Australasian Journal Of Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy
NO.1&2 - 2022
Australasian Journal OfPsychoanalytic Psychotherapy
NO.1&2 - 2022
I am honoured by the invitation to share some thoughts with friends, colleagues and readers that I have not met on the fortieth anniversary of our Journal. It is an opportunity for making an inventory of my experiences in Australia, my adoptive land and people, who have been very generous to me and my family. We arrived in Melbourne in June, 1977, after a traumatic period of political and ideological persecution by the illegal, fascist military government that ruled Argentina from 1976 to 1983. During those seven years thousands of compatriots were tortured, killed or ‘disappeared’ (a euphemism coined by the military to designate those who were made to disappear without traces), and hundreds of thousand left for exile in all continents.
That country of extreme contradictions had given Silvia, my wife, and myself an excellent education and psychoanalytic formation. Argentina continues to have the highest number in the world of psychoanalysts relative to the general population. The extermination of the opposition to the military regime included the disappearance, murder and expulsion of psychoanalysts during that abominable period, despite which a good number of colleagues managed to stay and quietly persevered in the exercise of the practice that Freud created and in the work of research that kept psychoanalysis alive in very adverse circumstances.
For the first five years in Melbourne I worked at the Department of Psychiatry of the Royal Children’s Hospital, then under the direction of the late Winston Rickards, a fine man and psychiatrist, an astute clinician who devoted his life to his patients and his Department. We worked together with a few young patients and families as outpatients, as well as with the patients at the residential unit for psychotic and other children with very serious problems that Dr Rickards had created.
At the time several Melbourne psychoanalysts were working in different capacities at the same Department: Judith Linnane, Bill Blomfield, George Christie, Neil Martin, Hugh Garner, Pat Kenwood, Eve Steel, María Inés Zentner, Silvia Rodríguez. Clara Geroe, the founder of the Melbourne Institute of Psychoanalysis, who had also migrated to Australia as a refugee in the early 1940s and who trained the first generation of Melbourne analysts, although retired from clinical practice, attended some of the clinical meetings of the Department and had always something clinically pertinent and penetrating to say. Ann Cebon, Margaret Ericksen, Eileen Anderson and Ruth Wraith, psychoanalytic psychotherapists, were also very active practitioners and thoughtful colleagues with whom I spent many hours of clinical and conceptual discussions.
Without being the exclusive approach, psychoanalysis was well represented in the provision of services by the psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, psychiatric nurses, speech pathologists, and audiologists, as well as the teachers who worked in the school that operated within the residential unit. All of the professionals who were not trained as psychoanalysts participated in psychoanalytically oriented seminars, study groups and clinical supervision.
Things have changed since then.
Virtually all the many members of the staff of that Department of Psychiatry became my friends and helped Silvia, our very young children and myself in all sorts of ways that made our loss of country, extended family, friends and language bearable, and facilitated the creation of a new life and new personal relations.
After five years at the Children’s Hospital, I moved to the still under construction Sunshine Hospital as the head of its relatively small Child Psychiatry Unit, the first one in Australia to follow a clear psychoanalytic orientation in diagnosis and treatment. Psychoanalytic treatment was provided for children, adolescents and some parents, each treatment being allocated the time it required despite the large number of patients for whom we had to care. It was possible to work with all those patients in psychoanalysis only because of the dedication of the clinicians who formed a very solid team: Carmela Levy-Stokes, Clare Harvey, Karen White, Heather Hay, Carol Loga, Chris McDougall, Anne Clark, Julie Martin, Rosemary Grahame, Anne Booth.
The Child Psychiatry Unit worked well for ten years. It was then disbanded for reasons that remain incomprehensible and which a vague reference to a ‘rationalization of services’ does not make intelligible.
Once again: things have changed since then (1992) in the provision of psychoanalytic treatment in public hospitals.
Shortly after arrival I started to work at the university. First, and for twelve years, at the University of Melbourne, where I lectured on psychoanalysis with the Clinical Psychology program and then supervised the clinical work of students of the same program. Then, at Monash University, teaching psychoanalysis at the Master of Psychiatry program and other courses, and supervising doctoral theses on psychoanalytic topics. This was between 1984 and 2012, during which time I also completed a PhD on psychoanalysis with children. I started teaching psychoanalysis for Psychology students in 1990, and in 2001 founded a Master of Psychoanalysis at Victoria University. This program was also offered in Sydney, where our team went periodically to teach and supervise research required by the thesis, and also included students from South Australia and Queensland. This program lasted for ten years, after which it was closed because of financial constraints. I must add that psychoanalysis was not the only target of the alleged financial savings, as other postgraduate courses were also eliminated, following the trend that brought the policy of economic rationalism to the universities – a peculiar application of reason to economics that is proving to be costly.
In the life of the universities things have also changed for psychoanalysis and other disciplines.
I joined the Victoria Association of Psychotherapists (as it was then called) in 1977, and two years later joined the teaching staff, as well as the Council of the Association. I was substantially involved in teaching at the VAPP for ten years, and more sporadically after 1988; but I have been invited to teach on the works of Freud, which I am still doing from time to time. I have also been in charge of seminars for the New South Wales, South Australia and New Zealand institutes of psychotherapy that are members of the PPAA.
I was the first editor (1982-1987) of the Australian Journal of Psychotherapy, which eventually became the Australasian Journal of Psychotherapy. It was not only my initiative, but the enthusiastic desire of a few colleagues that made it possible. I say ‘made it possible’ because we met with some resistance from other colleagues, who questioned the wisdom of producing ‘yet another journal that very few people, if anyone, will read’. I did not find the objection irrational or simply negativistic, because I sympathize with the notion that not everything that is published is readable. But the opposition operated as an incentive for the first editorial committee, in that it promoted the principle that we should publish only what was worth reading. Of course, this is highly debatable point; but the fact remains that without its inscription in the life of culture in the form of publications a human experience is destined to be lost, and that therefore it is not only a wish, but also an obligation, to make our experience available to others – in particular, our younger colleagues, which through reading accounts of our work may avoid making certain mistakes.
In 1986, and after some years of working in study groups on the works of Sigmund Freud and Jacques Lacan, with a group of friends I founded the Centre for Psychoanalytic Research, now the Australian Centre for Psychoanalysis, which has been training psychoanalysts and working in research, the transmission of psychoanalysis and the publication of psychoanalytic writings in Australia and other countries for over thirty years. I have been for some years the Coordinator of the Institute for Training of the Centre and continue to teach and lead research seminars with people of the younger generations. My family has always been at the center of my occupations and preoccupations, but my clinical practice and the work with the Australian Centre for Psychoanalysis and the international psychoanalytic organization to which it is linked (the School of Psychoanalysis of the Forums of the Lacanian Field) have occupied my working life of the last decades – a working life that started fifty three years ago in the Child Psychiatry department of a big general hospital of Buenos Aires.
Whenever I could, I tried to write something about my psychoanalytic clinical experience and research. I prepared a list of some of my publications relevant to my work with children and adolescents for the review of a paper published in this Journal thirty years ago, one of a collection of different psychoanalytic views on the infant. I realized then that I have accumulated a few pages, some of which I would not necessarily recommend to read, but which nevertheless represent my engagement with and commitment to psychoanalysis. And I know that there are many colleagues that are committed to the psychoanalytic cause and that have worked in psychoanalysis more than myself. This is only to say that there is hope for psychoanalysis, despite the fact that every so often somebody of dubious intentions declares that Sigmund Freud is dead. This is the expression of a malevolent wish, and confirms the fact that Freud is alive and well (only somebody who is alive can be killed), and that in many respects his work and his creation continue to be well ahead of us and of our times.
It is rather remarkable that, given the obvious exclusion of psychoanalysis from most of the institutions in charge of public mental health and the universities, psychoanalysis has grown in Australia over the forty five years of my life here. There are now more psychoanalysts and people studying psychoanalysis in Melbourne and Sydney (I am not familiar with the situation in other cities of this country). There are now in Melbourne three different institutions within the Lacanian orientation that offer psychoanalytic training and are actively engaged in research and publications, as well as the Melbourne Institute of Psychoanalysis and the Victorian Association of Psychoanalytic Psychotherapists. Psychoanalysis has continued to develop in Europe and the Americas, and has entered vigorously in Eastern Europe, the Middle East and some Asian countries.
Towards the end of his life Freud declared that ‘the struggle is not over’. It is up to us and the future generations of psychoanalysts to persevere with the struggle, because it is certain that psychoanalysis faces opposition. The social and political conditions that pushed me and many others to leave totalitarian regimes behind are now emerging again in a number of places in the world where a return to fascism brings with it racism, misogyny and other forms of destructive intolerance.
Jacques Lacan, who was not particularly optimistic about anything to do with human beings, was nevertheless optimistic in relation to the future of psychoanalysis. This was, he once said, because psychoanalysis remains one of the few discourses still viable for us. A discourse, in his definition, is a social bond, and one that makes possible the development of the transference relation in the analytic experience and the contributions that psychoanalysis makes to society and culture.
Leonardo S. Rodriguez