The Profession of Psychoanalysis: Past Failures and Future Possibilities
Kenneth Eisold, Ph.D.
FOR FREUD in 1937, psychoanalysis may have been one of the “impossible professions,” along with teaching and politics, but it had unquestionably taken its place among the privileged occupations of the modern world. It was a profession.
Earlier, in 1916, it had been a “movement,” earlier still a “cause.” But gradually over the years it seemed to achieve the status for which it had slowly and inexorably striven. That is, like other professions, it possessed an esoteric and specialized body of knowledge, which it sought to develop and extend through journals, books, and conferences; it established institutes to train practitioners in the skillful use of that knowledge; it monitored standards of competence through professional associations; and it developed standards of ethical practice. As a result, psychoanalysts were coming to have a certain recognizable social identity and, like other professionals, lay claim to a corresponding social status.
The professionalization of psychoanalysis in this period paralleled the development of other professions out of relatively unorganized, unregulated, and vulnerable vocations. Social theorists in the earlier part of the century, such as Weber and Durkheim, essentially agreed with the profession's own self-assessment as self-regulating and stable occupations occupying a unique, privileged social position. For them, the idealized position of the professions stemmed in large part from the idea that professions took responsibility for their own development and practice, providing an alternative to the unbridled competition of the marketplace. No doubt, it was this idealized concept of the professions that Freud had in mind when he staked the claim of psychoanalysis.
But recent sociology of the professions questions this claim, calling attention to the “project” of professionalization, the process by means of which a practice or vocation acquires and sustains the status of a profession. They have stressed the benefits to practitioners of professionalization.
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