Michael Šebek

Address by the President of the Czech Provisional Society: Gates We Try to Open

(contribution presented on the 1ST ANNUAL CONFERENCE OF THE EUROPEAN PSYCHO-ANALYTICAL FEDERATION Prague, Czech Republic, 04.-07. April 2002)

I should like to welcome you warmly on behalf of the Czech Psychoanalytical Provisional Society. We all hope you will enjoy the Conference, or at least some part of the unusually rich programme. And I believe you will like Prague, or yourself in Prague, if nothing else. It is for us of great historical importance, and a great honour that the First Annual Conference of the EPF is held in Prague, in Czechia. Including the 14th IPA Congress in Marienbad in 1936, it is only the second international event in the history of psychoanalysis to be held in Czechia (formerly Czechoslovakia).

I also want to extend my thanks to all the people who prepared for this conference, and also the Local Organizing Committee, especially Dr Petr Junek.

We are still not a very large Society with some 26 members and some 20 candidates, although the Czech psychoanalytic movement started in the third decade of the last century.

My presidential address will be in two parts. The first part is devoted to a condensed history of psychoanalytic development in this country.

The second part has to do with some features of external reality which were also important in the development of the Czech Society and Czech psychoanalysis. It could be conceived as a contribution to psychoanalytic social psychology. It will speak of gates and gatekeepers to the outside world. The historical “Iron Curtain” is an example of closed gates with far-reaching consequences for the development of Czech psychoanalysis. But of course the majority of gates in the outside world are able to be opened. And in the current global society in which actual borders are fast disappearing we are interested in and also more dependent on electronic gates and gatekeepers. There are also internal gates in our mind, at least between conscious and preconscious, and there are also some gates in the psychoanalytic setting, not only doors of the analyst’s office, but all the selection procedures; there are, too, some imaginary gates in the analytic process (for example, how we get the material from the patient and what we select to tell him).

It is well known that Sigmund Freud was born in Moravia’s Freiberg (Pribor), a small town near Ostrava, but this fact had little influence on local psychoanalytic development. The Czech psychoanalytic movement is probably the only movement, which has had three Study Groups in its history. The first Study Group was recognized at the 14th IPA Congress in Marienbad. This group could not continue after 1939 because of the German Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia. Some members of the group saved themselves by emigrating. The second - post-war Study Group - was closed down by the Communist regime, again after some 3 years (in 1949). It was only the third Study Group, in the nineties, that could get through the external gates, and the IPA Congress in Santiago, Chile, held in 1999, recognized the Czech Study Group in Prague as a Provisional Society.

The first group to be interested in psychoanalysis originated in Prague around the Russian psychoanalyst Ossipov in the 1920s and consisted mostly of Russian émigrés. Ossipov was in contact with Freud, and Freud sent him advice on where to find suitable people in Prague with whom to establish the group. The second group was based in Kaschau (Eastern Slovakia) around the Czech psychiatrist Jaroslav Stuchlik. Two members of Stuchlik's group, Emanuel Windholz and Jan Frank, moved to Prague at the end of twenties, and in the early thirties they joined the group of German Jewish analysts who arrived in Prague to save themselves from anti-Semitic persecution in Germany. Otto Fenichel arrived in Prague from Oslo in 1935 and, together with several psychoanalysts from Vienna, helped the Prague Group to become a Study Group at the 14th IPA Congress in Marienbad in 1936. Otto Fenichel worked in Prague, trained his candidates, organized seminars and lectures and wrote his “Rundbriefe” (circular letters) until 1938, when he left Prague for the USA, and Emanuel Windholz took on the leadership of the Czech Group. The German occupation in 1939 put a stop to the existence of the Study Group. Some people emigrated, some died in concentration camps. There was only one member of this pre-war group, Bohodar Dosuzkov, who kept psychoanalysis alive underground during World War II. He also was of Russian origin. The second Czech Study Group was formed after the war thanks to Dosuzkov. The Communist regime at the end of forties put an official ban on the Czech Group, which continued its work again underground. This situation lasted for 40 years. The group used to have regular meetings in private flats, and the training of new candidates went on without interruption. Our situation and conditions were similar to those of the Hungarians. The Communist camp was closed and Czech analysts even used to help with training some colleagues from Warsaw in the sixties, seventies and even the eighties. Some Polish colleagues obtained what we today call “a shuttle analysis” or condensed analysis.

The external world was divided vertically by the Iron Curtain, which kept gates closed. The totalitarian part of the world was divided horizontally into the official and formal “upper ground” and non-official informal “underground”. Although it is certainly a simplistic division, the upper ground was occupied by the false, grandiose Communist ideology and its institutions in which a totalitarian atmosphere prevailed, and the non-official, informal “underground” mostly contained the real and private lives of people. The fate of psychoanalysis was to exist mostly in the underground reality where the private lives of people was also located (an area more for the true self). It is above all this connection between psychoanalysis and the private life of people that made it possible for psychoanalysis to survive and develop even under rather unfavourable ideological and oppressive external conditions. After the so-called velvet revolution of 1989, the Prague Psychoanalytic Group again became the official “upper ground” group. We soon attained the status of a Study Group. We have been a Provisional Society since the IPA Congress in Chile in 1999.

Of course, there was not only the massive influence of external reality on the Czech psychoanalytic movement itself, but also a powerful external influence on the psychoanalytic process and setting. The general question was how could the external totalitarian conditions, characterized by the presence of totalitarian objects, allow a free-association process in psychoanalysis? Did the patient feel safe enough with his analyst, who was inevitably a part of external reality for him? Was a patient safe enough for the analyst who was totally unprotected in the totalitarian external world? Were totalitarian objects only external, or did they have their internal existence, too? How much did the patient and the analyst have to deny the totalitarian reality to be able to work together within the very complex psychoanalytic process? There are no easy answers. No doubt the defences of the patient and the defences of the analyst had to help protect the analytic safety. Today, there are many analysts in the world who have experience of working analytically under rather unfavourable external conditions. Psychoanalytic work under ideal non-threatening conditions similar to those in a laboratory is an illusion.

I entered psychoanalytic training underground at the beginning of the seventies when the external political reality had become rather repressive. I actually found the psychoanalytic situation to be the only safe place, besides my family. I saw this longing for safety and freedom in a safe space (the space for unfolding the true self) later in my patients when I started to work as an underground analyst. It was the presence of some basic trust in patients, some reliable parts of good parental objects and denial of external danger, which, among other factors, helped maintain the working alliance. There was a wish for the analyst’s doors to be a safe gate into the world of privacy and freedom. And indeed, no Czech analyst was ever denounced by a patient to the totalitarian authorities although some patients showed their menacing feelings towards their analysts in the flow of the analytic process. But there was often an unspoken sense in the analyst and the patient that they lived on one ship with the enemy elsewhere outside. This shared reality and projection could at the same time in some cases be a burden for the proper analysis of aggressive impulses in the patient. In short, the doors or gates between the underground reality and the upper-ground reality were kept closed. I discovered only later - in my post-totalitarian practice - the internal totalitarian objects located in different parts of the psyche (Sebek, 1996,1998). Of course, the unconscious process of internalization had been doing its work during the 40 years of the Communist regime. This object became a bigger obstacle than an external danger. When this object was located more in the ego, the patient was ridden more by authoritarian beliefs in his behaviour to others. When it was more in the superego, the patient had a tendency to be cruel and sadistic to himself. When the totalitarian object was projected outside, the paranoid atmosphere flooded the transference, and the patient mostly could show only the false part of himself. The analyst might well have the same problems in being more manipulative, less patient, too anxious or less secure.

There was also the influence of external reality on the boundaries of the psychoanalytic setting. No analyst in the Czech underground could work as a full-time analyst. Their analytic practice was mostly a secret appendix to the ordinary psychiatric and psychological outpatient or inpatient national health service work, or it was practised in the analyst’s home, usually in a room with more functions than just treating patients. There was also some instability in the schedules because analysts were supposed to make their first priority the psychiatric or psychological work for the state health-service before they could devote their free time to their analytic patients. The analyst was unable to protect some sessions from external impacts of different kinds because there was no such thing as an official psychoanalytic session. When the external impact was too great, the session had to be interrupted, but small distortions were taken into the session as material for further analysis, like, for instance noises from other rooms if the session took place, as was usual, in a small private flat, or even occasional telephone calls which had to be answered. It was also difficult to set up a good and reliable contract with the patient; the underground conditions were not very suitable, for example, for establishing the rule of paying for missed sessions.

I will now leave this historical account which I think is sufficient to explain how the theme of external reality was and is so important for Czech analysts. Unfortunately, the importance of external reality does not say much about the concept of external reality. We easily become confused if epistemological matters are loosely defined. For instance, if we believe that psychoanalysis can meet the criteria of current science, we more or less tacitly include the fact that we are using the clinical situation as the external reality, as the object of our observations; and we infer our theoretical hypothesis from these observations, and we change our theories in relation to our changes in the interpretation of the observational data. This is what Freud did when, for instance, he abandoned the seduction theory as the cause of neurosis. The seduction theory was the important theory of external social reality, although limited to the pathological realm.

At this point some review of psychoanalytic concepts related to external reality would be appropriate: for instance, Hartman’s concept of “the average expectable environment”, or Winnicott's concepts of “the facilitating environment”, “the good enough mother” etc. However this will, I am sure, be done by others during this conference. Psychoanalytic concepts of external reality are mainly limited to primary objects because we strongly believe in the importance of the early periods of life for personality-shaping. Although this is partly true, I am convinced that other objects and other spaces (we may call them secondary objects and secondary spaces) are also relevant. For example, we know that in the 20th century totalitarian states tried to lessen the role of family in the socialization of children. These states took over much of the influence for the child’s education using for this purpose kindergartens, schools and various public institutions. Unfortunately, such ideological brainwashing met with some success and, I am convinced, resulted in the malignant development of a false-self pathology in the target population. More concretely, it meant that people could not develop their personal identities properly; they remained passive, conformist, withdrawn, endangered, dissimulating when exposed to authority, etc. For this reason I think it will be useful to describe, define and also employ some other concepts of external reality. Concepts like “a divided world”, “borders”, “gates”, “doors”, “gatekeepers”, “upper ground - underground”, and of course the possibility or impossibility of movement among various spaces, might be interesting for psychoanalytic thinking and might also help us to see better what happens in the psychoanalytic process. The concept of the totalitarian object may be the primary object when it is represented by a parent, but it can have the quality of the secondary object too. It can be the state power, which penetrates the family boundaries and also personal boundaries and destroys the ability to think, to develop and to express emotions. In the second part of my contribution I will express some thoughts about the familiar object, which can also be a secondary object, and which is a very important antidote to the development of the totalitarian situation.

So-called gatekeepers (for example, immigration authorities, customs officers, doormen, but also various individuals, committees and institutions responsible for deciding who is allowed to enter where, and who is not, etc.) are holders of real and magical power, too. Can people get in? And how to get out? And are there any “gates” in psychoanalytic treatment? What is happening with gates?

After landing in the USA several years ago, I had to be checked as usual by an immigration officer. He looked at my passport and said that the kind visa I had somehow did not fit the declared purpose of my journey, which was residence at the Austen Riggs Center. He then asked what “Riggs” stood for because the Riggs logo (on the letter of invitation) gave no indication. When I replied, “a psychiatric hospital” this suddenly permitted him to become an informal, smiling official. He said his wife worked with drug-abusers, and so he had no other objections and let me go. Unfortunately, five minutes later I was again in trouble. Customs officers discovered a small sausage in my luggage and in full view of me threw it into the garbage. No food of this sort was allowed into the USA. They wanted me to pay a penalty of $50, at which I protested. Then suddenly one of officers asked me if I was from Prague, and told me his parents were from Prague too. He then let me go without paying anything.

These two closely connected stories can be interpreted in various ways, but I am interested mainly in two related qualities: (1) the process of changing from the external, formal and powerful authority into a containing, erotizing, informal authority which is flexible but at the same time unable to adhere precisely to the rules and laws; (2) a desire to find a similarity between one’s own internal objects and external objects, or the internal objects of others. In short, a desire to find familiar objects in the external reality.

Both stories, when retold, have certain dream-like characteristics. For instance, it can be said that I was able to enter the USA because somebody's wife, whom I had never met, worked with drug-abusers. And I did not pay a penalty because somebody’s parents had lived at some point in the past in the same city as me. Furthermore, my sausage was considered to be dangerous to American people. These people were saved thanks to the customs officer who threw the sausage into the garbage. Nevertheless, these (acted out) primary processes, beyond the process of the law, are an important part of identification based on separating good objects from bad ones. Fortunately, I was chosen as a good object by both officers thanks to a fortuitous ability to mirror or represent their good objects. My dry sausage, being by definition the bad object, finished its existence in the trashcan. A British analyst Roger Money-Kyrle (1947) who belonged to those professionals in the past who were also interested in social processes, wrote the following:

If these two, the inner and the outer object, do not closely correspond, society becomes for us something other than individuals in it; and if the gap between them is a wide one, we may abandon the individuals for the abstraction; or rather seek to control them, in a compulsive and omnipotent way, for its supposed benefit. In an extreme form, this lack of conformity between the inner and the outer object leads to the totalitarian fallacy that the welfare of the abstract state is best served by sacrificing the welfare of all its concrete citizens. (p 204)

Looking back to both the stories mentioned above, the state officers representing law and powerful authority became less oppressive when they discovered some similarity between them and me, or in finding some of their internal objects connected with me (being an external object to them). This is also the way any totalitarian authority can become less totalitarian. Money-Kyrle indicates that growing differences between internal and external objects provoke a totalitarian omnipotence and compulsive control. I think this is the important component of the genesis of what I call the totalitarian object (Sebek, 1996, 1998, 2001) and totalitarian situation. A totalitarian situation is characterized by little external and internal space in which the real or imaginary gate is closed. Both gatekeepers in the aforementioned situations were in a position to be a formal authority maintaining and representing impersonal rules and laws. If an individual does not fit to these rules and laws, he can be stopped or punished. In this way a totalitarian situation might develop. But both gatekeepers were like good enough father figures, each independently keeping their rules and laws within the familiar human context, and refraining from using their absolute power to impose possible penalties. This might be considered a normal oedipal or postoedipal situation. By diminishing the gap between the internal and external objects, which I see as a kind of erotization of the whole situation, they kept their human face. I also see in this situation a certain creativity: something quite new and original was introduced into the picture by finding the familiar objects at the gate. An ability to trust plays a part in this more lenient application of the rules. If these state officers were afraid of moving closer to the individual minds of those dependent on them, they would be able to create a totalitarian situation. The totalitarian situation would mean that the representatives of power would allow no chance for individual minds to be accepted as individuals, and that anyone with the slightest visa irregularity would be rejected, and everyone found bringing in dangerous food would be penalized. A degree of distrust and paranoia as an expression of the bigger difference between internal and external objects is part of the totalitarian situation. The concept of the totalitarian object can be used to describe the power, which stops thought, and dialogue, offers only pre-formed solutions, and commands; and which permits no substantial development, and uses ideology, of whatever sort, for the rationalization of sadistic acts used to oppress those who appear to be different. Furthermore, the external totalitarian objects also want to control people’s inner space. Fear of closeness and distrust operate in such a situation. The totalitarian objects are unconsciously internalized like other objects living in the external and accessible space.

Money-Kyrle's thoughts about a gap between internal and external objects indicate indirectly the existence of a very important aspect of our internal life: there is some urge to find in external reality what we consciously, and also unconsciously, expect, and what is derived from internal objects and their relation. When we encounter a new external object, we try to identify something familiar to us, which is either discovered by perceptual processes, or projected from our internal space. A sense of similarity can have a psychotic quality when projective processes prevail. I do not exaggerate in suggesting the possibility that all individuals under normal conditions strive to change their external objects to make them more similar to their internal objects. To this extent the external world mirrors the internal one, or gives sense or meaning to the psychic reality. The gap between external and internal objects can be lessened by the process of identification, and by projections and introjections in so far as these are part of the identification process. Thus familiar objects protect us from totalitarian situations and have an important influence in regulating the balance between an individual and his/her external reality. Incidentally, the familiar objects are an important tool for survival in a totalitarian society, as, for example, in having a network of people whom you know and trust, and who can also help. Some gaps between internal and external objects are necessary for the protection of boundaries of the self. Gaps therefore seem to have a dynamic quality; we unconsciously monitor and regulate these gaps in our everyday life.

In summary, finding the closeness of similar objects is the easiest way to set up a meaningful relationship, a new psychic structure which is kept in long-term memory. It may be that on some future occasion the immigration officer will remember me through his wife's work with drug-abusers, and the customs officer might remember not only me but also my sausage because his parents came to the USA from Prague.

The similarities and gaps between the external and internal objects are ever-present in the psychoanalytic process. For example, there are situations in which we feel the patient is somehow distant from us, inaccessible: we might even think non-analysable. We certainly use the control of our gate when we try to select patients for psychoanalysis, or for the psychoanalytic training, but we mostly know too the limitations of all first interviews. The wide gap between the analyst and the patient may create a totalitarian situation and solution in the psychoanalytic process: for example, the less experienced therapist might attempt to push the patient into becoming more “analytical” or into stopping the analysis; while the more experienced therapist would be able to study the countertransference feelings and discover that the distant patient is attempting to hide himself in some mental underground.

When choosing the therapist some patients select only someone of the opposite gender, or, on the contrary, of the same gender. So analysis already starts as the process in which the gender of the analyst and the patient are indications, as it seems to me, of the bridge between two internal realities, which stand to one another in the relation of the external and internal realities (the patient is external to the analyst, and the analyst is external to the patient). One female patient thought she had chosen me because she always did better with men, starting early on with her father. So she thought men closer to her internal familiar objects with whom she could communicate.

Some patients being analysed in a foreign language sometimes report a distance or gap between their internal world and the world of the analyst who speaks his own native language. Both the analyst and the patient are locked into their own language through which their own internal objects speak. The analysis always goes on, even under these conditions, but we should not confuse resistances with gaps. Gaps are gaps. One male patient told me that he could cry on the couch only in his native language. His English-speaking analyst did not understand. When the patient was translating the traumatic content into English, he could not cry. He felt detached, despite the fact that the analyst showed him empathy. The patient felt that there were some parts of his traumatic experience that were not possible to translate. To employ the gateway metaphor, there is a speech gate through which you can carry only a limited amount of “luggage”, and some semantic nuances can never be recognized and understood because they are packed into the specific language.

There are other examples of gaps, which are part of the dynamics of the psychoanalytic process. When a patient enters the session, he/she may make an observation such as: “You [my analyst] look as if you’re in bad mood today, or are you tired?” Or: “You look nice today, are you wearing something new?” The patient is sometimes right, in which case this is more perception than projection. We certainly do not look the same all the time, and some patients are extremely sensitive when passing through doors to the couch. Again the question is whether or not our appearance fits the internal reality or unconscious fantasy of the patient, or what the gap is between internal and external reality. One small clinical example: A patient told me at the beginning of the session that I was looking tired. He was about right, I did feel tired, but he added that he himself felt tired too, and suggested simply not doing anything in the session. I was quickly cured of my pain and proposed that he look at this interesting theme of “not doing anything”. But he gave me a lesson in how important it is to keep in mind the difference between projection and perception in the analytic process. (Is there not also some gap between a “normal” life and the analytic situation? In normal life situations people do not think they project, but believe they perceive. In the analytic situation we often forget that patients also perceive and don’t only project.)

Psychoanalytic encounters and the work in the dyad are also strongly influenced by the tendency to diminish a gap between the internal world of the patient and the internal world of the analyst. When the patient has discovered that his analyst likes to listen and analyse dreams, he knows one of the “gates” through which to enter into the analyst. Then the analyst may get plenty of dreams, sometimes too many. The concept of transference is basic for understanding the tendency of the patient to create a familiar world in psychoanalysis. Potentially, the analyst is able to take over the historical and actual role of the patient’s internal objects. In fact, I suppose that this tendency to lessen the gap between internal and external objects goes beyond what is conceived to be the ordinary transference, because it is an aspect of normal everyday relations: for example, the closeness of the sexual pair when referring to genital identification involving simultaneous and intense identification with one's own sexual role and the object’s complementary role during sexual intercourse. Normal adults have a capacity for entering and becoming one with another person.

There are many familiar objects in the culture which enter the psychoanalytic process. Some can disrupt the therapy temporarily: it can happen in our culture that the patient does not come to the regular session because it clashes with an important ice-hockey match at the Olympic Games. The patient can refuse to pay for the missed session because he assumes his analyst was watching the match too (everyone - being “normal” - watches it).

The big difference or gap between internal and external objects (or the objects of others) creates a tension and can result in a totalitarian solution in social relations. A general libidinal tendency to diminish the gap between objects of individuals by finding familiar objects is an important building block in all human relationships starting, probably, at birth. Also, psychoanalytic relations between the patient and the therapist are characterized by the convergence or also divergence of object relations, which goes beyond the ordinary transference and countertransference and the ordinary resistance.

MONEY-KYRLE, R. (1947). Social Conflict and the Challenge to Psychology. In (ed. D. Meltzer with E. O´Shaughnessy) The Collected Papers of Roger Money-Kyrle, Strathtay, Perthshire: Clunie Press, 1978
SEBEK, M. (1996). Fates of Totalitarian Objects, Int. Forum Psychoanal., 5, 289-294 SEBEK, M. (1998). Post-totalitarian personality - old internal objects in a new situation. J. Amer. Academy Psychoanal., 26, 295-309
SEBEK, M.(2001). Zeit, Raum und Gedachtnis für totalitäre Objekte. In (eds. W. Bohleber & S. Drews) Die Gegenwart der Psychoanalyse - die Psychoanalyse der Gegenwar. Stuttgart: Klett - Cotta, 179-207

© Michael Šebek, 2002