On Candidacy and Becoming an Analyst

Lillian Ferrari, LCSW

This paper argues that the condition of candidacy in psychoanalysis should be approached as a time of passage from the position of the analysand to the position of the analyst.  The process of becoming an analyst cannot be accomplished by simply fulfilling a number of prescribed requirements, but it implies rather the emergence of the analyst’s desire, as the condition for listening to the unconscious in a manner that is devoid of the analyst’s own presumptions and prejudices.  


Implicit in the term candidacy is the question of time.  The candidate exists in a time of expectation of future fulfillment.  For those who find themselves in this situation, the range of sentiments can be wide and varied: from hope and anticipation, to despondency and frustration, and everything in between.  There is no doubt that the condition of candidacy itself contains a potential promised to be fulfilled or not.  The stretch of time pertaining to being in a state of candidacy may resemble a trial, a test at the end of which the candidate, having submitted his or her qualifications to the Other, expects recognition.

The situation of having to submit ones credentials and qualifications for examination implies that a candidate is more or less subjected to the verdict of an Other who is in a position of authority, or at least in the position of deciding about the readiness of the candidate.  In some cases, in which a candidate earns a degree, this Other may take the form of a set of rules and scholarly criteria that are necessary to accomplish in order to arrive at a destination.        

This situation, with its implicit subjection, is not without its perils, especially when one is in the process of becoming an analyst and the resolution of transference-ties is at stake.  We know, for instance, that in the case of the obsessional these ties are suffused with ambivalence: the wish to find in the analyst an idealized guarantor coexists with the contrary wish to defeat him or her, to assert autonomy, all the while perpetuating a state of dependency.  Because of this ambivalence, exacerbated when the analyst occupies the position of Ideal, the effects of an imaginary rivalry with the other come to the fore in which death — the death of whoever occupies a masterly position — is imagined and fantasied.  This “death” that the obsessional imagines in his fantasy and upon which his desire could be realized, is also an imaginary screen that functions as the obstacle that allows him to sustain his desire, indefinitely postponed; it is a fantasy in which the existence of an omnipotent Other is not really put into question.  In the last instance, promoting the effects of this imaginary rivalry only allows the obsessional to procrastinate and to guard himself against the real, absolute master, Death itself.  More often than not, the staging of a conflictual rivalry is the strategy by which the obsessional subject avoids taking the real risks always at stake in ones own desire.

Psychoanalysis, however, is not exactly a profession or a career one acquires like a terminal degree; it does not refer to a specialization within a particular area, say the area of mental health.  Psychoanalysis concerns primarily an ethical praxis that seeks to produce the emergence of the subject of the unconscious, which is not equivalent to the individual.  In this regard, Jacques Lacans teaching radically opposes all aspects of analytic formation grounded in the work of the ego and its defenses.  Moreover, Lacanian thought militates against the enthroning of psychoanalytic practice in the psychological notions of the self and its capacity for adjustment and healthy functioning, as this would amount to basing the praxis of psychoanalysis on the ideological and moral grounds that are so dear in todays neoliberal society.  As Eric Porge (2008) notes in his book, Des Fondements de la Clinique Psychanalytique, Lacans formula, “l’analyste ne s’authorise que de lui meme,” makes use of the third person pronoun lui même — him/herself — as opposed to soi même — myself (p. 22).  In doing so, Lacan stresses the relevance of the tertiary place in analysis, the locus of an irreducible alterity that is so crucial to its practice (Lacan 2001, p. 243).   

There is no question, in my opinion, of the need to provide some legitimacy to the process of becoming an analyst, but it is difficult to find common criteria among analysts of different schools to define this process — that is, criteria that would allow verification of whether the passage from the position of analysand to the position of analyst has been accomplished, and how.  Especially because this passage is not achieved without the advent of the analysts desire, a desire that is not a subjective desire, reducible to the person of the analyst, to her fantasies, ideals or expectations, but rather a desire that refers to the necessary vacant place from which the analyst listens to the unconscious as the discourse of the Other.

Lacan made the concept of the desire of the analyst the centerpiece of his theorization of the formation of analysts, radically distinguishing it from the place in which the analyst operates as the Ideal, embodying the model of “normative cure” that the analysand should aim to achieve. For him, the end of the cure implies the falling of the ideals and unconscious fantasies that undergird the subjective position from which we attempt to make sense of the external world and the behavior of others, rendering them coherent and consistent. 

The place from which we tend to render things intelligible, understandable, and ultimately “sense-making” — to the point of disregarding all that is odd and perplexing (the hallmarks of unconscious formations) — is grounded in our particular subjective position from which the “stew” that includes our preferences, ideas, and also prejudices emanates, albeit unintentionally.  This viewpoint, which has been conditioned mostly in unconscious libidinal impulses that escape our awareness, represents our “blind spot,” and as such can make us deaf to the resonances of unconscious signifiers in the process of the analytic cure.  The task of analysis in the formation of the analyst is directed toward the causes of this position in the subject.

Ultimately, that which informs our relationship with the world and with others is fueled by a certain fantasy or unconscious scenario, a libidinal construction through which we attempt to figure out the answers to the questions that emerge from the encounter with the desire and the enjoyment of the Other.  These questions, connected to what is most intimate about the subject, namely, his position as a sexual being, his relationship with sexual difference, and ultimately his position vis-à-vis death, point to the limits of the Symbolic.  Sexuality and death remain the ultimate mysteries for the being inscribed in language, revealing the limits of the signifying system to answer definitively and conclusively the fundamental questions raised by our relation with the signifier and with language, namely “What do I want?” and “Who am I?”  The function of the fantasy that underpins the subjects psychic reality is to screen out or mask the structural incompleteness and lack in the Other.  Indeed, human behavior is strikingly marked by the need to find sense, by the tendency to look for predictability and consistency in our surroundings, and by the psychological inclination to make the behavior of others, especially those to whom we are libidinally attached, proportionate to our own.  The teachings of psychoanalysis show that we are naturally predisposed to what is familiar and known, to the detriment of what is unknown, enigmatic and strange.  In fact, we tend to suppress the enigmatic and mysterious in our daily encounters, aspects where things and people appear in all their opacity and strangeness, that is, in all their “otherness.”

This predisposition is obviously an impediment for the psychoanalyst, whose main interest is in the emergence of the unconscious, in turn characterized by the tendency to cause surprise and even astonishment both in the patient and in the analyst.  As Freud demonstrated in the short and wonderful essay, “The Question of a Weltanschauung,” human beings show a psychological penchant for applying to the workings of the external world the measure of their own libidinal wishes, and a preference to subordinate their intellectual judgments to their own emotional needs (Freud 1933).  For him, the human spirit reveals a stark reductionism as it confronts the riddles posed by the world and by its own human existence, a tendency to rely on a consistent and coherent system organized around a single principle — a weltanschauung or worldview meant to supply all the answers.  Religion and, to a lesser degree, philosophy, are the most obvious examples of such systems.  Totality, universality, and completeness seem to characterize the construction of such a weltanschauung, where no question is left “unanswered and in which everything that interests us finds its fixed place” (p. 158).

Moreover, it seems to be precisely the all-encompassing nature and completeness of such systems that account for their emotional appeal.  They resemble the fantasy of an idealized and powerful Other that the infant constructs to counteract the traces of an original state of helplessness and lack of resources that mark the beginning of our human condition.  It is precisely this initial state of helplessness that makes us dependent on “extraneous help,” as Freud put it; that is, dependent on the Other of language and the signification it introduces by transforming the scream of the child in the state of need (initially mere discharge) into a real appeal (Freud 1895/1950).  This intervention of the Other will have momentous consequences in the constitution of the psychical apparatus as it configures the signs that will orient its search for satisfaction, and mobilizes its cathexes through an associative path with the goal of re-establishing the situation of the original satisfaction, initially through the shortest path of hallucination.  Because of the intervention of the Other, the mythical apparatus that Freud envisions at the origin of subjectivity has to abandon its initial tendency toward “wishful activation” (p. 319), that is, it has to give up the primary tendency to seek satisfaction by activating the perceptual image of the object of satisfaction to the point of hallucination, and instead furnish the apparatus with a secondary activity, the basis of which seems to come from language.[1]  It is in fact language that bars access to the Thing, insofar as speech relies on the loss of the referential object.  Freud will reiterate the same idea in The Interpretation of Dreams, where he argues that the primary functioning of the apparatus that seeks the establishment of an identity of perception with the object has to be replaced by the more expedient one, the thought-identity (Freud 1900-1901).  The aim of this secondary psychical activity is to discriminate among the signs containing the information coming from the outside world in order to establish an associative path that can lead to finding outside something similar, but never identical, to the searched-for object.  Our unconscious signifying chain is thus a memory of desire that aspires to attain the identical but that is condemned to find only differences.

Thence, what Freud called the experience of satisfaction becomes the trace of a memory conditioned upon the loss of the object of satisfaction, the loss of the possibility to attain the identical within language, producing — retroactively — the myth of an incomparable experience against which all other new encounters and object-choices will be measured and judged.  What subsists from that mythical experience is a trait, a single and unique feature that, like a basic element of language, organizes the unconscious signifying chain through the mechanism of condensation and displacement, and enables its reading like a decipherable text.  In addition, this trait constitutes the basis of the subjects enjoyment, supporting the function of what Lacan called the object a as the object support of desire in the fantasy.

Freud stresses that the reason worldviews such as the religious weltanschauung prove so successful and appealing to the human spirit, is that they fulfill a childhood demand for protection originally addressed to the figure of the father against the powers of fate and the danger of the external world.  Their purpose is to provide emotional security and certainty about the complex problems related to the existence of the human individual.  Such views, he says, are meant not only to protect us from the unknown, but also to secure the horizon, so to speak, to pin down the perspective from which our conduct should emanate: “Believing in it one can feel secure in life, one can know what to strive for, and how one can deal most expediently with ones emotions and interest” (Freud 1933, p. 158).  This statement is today more relevant than ever, as our century is witnessing the increasing expansion of fundamentalist and radicalized ideologies, religious and political.

The role of these weltanschauungen recalls the function of the fantasy in their ability to provide the framework or perspective from which the subject interacts with its surroundings, securing for the individual the ultimate interpretation and meaning of the reality of the world and his place in it.  The construction of the fantasy serves the purpose of linking the subject with an imaginary object that determines his or her position in speech and his relation to enjoyment; it sustains the illusion that an object exists that can fill the lack in the Other.  This unconscious fantasy is ultimately the subjects interpretation of what the Other wants from him, a masochistic depiction of the relationship of the subject to an object (being beaten up, eaten, or shit upon) — masochistic because it is linked to the moment at which the subject vanishes, disappearing behind the signifier that represents it.  At the level of structure, it refers to a logical moment of destitution that is determined by the subjects entrance into language and into the logic of the signifier, the main effect of which is to divide him, snatching him away from any position of mastery and control, and instituting the subject as unconscious.  In the final instance, the function of the fantasy is to fill the void in meaning that the enigma of sexuality and death creates.  

The best antidote to the false security provided by weltanschauung is the act of “posing the existence of the unconscious,” as Lacan says Freud did when he invented the discourse of psychoanalysis.  Freud discovered the existence of an unconscious knowledge through the emergence of parapraxes or faulty functions: forgetfulness, mistakes, dreams, and so forth.  At these places, the subject falls from its commanding position, revealing a knowledge that is articulated through signifiers, where nobody can say “I.”  Freud informed us that the very structure of these faulty actions are determined by the prefix ver in German, which has its English counterpart in mis — slips of the tongue (Versprechen), misreading (Verlesen), mishearing (Verhoren), and forgetting (Vergessen) — showing that the function of ver marks the presence of the unconscious precisely where a subject is missing (Freud 1915-1916, p. 26).

Unconscious knowledge, delivering a subjective truth through the structure of the “mistake” and the “mistaken,” is a knowledge of which no subject is in command but that nonetheless obeys a logic, the logic of the signifier.  When this “truth” emerges momentarily in the cure through an unconscious formation, it suggests the presence of a knowledge already inscribed somewhere, existing in a state of latency.  It induces the belief that there exists someone who possesses that knowledge in advance and who, being able to vouch for its logic, could provide its ultimate guarantee — similar to God in the philosophies of Descartes and Pascal, whose role was to support the consistency of knowledge by providing its ultimate raison d’être.  Lacan points out that throughout the history of science the notion of God was often adduced after an initial moment of subjective “astonishment,” after a discovery or breakthrough in knowledge gave way to a theoretical construction intended to fill a gap in meaning.  

Such was the case with Newton who, when he discovered the formula of gravitational laws, made God the place of the ultimate cause wherein his rationale was grounded; or with Descartes when he turned to God as the ultimate guarantor of the enunciation of his Cogito.  The belief in God sustains the function of what Lacan called “le sujet supposé savoir.”  It amounts to a belief in an omnipotent Other through which any theory has the potential to become religious as it shifts from the initial discovery and verification of its effects in the real to the construction of a system that aspires to be whole and exhaustive.  Lacan warns us: “Theoria, serait-ce la place au monde de la théologie (Lacan 1967/2001, p. 337)?  (Is theory the place where theology subsists today in the world?)

Becoming an analyst means letting go of this belief in the subject-supposed-to know, which in my view means simultaneously letting go of the illusion that psychoanalysis may offer any type of weltanschauung.  The place left vacant by the fall of this belief allows for the advent of the desire of the analyst, in which the analyst, far from sustaining a position of abstinence, becomes an essential operator in the cure of the patient.    

This desire is put at stake, for instance, in the analysts disposition to maintain what Freud called “evenly suspended attention,” a disposition that requires that the analyst listen evenly to the material without any deliberate effort of attention.  This particular disposition of the analysts listening is very different from that which one sustains in daily communication; in an effort to understand the content and the meaning of what is being said, one tends to consciously select and focus on certain aspects of the material, usually those which emphasize mutually shared significations.  Instead, Freud says, the analyst suspends such deliberate, purposeful attention because it implies an attention that is selective and biased by subjective inclinations and/or expectations.  The suspension of expectations on the part of the analyst when he or she is listening should be so radical as to include suspension of his or her own theoretical ideas and knowledge if the analytic exploration is to yield something new and unexpected: “For as soon as anyone deliberately concentrates his attention to a certain degree he begins to select from the material before him … In making this selection, if he follows his expectations he is in danger of never finding anything but what he already knows” (Freud 1911-1912, p. 112; my emphasis). Freud invites us to maintain a listening that momentarily suspends attention both to the contents of the speech and to meaning, and instead is open to resonances, word play, equivocations, and repetitions.  In addition, this suspension of attention to meaning is also a way to restrict theoretical speculations on the part of the analyst.

Becoming an analyst supposes an act of enunciation through which the entire process of analysis proves to be didactic in the aftermath, in the après-coup, with no guarantees in advance.  It implies a certain breakthrough where one has the sense of moving beyond some familiar constraints in the accomplishment of ones own desire.

Something of this sort took place, for instance, in Freuds finally fulfilling his enduring wish to visit Rome.  For him, it also signified the breakup of his long friendship with Wilhelm Fliess, who was not his analyst but who was nonetheless his privileged interlocutor during the period known as Freuds self-analysis, the one who Freud described as being his “Other, a critic and a reader” (Freud 1887-1904, p. 313).  At the end of their long exchange, during which Freud was famously engaged in the analysis and examination of some of his own dreams, he would have a series of theoretical and personal breakthroughs from which he would emerge as the founder of psychoanalysis.  One of these breakthroughs concerned finally obtaining the long-awaited and much-deserved title of Professor Extraordinarius, for which Freud had been a candidate for several years.  As it turns out, the postponement of this nomination — in spite of Freuds brilliant academic career — was political, for reasons that were obviously related to the anti-Semitism of the time. [2]  The fulfillment of that candidacy required that Freud overcome his inhibition, disguised as conscientiousness, and finally accept that without his mobilizing some personal influence, this designation would remain unattainable.  After this realization, and after taking the appropriate steps to allow him to become “Herr Professor,” he described the whole affair to Fliess in what would become the end of their correspondence: 

It was my own doing, in fact.  When I came back from Rome, my enjoyment of life and work was somewhat heightened and that of martyrdom somewhat diminished … If I had taken the few steps three years ago, I would have been appointed three years earlier and been spared all sorts of things.  Others are that clever without first having to go to Rome” (Freud 1887-1904, p. 457).

For Freud, it was time to abandon the hope of finding the biological counterpart to his model of the psychical apparatus and to start the adventure of Psychoanalysis. 



 1 “One shuts one’s eyes and hallucinates; one opens them and thinks in words.”  Freud, S.  (1895/1950).  Project for a scientific psychology.  The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume I, pp. 295-397. 

2 For the description of the whole episode concerning Freud’s professorship see Gay, P.  Freud, a life of our time.  New York, NY: W.W. Norton, 1998.


Freud, S.  (1895/1950).  Project for a scientific psychology.  The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume I.  London, UK: Hogarth Press, 1966.

Freud, S.  (1887-1904).  The complete letters of Sigmund Freud to Wilhelm Fliess.  Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson (Ed. and Trans.).  Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1985.

Freud, S.  (1900-1901).  The interpretation of dreams.  The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume V.  London, UK: Hogarth Press, 1953.

Freud, S. (1911-1912).  Recommandations on analytic technique.  The Standard Edition of the Complete

Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume XII.  London, UK: Hogarth Press, 1958.

Freud, S.  (1915-1916).  Introductory lectures on psycho-analysis (Parts I and II: Parapraxis).  The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume XV. London, UK: Hogarth Press, 1963. 

Freud, S.  (1933).  The question of a weltanschauung.  The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Vol XXII.  London, UK: Hogarth Press, 1962.  

Gay, P.  Freud, a life of our time.  New York: NY: W.W. Norton, 1998.

Lacan, J.  (1967/2001).  Autres écrits.  La méprise du sujet supposé savoir.  Paris: Éditions du Seuil.

Porge, E.  (2008).  Des fondements de la clinique psychoanalytique. Paris: Éditions érès.   


Address correspondence to:

Lillian Ferrari, LCSW

156 5th Ave., Ste. 517

New York, NY 10010



Lillian Ferrari, LCSW, is a psychoanalyst in New York City.  She is a Faculty Member at Après-Coup Psychoanalytic Association, as well as part of its Formation Committee.  Ms. Ferrari teaches at the Washington Square Institute and has lectured at PINC (Psychoanalytic Institute of Northern California) and the Atlanta Psychoanalytic Society, presented abroad and published numerous articles on psychoanalysis.