There is a great Irony at the heart of contemporary psychoanalysis. The skilled psychoanalyst as clinician is, perhaps, the most careful and systematic listener, the most precise and respectful speaker, the most highly trained and refined communicator, that Western culture has produced. A sustained and dedicated effort to discover and articulate the personal meanings, the inner logic of the patient's communications, is the most fundamental dimension of the craft of psychoanalysis in all its variations. Yet, psychoanalysts have enormous difficulty listening and speaking meaningfully to each other.
Psychoanalysts cluster in groups identified with a particular tradition, each with its own favorite words and phrases, each usually founded by a single charismatic leader. When analysts within one group speak with or read each other's work, there is a sense that they stand on familiar ground. The shared language, the key words (“instinctual drive,” “structural model,” “interpersonal reality,” “selfobject function,” “internal object,” “transitional object”) have meaning far greater than that of the referents of the terms themselves. The language creates a sense of familiarity, an experience of belonging to a community that shares a common sensibility, a consensually accepted vision of the complex and subtle workings of the psyche, a road map and repertoire of techniques for negotiating the storms and ambiguities of the psychoanalytic process.
To the uninitiated, to outsiders (vis-à-vis any particular psychoanalytic subculture), the same key words and phrases do not evoke a sense of familiarity and shared beliefs but, on the contrary, are often grating and off-putting. Each phrase carries with it many assumptions with which one may not agree. One has the feeling that the speakers of these phrases just do not understand what is important. The language of another perspective alienates and makes one uneasy and generates a longing for the familiar, more secure, and hospitable strains of one's own theoretical discourse.
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