I have many fantasies about this but little direct evidence.  The TIP may have seen my application for acceptance as a vindication of sorts.  I suspect that my currency as a candidate has been augmented at both institutes.  On several occasions, people at both institutes have given my name to prospective psychoanalytic candidates so that I might help them decide to which institute to apply.  I am thus seen as having some authority as a result of my personal experience. I suspect, too, that for some I am an object of suspicion or derision: a “fallen woman.”  There are a few at the TICP who do not acknowledge me at conferences now, which is painful but sadly not unexpected.

Leaving one institute for another was a risk I believe was worth taking in order to get what I felt was the best training for me.  That risk has paid off.  I feel more contained, more held in mind.  Moreover, my classmates come from many disciplines, from psychiatry, law, philosophy, and theatre.  From the start, we each were made to feel that our unique background contributes valuable and unique insight.  We learn from each other.  We are cohesive and supportive.  This holding environment has doubtless made me a better therapist, one who is better able to hold my patients.  My practice, which was in its infancy when I started at the TICP, is now robust.  I was accepted at the TIP on the condition that I do two twice-weekly psychotherapy cases in supervision before my first official clinical case.  I have completed both and am now pursuing my first four times a week clinical case.  The supervision has been excellent and has allowed me to track the gains I have made: in my ability to listen for unconscious communication in the transference; in providing a solid frame for my patients; and in carefully attending to and using my countertransference in the service of the analysis.  

I was recently asked if I would “do it again”: did I have any regrets?  Not so far.  Yes, had I stayed, I would be finished with classes by now, presumably working through my control cases, and nearly done.  But it is my feeling that when we make such a consequential choice in life, a part of us continues on the road not taken.  There is a part of me that is still with my classmates at the TICP, and they are still with me.  This may sound like a fantasy, but it feels real to me.


1 Object Relations in Psychoanalytic Theory, Stephen Mitchell and Jay Greenberg’s seminal 1983 textbook, is considered the founding document of American relational psychoanalysis.  The supplanting of drive theory with object relations theory led to many institutional splits across North America.  Significantly, both writers are clinical psychologists.

2 This reflects a wider split in psychoanalysis between those who theorize and those who practice, which can be traced to Freud’s “Recommendations to Physicians Practising Psycho-Analysis,” in which he states that theory must come from clinical experience (Freud 1912). 

3 In total, four of the academic candidates left the program; two have transitioned successfully into the clinical stream; one completed the academic training only (and cannot practice as a psychoanalyst); the rest are finishing their control cases.

4 One has only to read Freud’s A Question of Lay Analysis (Freud 1926) to engage with one of the earliest disputes.

5 It is difficult to imagine Cornel West or Gayatri Spivak or Judith Butler being unfamiliar with the philosophical canon of Plato, Descartes, or Hegel.  For me, Freud is our Plato and not a footnote or straw man.


Breckenridge, K.  (2007).  An interview with Estelle Shane.”  Self psychology news, 1(5).  Available from:  https://iapsp.org/newsletter/2007/breckenridge.htm.  Accessed October 27, 2016.

Carveth, D.  (2006).  Psychoanalysis in Canada.  In R.M. Skelton (Ed.), The Edinburgh international encyclopedia of psychoanalysis, Edinburgh, U.K. Edinburgh UP. Available from: http://www.yorkuca/dcarveth/PsainCanada.pdf.  Accessed October 26, 2016.

Levin, C.  (2014).  Trauma as a way of life in a psychoanalytic institute.  In R. Deutsch (Ed.), Traumatic ruptures: Abandonment and betrayal in the analytic relationship (pp. 176-196).  New York, NY: Routledge.

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_______(1913).  Totem and taboo.  The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume XIII (1913-1914): Totem and Taboo and Other Works, pp. vii-162.

_______(1918).  The taboo of virginity (Contributions to the psychology of love III).  The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume XI (1910): Five Lectures on Psycho-Analysis, Leonardo da Vinci and Other Works, pp. 191-208.

_______(1926).  The question of lay analysis.  The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume XX (1925-1926): An Autobiographical Study, Inhibitions, Symptoms and Anxiety, The Question of Lay Analysis and Other Works, pp. 177-258. 

Markel, D.  An autobiographical note.  Origins of ICP.  Available from: http://icpla.edu/history/.  Accessed October 29, 2016.


Address correspondence to:

Karen Dougherty, MA, RP

507 Davenport Rd.

Toronto, ON, CANADA M4V 1B8



Karen Dougherty, MA, RP, is a Toronto-based Registered Psychotherapist in private practice and a documentary filmmaker whose most recent project, “Mother-Infant Communication: The Research of Dr. Beatrice Beebe,” was funded by a PEPweb video grant.  Her current projects include an educational film about infant research and adult treatment and a documentary about indigeneity and identity.  Ms. Dougherty has a Masters Degree in English Literature (McGill University) and a Masters Degree in Psychoanalytic Studies (University of Sheffield). She is a second-year candidate at the Toronto Institute of Psychoanalysis.