Getting It Right-New Associations, BPC journal, March 2014

Getting it ‘right’ –afterthoughts on completing a psychoanalytic training

Indian Classical Music 101 With Ravi Shankar : NPRWith a comparison between Indian classical music training and a psychoanalytic one  

This article appeared in ‘New Associations’, a BPC (British Psychoanalytic Council) journal in its 2014 summer edition.

“During my psychodynamic training at Rewley House, Oxford, a visiting lecturer exclaimed in the middle of her presentation about transference and countertransference ‘ your training is only two or three or five years old, you have lived much longer than that and brought all that with you !’

A classical training is long and arduous, like the psychoanalytic one,  and seems to renegotiate ‘all that you have brought with you’. Any training can be long and arduous but the psychoanalytic one becomes more so maybe because it does not have the assured ‘pot of gold’ at the end, an assured job or income, and tests one’s limits of mental endurance like few other trainings can.

It reminds me of the other classical trainings where one has to spend more time to just set the first note right with no assurance of income, knowing well that you may perform to a small, critical and select audience while the rest go off and listen to something short and popular, a bit like the shorter approaches to therapy which lead to immediate gratification, what we call ‘flight into health’.

In Indian classical music, students undergo a tremendous amount of training to set the first note ‘sa’. This takes precedence over everything because if the first note is not right, the rest of the rendition will fall apart. It is a bit like the first position in Tai chi where you spend time trying to hold a space between your hands but cannot get the tension right. And like the psychoanalytic session, where if you don’t hold the tension and think before saying something, the session may fall apart.

Indian classical music has its origins traced to 1500–1000 BCE, in the sacred Hindu scripts called ‘Vedas’. The student lives at his chosen guru’s home and performs household duties, like cleaning and cooking, to learn the art form. To reach its highest accolade, which is to be considered a Pundit (for Hindus) or Ustad (for Muslims) in India, you must have practised for many years and shown what we call ‘lagan’ or devotion to your art form.  The performer will prove how he has learned the classics –the ‘raagas’, which manifests in a 45 to 60 minute performance,  and possibly made his/her own improvisation as well as how or what he/she did to spread the art form in the world. Indian classical music or dance is not an assured form of income and it is understood that its continuity depends on individual achievement and marketing which will inspire others to follow and therefore keep it alive.

These days, in an Indian post modern world, students continue with normal school while they live at the guru’shouse. Recently, a famous Indian vocal performer who happened to be my guest  before her performance in London, told me how she scolded her students when they got caught up in schoolwork and did not practice, with ‘do you forget to breathe? No? Then don’t forget to sing!’ how else can an art form which does not bring income like other lucrative professions, survive without a bit of attitude from the guru?  It is probably this kind of ‘native conditioning’ which has seen me through the various ‘attitudes’ of supervisors and therapists during my psychoanalytic training.

During a public performance, the Indian classical performer does not rush into his performance. The audience is treated to a pre performance act where the artistes, while sitting infront of their audience, tune their instruments quietly or engage with each other sporadically, creating a mood, a concentration and tension which forms the preamble to the performance.  These are just a few of the details of Indian classical art life.

Before coming to the UK, this is what I knew to be a good and ancient training. Being one of the few Indians born and brought up in India, training to be psychoanalytic here, I had my moments of complete disorientation and the dreaded feeling that I was ‘losing my culture’. This coincided with the fact that I had actually lost my physical environment completely and  at such times, trips to Southall help only marginally.  In India, you can have the option of walking down a street where culture can waft out of windows and pervade your consciousness. You may be fortunate enough to live next to classical performers or have one in your family. I have been fortunate.

To reassure myself in my training years, I thought of drawing parallels from similar Indian traditions like Indian classical music.  I compared increased frequency of sessions in therapy and supervision to living in a psychoanalytic ‘home’ made up of therapist, supervisors, training institute and training patients so that I could try to ‘internalise’ a tradition without too much resistance- breathe it, digest it, internalise it, till it was as natural as breathing itself- like the Indian singer expected her students to do.

It is only when the Indian performer has got his note right, will he/she perform and then there will be a thunderous applause and personal satisfaction. The waiting and tuning creates the tension needed to sink into something deeper, more unconscious and infinitely more satisfying.  As a trainee, one loses one’s ‘notes’, including one’s beliefs, flails helplessly on the surface and cannot sink into a deeper connection. At such times, in my anxiety to perform, I have said things which were not personally satisfying and received a thunderous criticism from my supervisor, greeted in various ‘notes’ –from silence to censure and sarcasm, and then the rare compliment when I got it right again.  How much more welcome it is then!

Now that my training is behind me, I find myself more  quiet, less pressurised and less concerned with my client’s immediate demands. Like the audience at a performance who come into the auditorium from various settings with things on their mind, clients come in from the outside world under tremendous pressure at times but it is I, their therapist, who must tune into a psychoanalytic environment, sink into the inner world and set the mood ‘right’, either with my silence or my words.

Going back to the length and time it takes to establish the first note and the atmosphere for rendering it, I value this first moment and the setting up of the session more than anything that follows afterwards. Only in psychoanalytic therapy have I experienced that special moment when one anticipates one’s session and the therapist ushers you into this empty live space which is different from the outside world because it makes no social demands – you can be quiet if you want, not say ‘good morning’… whatever…It welcomes you to shut out the outside world and develop an inner meditative stillness, a little like the Indian performer who tunes himself infront of his audience and silently invites them to slow down and wait or like Tai chi, where you learn to hold an imaginary space between your hands. It is a very special space and it takes a long training to hold it and get it right.  And I think it would not be the same if there was an assured ‘pot of gold’ at the end.”














Psychoanalytic Therapy Evidence?

Psychoanalytic based treatments are evidence-based forms of therapy which can effectively treat emotional problems and a wide range of mental health conditions such as depression, eating disorders and anxiety.

Psychoanalysis started with the discoveries of Sigmund Freud a century ago, but its methods have changed and developed a great deal since then. It has the most developed theoretical base of all the talking treatments and has had a significant influence on all talking treatments.

Psychoanalytic therapies involve talking to a trained therapist, usually one-to-one, but sometimes in a group or with a partner or family members. This kind of therapy addresses underlying issues and causes, often from your past, which may be concerning you, or affecting your relationships with others. In your sessions you will be encouraged to talk freely and to look deeper into your problems and worries. It differs from many other talking therapies in that it aims to help people make deep seated change in personality and emotional development, alongside relieving troubling symptoms. It can help you discuss feelings you have about yourself and other people, particularly family and those close to you.

Some people seek help for specific reasons, such as eating disorders, psycho-somatic conditions, obsessional behaviour, or phobic anxieties. Some seek help for underlying feelings of depression or anxiety, difficulties in concentrating, dissatisfaction in work or in marriage, or for an inability to form satisfactory relationships. It may benefit anyone. It can help children and adolescents who have emotional and behavioural difficulties which are evident at home or school, like personality problems, depression, learning difficulties, school phobias, eating or sleeping disorders.

Read more :

Is Psychoanalytic Therapy useful ?

Was I mentally ill? I suppose I was, though the first time someone in my family used the phrase “verge of a nervous breakdown”, or something like it, I was taken aback. Probably I was about as far from well as it was possible to be while still going about my business: essays, lectures, friends and so forth (I was a student at the time). A broken heart – that, is, a rejection so disappointing I couldn’t bring myself to accept it – was the trigger. But it brought up all manner of shit. By the time I went to talk to a psychoanalyst, I had feelings so muddled that sharing them with anyone else would have been weird.‘After, I feel ecstatic and emotional’: could virtual reality replace therapy?Read more Eight months later, the shrink and I had somehow decided that once a week wasn’t enough, and I signed up for the full whack: 50 minutes five times a week. This was cut down to four, but I carried on going until I was 26. It was a huge help. I know lots of people who see, or have seen, a psychotherapist or counsellor of some sort, but hardly anyone has psychoanalysis. Literally, hardly anyone. There are no official figures, but I’d be surprised if there are more than 500 people in the UK currently “in analysis”, or intensive psychotherapy, by which I mean appointments at least three times a week. There are loads of good reasons for this. Non-neurotic, uninhibited people who cope well with life – family, work, money, sex, food, other people – don’t need any help. (Well done, those people.) But plenty of others, for reasons that range from obvious to unfathomable, don’t manage all that well. Some of those become ill, and mess up their lives and other people’s as a result. I think shrinks could help many of these people. Everyone should have psychoanalysis – that is, the chance to dig into their past and reflect critically on their personality, helped by a professional – if they want it.
A government-funded study found it to be as effective as psychiatry and CBT at treating depressed adolescents
It doesn’t have to be five times a week in a private consulting room, either. Fiercely divided in their views of human nature, psychoanalysts also disagree about what psychoanalysis actually is: just how much time and money do you have to spend on the couch for it to count? But in the real world, including in the cash-strapped NHS, therapists have developed a variety of ways of working (once a week, therapy groups and so on) that don’t take years and cost the earth. Grouped under the broad heading psychodynamic – which refers to the idea, derived from Freud but with many twists and turns since, that human beings have unconscious as well as conscious minds – their aim is to provide insight and relief from distress. The prospect of so much state-sanctioned soul-searching will send many, perhaps even most people, running for the gym, the medicine cabinet or the hills. After all, there are plenty of therapists out there and if more people wanted to employ their services then presumably they would. While there is reams of interesting anecdotal evidence about psychoanalysis, not to mention The Sopranos, clinical trials have been thin on the ground. That is changing and a recent UK government-funded study found it to be as effective as psychiatry and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) at treating depressed adolescents. Read more :

How Psychoanalysis influenced the field of Psychology

Psychoanalysis is defined as a set of psychological theories and therapeutic techniques that have their origin in the work and theories of Sigmund Freud. The core of psychoanalysis is the belief that all people possess unconscious thoughts, feelings, desires, and memories.

Psychoanalysis suggests that people can experience catharsis and gain insight into their current state of mind by bringing the content of the unconscious into conscious awareness. Through this process, a person can find relief from psychological distress. Psychoanalysis also suggests that:

  • A person’s behavior is influenced by their unconscious drives.
  • Emotional and psychological problems such as depression and anxiety are often rooted in conflicts between the conscious and unconscious mind.
  • Personality development is heavily influenced by the events of early childhood (Freud suggested that personality was largely set in stone by the age of five).
  • People use defense mechanisms to protect themselves from information contained in the unconscious.
  • Skilled analysts can help a person bring certain aspects of their unconscious mind into their conscious awareness by using psychoanalytic strategies such as dream analysis and free association.

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