From the Malaise in Society to the Malaise in the Analytic Institution

Dr. Serge Frisch

It’s a cultural and scientific fact that psychoanalysis is subject to the influences of the world in which it is used.


It’s a cultural and scientific fact that psychoanalysis is subject to the influences of the world in which it is used. A range of institutions and traditions such as the family, the village, the membership group, the political party, religion: all connect people to forms of collective integration indexed on solidarity. The relation to others has always been governed by the respect of traditions, customs, and ethical principles (Rosanvallon, 2018, pp. 357-358).

Neoliberalism has profoundly changed the ties between individuals and the relations that tie individuals to institutions. The modalities of the social tie are modified and we are witnessing a mutation in how the individual perceives himself and how he is perceived in society. 

Dejours (2014) observes the changes of the relation to others in a thinning out of solidarity, the sense of the group, and peaceful co-existence as well as the growth of every man for himself. He says that mutual assistance and solidarity disappear with the feeling of finding oneself alone in the midst of the multitude. Gauchet (2016, pp. 323-324) speaks of a ‘dissolution of the remainders of religious structure’ which signals the definitive disengagement of the religious envelope shaping the relations between individuals and a disengagement of pyramidal organization. 

What are the consequences of all these social changes, here only briefly sketched out, on psychoanalysis and its institutions? Psychoanalytic societies socialized individuals and made a collective conscious emerge and the analyst perceived himself as focused, structured by, and connected to the group sphere in his society. Presently, demands of automation of the individual in relation to the group are expressing themselves and many analysts no longer enter institutional structures, or only do so with resistance, because they no longer seem to believe in communal life with their society. The illusion of an analytic life without the institution, without scientific policy, is growing. Our psychoanalytic societies are fragmenting and every man for himself is replacing the wish or need to live together while the individual analyst increasingly becomes a consumer of the society rather than a member. 

Some analysts demand the pure and simple suppression of any difference between the members of a psychoanalytic society and, as a result, the suppression of full training members or senior teachers. The function of psychoanalytic societies would then boil down to collective, indeed, technical management of both the coordination of scientific and training activities. This is the very definition of neoliberalism which is not tied to any form of society and ‘which defines behavior and characterizes a system of interaction between men but without any vision of existing together […], a sign and effect of a void of social imagination’ (Rosanvallon, p. 380) and a negation that our psychoanalytic societies are pervaded with direct, lateral, and deflected transference and countertransference.

Not only the tie to the individual in relation to his psychoanalytic society but likewise the tie in relation to psychoanalysis is threatened. Peaceful co-existence, each person’s effort to build an institution together, training, and ethics crumbles.

The idea of asymmetry, a central notion of the Freudian project, is forcefully attacked today under the pretext of a democratization between members within societies and a democratization of the patient-analyst relationship. Kahn (2014, p. 8) says that the asymmetry of the analytic relationship has been swept aside and that the search for ‘truth has been marked by subjective relativism and practice by “dialogue.”’ This is greatly in opposition to the Freudian approach in which ‘each Freudian advance presupposed the putting into crisis of what makes the heart of the cure: the co-presence of radically heterogeneous orders which, in order to be thought about, imply speculation’ (Kahn, 2014, p. 13). Concepts concerning the subject of the interchange, interaction, and exchange between the analyst and patient ‘who understand each other’ are attempts at sweeping aside the asymmetry. This obviously evokes the attempt by some analysts to sweep aside infantile sexuality and the drive, indeed, even the transference, which are central and indispensable notions of the Freudian project. 

Anyone working in an institution, whether a hospital, clinic, or residential center, knows how much institutions may be places for self-fulfillment but also difficult, conflictual, indeed, insane places. So, too, for analytic institutions. 

The conflicts in analytic institutions, which can be very violent, often date back to the very constitution of the society and recall the passionate transferences in an analytic cure. We find this violence among the ‘murderers’ who formed the first group of psychoanalysts and Freud’s praetorian guard. It was a formidable instrument for eliminating and controlling thought and, at the same time, a vector for transmitting psychoanalysis. 

Even if the analytic institution can diffract the transference, we observe that all spaces, including administrative spaces, are steeped in transferences which, in return, enrich the life of each analyst and each institution. We observe how much the atmosphere in psychoanalytic institutions is laden with passions and constantly active, multiple transferences since, by definition, the transference never disappears entirely.     

At certain times, the frame may become ‘noisy’, as in a rupture, breaking, or wound. The insane components spill over. This is the case, for example, when a group of analysts has for many years monopolized all the executive functions by crushing the next generation and then a new generation appears and turns what has been achieved upside down. But the danger may also originate from the outside with the infiltration of psychotherapeutic elements, heterogeneous elements. The boundaries between psychoanalysis and psychotherapy dull; they become blurry, porous, soft, and inconsistent. By wanting to open up too much (to psychotherapists or other heterodox theories), there’s a risk of a running-off of the vital substance by these breaches and a loss of identity. To put it differently, the symbolic and stabilizing value of the institutional frame fades, including its capacity for excluding and knowing how to say No. Analytic identity is lost.

The frame thus transformed or wounded becomes the subject of hypochondriac preoccupations and negative transference and loses its dynamic function. It is limited to its concreteness. The work of symbolization and sublimation is lost and puts the institution into danger. An institutional split may occur in order to try and expel the madness. But is the madness truly expelled or, on the contrary, does the madness expel the sane elements or both at the same time?

A harmful result is that a malaise, a feeling of powerlessness, of dejection, of irritation, of anger, of deadening, a creeping melancholy of powerlessness are all spreading among analysts and across psychoanalytic societies. The credo is becoming that psychoanalysis has no future. It is thus necessary to appear more eclectic or accept whoever as a candidate in order to get the numbers up or open ourselves even more so to other forms of therapy, which widens still more the breaches in the institutional body. This diabolical vicious circle intensifies despair and shrinks the future. Outreach, at times the hypomanic bastard child of this melancholic position, is doubtless indispensable but how far should it go and what are its negative consequences, which are not only practical but likewise symbolic? Too much outreach allows for organizing pessimism. Some training institutes, regretting a drop in the number of candidates, have suggested training in psychotherapy without realizing the confusion that this engenders. Boundaries become increasingly blurry and result in the complete disappearance of candidates in analytic training. Would it not be more reasonable making ‘in-reach’ — this inner spatiality, the living heart of our societies — a priority? I’ll give you a telling example. In an institute I’m well familiar with and which, under the pretext of drawing more candidates, offers training in psychotherapy and psychoanalysis, the president signs her messages with ‘Madame so-and-so, Coaching, Psychotherapy, Psychoanalysis’ and is surprised that no one takes up psychoanalytic training anymore. Psychoanalysis has always claimed an elitist position, if only for its strict selection criteria and its lengthy and demanding training. Giving up this position of making requirements is an attack on the part of analysts against psychoanalysis, a loss of the ethical value of analytic work. The extreme example of making coaching and psychoanalysis equivalent attests to the disappearance of asymmetry and leads to making different forms of therapy equal: all are worthy, none is better than another. It’s a matter of the loss of love and a deadening of psychoanalysis. 

In the cure, if the conception of the frame of the analyst is related to his conception of analysis, then we may deduce from this that the conception of the institutional frame is related to the conception of psychoanalysis in the society in question. We may say that the conception of the institutional frame is related to the conception of the training of candidates and the conception of what an analyst is for that society. The institutional frame is a bearer of meaning, it is not neutral and, if a society changes profoundly, its frame changes and, likewise, its conception of training and its conception of psychoanalysis. Without taking a position, I can illustrate this with an example. It is very different if a society sees itself as a psychoanalytic society or rather as a society of psychoanalysts. If it is a psychoanalytic society, then its boundaries open up since one may include many different things in it, and so why not psychoanalytic coaching? But the boundaries are shrinking and become more precise if such a society defines itself as a society of psychoanalysts. This does not stop its members from doing, let’s say, diffluent psychoanalysis outside the walls of the institution. 

No analytic society can go without these reassessments, even if it means exposing themselves to the risk of transforming themselves into a hermetic ivory tower. A psychoanalytic society is an ‘uninterrupted endless history […,] a work of exploration and experimentation, of understanding and elaboration of itself’ (Rosanvallon, 2018). An analytic institution reinvents itself every day and perishes if it does not. By definition, such work cannot be prescribed from without; it falls to the members to be inventive and creative.

Thinking about instituting spaces for reflection on the essence of psychoanalysis, on the definition and preservation of psychoanalytic identity, on institutional structures and its cultural introduction in society should be a priority of all psychoanalytic societies. This work makes possible defining what is part of psychoanalysis, that which is in the psychoanalytic society, and that which is outside it.
Dejours, C. (2014). La sublimation entre clinique du travail et psychanalyse [Sublimation between Clinical Practice on Work and Psychoanalysis]. Rev. Franç. Psychosomatique 46 : 21-37.
Gauchet, M. (2016). Comprendre le malheur français [Understanding French Misfortune]. Paris: Stock, pp. 323-324.
Kahn, L. (2014) : Le psychanalyste apathique et le patient postmoderne [The Apathetic Psychoanalyst and the Postmodern Patient]. Paris: Editions de l’Olivier.
Rosanvallon, P. (2018) : Notre histoire intellectuelle et politique1968-2018 [Our Intellectual and Political History, 1968-2018]. Paris: Seuil, p. 363.

Translated from the French by Steven Jaron, Paris.