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Greenacre, P. (1961). A Critical Digest of the Literature on Selection of Candidates for Psychoanalytic Training. Psychoanal Q., 30:28-55.

(1961). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 30:28-55

A Critical Digest of the Literature on Selection of Candidates for Psychoanalytic Training

Phyllis Greenacre, M.D.


There seems to be general agreement that the selection of candidates for psychoanalytic training is one of the most important and vulnerable spots in the establishment of educational programs. The main issues rest on these considerations: 1, what qualities form an essential core in the character of the 'good analyst'; 2, the extent to which they are present; 3, in what degree they can be discerned, or their maturing or development forecast, before the individual has been analyzed and had some experience with analyzing; and 4, what criteria and methods can be used for their evaluation either in developed or in larval form.

The digest of literature bearing in any way on the problems of selection of candidates revealed three main influences on training which converged in the 1940's. These were the growth of the knowledge of psychoanalysis by the force of recognition of its value; the effects of the Second World War, especially in dislocating the centers of psychoanalytic training from the Continent to England and the United States; and the development of ego psychology.

All writers were in general accord with the basic requirements of intelligence, honesty, and sufficient educational and cultural background, such as would be necessary for the pursuit of any profession. The special qualities mentioned as important for an analyst were: sustained curiosity about the behavior and mental activities of human beings; respect for the other (i.e., capacity for object relationship); some facility of access to the unconscious; love and persistent pursuit of the truth—not implying conviction

of knowledge of the truth; a modest degree of creativity or at least of creative appreciation; and a capacity for reflection and introspection in contrast to a habitual demand for action. Various opinions were expressed regarding the degree of neurosis admissible in a candidate or—stated in reversed form—the special emphasis on normality as a requirement. This of course leads to questions of what is meant by normality and the 'normal neurosis'. The most frequent opinion was that neurosis, provided it could be analyzed, was not a handicap in training but might furnish effective motivation and add to psychoanalytic sensitivity.

The dislocation of the centers of psychoanalytic training from continental Europe to England and the United States has brought an enormous enrichment and vitalization of our training but has also contributed special conditions and problems that arise from conflicts of cultural standards and values. This state of affairs cannot be quickly evaluated or resolved.

In general, a digest of the literature indicates a relatively slow degree of absorption of ego psychology into the thinking about general requirements of psychoanalytic work and of the needs of the psychoanalysts. For example, there is little emphasis on consideration of the types of defense which may be favorable or unfavorable in the character of the analyst, or in what kind of reciprocal or antithetical relationship these may be with the 'ease of access to the unconscious', or how much can be determined regarding the probable analyzability of a prospective candidate by studying what his life story reveals of his systems of defense.

From the general background of this survey of literature, I would, in a preliminary way, suggest the following areas for consideration:

1. Re-evaluation of the qualities recommended as desirable in the 'good analyst'. Might it be possible to study the qualities, not just of candidates but of analysts who have proved themselves?

2. Special investigations of problems of normality and of

mental health, about which considerable has already been written.

3. Study of the role of culture in the development of analysts, if the time is yet ripe for this. This would include contrasts between conditions of European and American culture; special problems (assets and difficulties) in American culture; the American-European situation especially in the larger institutes; and ecological problems of institutes in different parts of the country.

4. Investigation of special problems of the place of selection in the institute's organization and plan of training. This would include:

a. Special goals of selection. Can we separate such goals—for research, for furthering teaching in academic or medical centers, or even for developing analytic practice in a given community—from the basic core of consideration of 'what makes a good analyst'?

b. Problems of size of institute—large or small—within the institute organization; and in relation to the community.

c. The meaning of analysis prolonged after graduation, or a second analysis begun rather promptly, especially in regard to its effect on selection.

d. The effect of 'dropping' students and its antithetical counterpart, the effect of graduating students who are not really qualified to practice analysis.

This outline was submitted to the Committee on Psychoanalytic Education of The American Psychoanalytic Association at its meeting in November 1960.

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