Dialogues from the Italian Psychoanalytic Journal - Archive

Comments by Theodore Jacobs


Comments by Theodore Jacobs

In this compelling and most important essay Stefano Bolognini has identified and elucidated one of the most troubling problems in the field of psychoanalysis; analysts’ emotionally driven adherence to the beliefs and theories espoused by their teachers, analysts, and training institutes.

As analysts, we understand that the root of such a problem lies in the world of early childhood:  the child’s reliance on and unconscious identification with the ideas, values, and belief system of parents and other figures of authority.  This is accompanied by the child’s need to idealize the parent figure as a way of enhancing the self, feeling protected, and defending against threatening anger and the competitive wish to tear down the powerful, controlling parental authority.

These dynamics are well known, but, paradoxically, not only not sufficiently analyzed by training analysts nor dealt with by analytic teachers and other Institute authorities, but the unanalyzed idealizations are encouraged by these figures so that their strongly held theories and beliefs can be uncritically accepted by students who, in turn, perpetuate such unexamined transmissions.

Not only do such unanalyzed and unexamined idealizations constitute a major, ongoing problem in our field, but the infantile fear of the other, of the strange and the unknown, is also perpetuated in the form of a rejection and disparagement of other views, especially rival theories and belief systems.  For narcissistic and defensive reasons on the part of many teachers and training analysts their idea that their theories and belief systems are the only true and valuable ones, is not sufficiently challenged, either in the training programs or in the training analysis.  This also leads to a perpetuation of an irrational and blind hostility to theories and ideas that differ from, and challenge, the system of belief that the candidate has been imbued with from the onset of his candidacy.

Fifty years ago, in my own training, the idealized figure was Freud and a wall of protection surrounded his image.  One could not criticize the master, and if one dared to offer the opinion that he was in error or was limited in his view of a particular issue such a comment would immediately evoke a defensive response along with excuses for any of the master’s shortcomings.

At the same time, there was open disparagement of rival theories such ass those of Klein, the British object relationists, and, especially, the American Relational School.  Although, today, students are taught a number of theories and there is a good deal more openness to a spectrum of ideas, the tendency to elevate and idealize one’s own preferred theories and to denigrate others still remains.  It now takes a subtler and less virulent form, but it continues to be a problem in our field that has not been sufficiently well recognized and confronted by teachers and training analysts.

Stefano Bolognini’s valuable article should be read, reread, and studied by analytic educators worldwide.  It speaks to a problem that has severely limited and impaired the growth and development of our field.


Theodore Jacobs is a Training and Supervising Analyst of the New York Psychoanalytic Society & Institute, is a member of APA and IPA.