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Renik, O. (2003). Standards and Standardization. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 51S(Supplement):43-55.

(2003). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 51S(Supplement):43-55

Standards and Standardization

Owen Renik

Owen Renik

I'm quite sure that every one of us is convinced of the necessity to formulate and maintain psychoanalytic standards; further, I think we all agree that analysts should be required to conform, to the best of their ability, to a standard of excellence in psychoanalytic work. That said, however, we face a monumental problem because—as we well know—there is no consensus among us as to the nature of excellence in psychoanalytic work. What some of us will judge to be an analyst's creative and useful technical innovation, others of us will consider irresponsible self-indulgence on the analyst's part; what some of us will regard as an analyst's advisable caution and restraint, others of us will see as the analyst's self-protective inhibition; what impresses some of us as sensitive interpretation of the patient's here-and-now experience, others will see as an avoidance of the transference relationship and an impediment to the unfolding of the patient's unconscious conflicts; what to some will seem a timely reconstruction, others will perceive as an invitation to intellectualize and ruminate about the past; and so on. It would be comforting to believe that we can formulate a standard of excellence that transcends our individual assumptions, one that can be applied to all psychoanalysts, across our very different operating theories. But, alas, no such standard is possible because our judgments of excellence are inextricably tied to our widely varying, often conflicting conceptions of the psychoanalytic enterprise.

The actual situation in our field is aptly captured, in my opinion, by the well-known anecdote that concerns a meeting of the British Psychoanalytical Society at which Wilfred Bion was the presenter. Bion, as you may know, besides being a renowned psychoanalytic contributor, was a decorated military hero during the First World War.

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