Becoming Analysts: The Development of Psychoanalytic Identity

Fourth Year Adult Psychoanalytic Training (APT)
2023-24, 2nd Trimester — Fridays, 3:30-5:00pm
Matthew Brooks, MSW LICSW


The approaching end of the didactic part of your training comes at a time when there is more attention being paid than ever to the relationship (and splits) between the traditional intrapsychic domains of psychoanalysis and the social, economic, racialized, gendered, political world we all share. In this context, our readings and discussion are centered on the deeply personal internal and external processes of becoming an analyst. 

Psychoanalytic training is a developmental journey and is also a transitional space. In some ways, surviving analytic training is itself a radical act of self-definition, since there can be powerful pressures to conform. However, as the author Rebecca Martusewicz states, “Indoctrination and socialization are not education.” I hope we have space in our discussions to be critical about your training. How have you contended with expectations around psychoanalytic education — your own and those of the institution?  How have you kept your own minds about psychoanalysis and working psychoanalytically, in the face of institutional forces?  

In addition to helping you think about your own analytic identities, I hope that this class will help you as a cohort have a conversation about how you have all grown together, and how you envision analytic work fitting into your lives, practices, and professional worlds going forward. I am looking forward to this time with all of you. 

Definitions of Identity

“Identity” entries from several psychoanalytic dictionaries

Auchincloss, E. L. and Samberg, E. (Eds.). (2012). Psychoanalytic Terms and Concepts. American Psychoanalytic Association and Yale University Press. (pp. 109-110):

Identity is a sustained sense of the self as a unique, coherent and authentic individual. Identity is both an intrapsychic phenomenon, with conscious and unconscious components, and an interpersonal phenomenon, relying on corroboration by the social group. While the word identity was used occasionally by Freud and others, it is most closely associated with the work of Erik Erikson, who included it in his well-known series of developmental stages as the developmental accomplishment of adolescence. Erikson also coined the terms identity crisis, which refers to the expectable onslaught of doubts and anxieties that accompany the reorganization of self image during adolescence, and identity diffusion, which describes the pathological state of failure to integrate earlier identifications into a coherent identity (1946, 1950, 1956, 1959). More recently, the concept of identity has been used in the study of gender identity, core gender identity, and sexual identity (Stoller 1964; Money, 1973; R. Green 1975; S. Frankel and Sherick, 1979; Roiphe and Galenson, 1981b).

Identity has particular importance in developmental theory, as well as at the interface between sociology and psychoanalysis. Indeed, identity differs from self, or self representation, as it specifically includes an individual’s sense of self in relation to the surrounding culture. In addition, according to many developmental theories, the crystallization of identity is the most important specific task and achievement of adolescence. However, Erikson emphasized that identity is continually reworked throughout the life cycle. 

Erikson (1946) defined the term identity, which he initially called ego identity, as the individual’s sense of “conviction” of “a defined ego within a social reality” that emerges out of developmental experiences within his cultural and social world. Erikson identified identity as “a subsystem of the ego,” whose function is to integrate the self representations derived from prior psychosocial crises of childhood into a stable, though modifiable, sense of the reality of the self within its social world. He compared the ego identity to ego ideal, from which it is partly derived, which he defines as a set of goals for the self (1956). Indeed, Wallerstein (1998) suggested that Erikson’s conceptualization of identity laid the groundwork for the subsequent emergent of interest in the self, including self psychology.

Many psychoanalysts dismissed Erikson’s conceptualization of identity as excessively sociological because, in their view, it refers primarily to the adaptation of the individual to his or her particular culture. However, many others made made use of the term or similar concepts to refer to the individual’s capacity to internalize, synthesize, and integrate identifications over the course of development. Greenacre (1958a) argued that the sources of identity lie in the development of body image. Mahler (Rubinfine, 1958) discussed identity in terms of the successful negotiation of the process of separation. Jacobson (1964) explored what she called personal identity, which consists of the integration of increasingly realistic representations of the self. Lichtenstein (1961) described the origins of identity in the earliest dyadic interactions with the mother, who shared needs and expectations with the child. D. N. Stern (2005) argued that identity is formed in interaction with others and has its basis in intersubjectivity. Kernberg (1967) elaborated on the concept of identity diffusion present in borderline personalities, arguing that identity diffusion should not be confused with identity crisis, which is a normal process. Wilkinson-Ryan and Westen (2000) have attempted to study various kinds of identity disturbance in borderline personality disorder using empirical methods.

Usage of the term identity crisis in the psychoanalytic literature has been markedly inconsistent, spanning levels of abstraction and conceptual focus. For example, the term has been used to describe institutional upheavals (Gitelson, 1964), shifts in conscious self representation due to hospitalization (Will, 1965), or the confrontation with unconscious secrets that challenge the self image (Margolis, 1966). Thus, identity crisis is used loosely to refer to any shift in self representation and in the experience of self in the social context. 

Skelton, R., General Editor. (2009). The Edinburgh International Encyclopedia of Psychoanalysis. Edinburgh University Press. (pp. 228-229):

Identity. A consciously lived sense of one’s self. This partly relies on the process of identification, whereby one’s subjectivity is elaborated in relation to the significant others who cross one’s path. Not a concept explicitly found in classical psychoanalytic literature, identity is primarily a matter of social construction and positioning within society. It can also be seen as more extreme version of identification involved in projective identification and in psychosis.

Akhtar, S. (2009). Comprehensive dictionary of psychoanalysis. London: Karnac. (pp. 139-140):

Identity: this term was introduced into psychoanalytic literature by Victor Tausk (1919), who examined how the child discovers itself and asserted that man, throughout life, constantly finds and experiences himself anew. Sigmund Freud (1926e) referred to the concept of identity once and this was in his address to B’Nai B’rith. The fact that identity was a two-sided term with intrapsychic as well as social ramifications contributed to its lack of acceptance in the subsequent psychoanalytic literature (for a comprehensive review of writings in this area, see Akhtar & Samuel, 1996). In the 1950s, Erik Erikson resurrected the term as ‘ego identity’; he later dropped the prefix ‘ego’, in part to accommodate Heinz Hartmann’s (1950) differentiation between ego and the self. All in all, the current view is that a well established identity consists of: (1) a sustained feeling of self-sameness displaying roughly similar character traits to varied others, (2) temporal continuity in the self-experience, (3) genuineness and authenticity, (4) a realistic body image, (5) a sense of inner solidity and the associated capacity for peaceful solitude, (6) subjective clarity regarding one’s gender, and (7) an inner solidarity with an ethnic group’s ideals and a well-internalized conscience.

January 26, 2024 — Beginnings of psychoanalytic identity: The candidate’s experience

[11 pages]

To help establish a starting place for our course, please review the entries on “identity” in the introduction to this syllabus.

Monroy, K. (2023). The development of an analytic mind, analytic identity, and analytic voice. Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 43:4, 258-268

Monroy, originally from Colombia, writes explicitly about the development of her analytic self during training. Her experience of working in both Spanish and English, and her reflections on her cultural and linguistic identifications, offer additional context and complexity as we begin our conversation about analytic identity.

February 2, 2024 — Who we are when we do analysis

[26 pages]

Shah, D. (2023). Ch7: “Hopelessness” in The Analyst’s Torment / Unbearable mental states in countertransference. Oxfordshire: Phoenix Publishing House, pp113-138.

Working as an analyst can require sustained contact with our own extraordinarily painful affects and states of mind. In Shah’s view, these times are often felt as threats to our psychoanalytic identity. Shah invites us to think about who we are when we find ourselves in such places. What we do draw on to do this work? How do we maintain or restore our psychoanalytic selves?

February 16, 2024 — Becoming a psychoanalyst: the lifelong view

[13 pages]

*The mid-term class evaluation will be conducted during this session. Please use these questions to facilitate your discussion: Midterm Evaluation Questions


González, F.J. (2018). Ch2, “All origins are suspect / Becoming a psychoanalyst” in The Voice of the Analyst: Narratives on developing a psychoanalytic identity (Linda Hillman and Therese Rosenblatt, Eds.) New York: Routledge, pp13-25.

González offers us a sweeping account of his own journey of becoming an analyst, drawing deeply on his biography and his intrapsychic world. In today’s session we will focus on this aspect of our analytic identities — the longitudinal view; the dynamic story we have about ourselves in the world.

February 23, 2024 — The analyst’s relationship to psychoanalysis

[11 pages]

Holmes, D. (2018). Ch12, “My psychoanalytic self / Discovery, embrace, and ongoing formation” in The Voice of the Analyst: Narratives on developing a psychoanalytic identity (Linda Hillman and Therese Rosenblatt, Eds.) New York: Routledge, pp156-166.

Like González, Holmes writes about her analytic self in breadth and depth. Her description of her “ongoing formation” gives us a chance to think about the complexities of being an analyst — in her case, a clinician, scholar, leader, writer, friend and colleague, and at this point someone closely identified with the field. As you prepare for the transition out of this stage of training, this is a chance to reflect on your own relationship to the psychoanalytic community.

March 1, 2024 — Professionalism, conformity, and competence in our psychoanalytic identities

[22 pages]

Lemma, A. (2023). Who do you think you are? Some reflections on analytic identity. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 104(5), 843-848.

Lemma, long known as clear didactic writer about basic elements of therapy and analysis, has become a leading exponent of the idea of psychoanalytic competencies. In her view, as a matter of not just professionalism but ethical practice, we must be able to enumerate the skills and techniques that we practice and teach; these domains help define our psychoanalytic selves. What are the advantages and risks of this point of view?

Hart, A. (2017). From multicultural competence to radical openness: A psychoanalytic engagement of otherness. In The American Psychoanalyst, 51(1), pp.12-27.

For contrast, though not necessarily in opposition, I am pairing the Lemma article with this brief essay by Anton Hart about his evolving ideas of radical openness. Does his critique of the idea of ‘multicultural competence’ challenge the position expressed by Lemma? Where you do you find yourself in the dialogue between these two?