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Kirsner, D. (1990). Mystics and professionals in the culture of American psychoanalysis. Free Associations, 1U(20):85-103.

(1990). Free Associations, 1U(20):85-103

Mystics and professionals in the culture of American psychoanalysis

Douglas Kirsner

In this article I shall focus on some important tensions in the contemporary American psychoanalytic culture, but my argument might strike a chord in other national settings as well. Psychotherapy in Britain, for example, is working towards a professional organization at the moment, and may face some of the same tensions as those discussed below. These tensions revolve around the contrasts between the roles of‘mystics’ in Wilfred Bion's sense (1970) — innovators, reformers or geniuses — on the one hand, and on the other the roles of professionals in the culture. In this context I shall discuss some consequences for the role and tasks of leadership in American psychoanalysis.

Organized psychoanalysis is faced with a central problem: how to organize itself as a profession without destroying its critical perspective. There is an essential tension between the professional and the critical side which demands that a balance must be struck so as not to destroy the critical foundations or an effective organization.

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