Round Table: Discussion by Editors of Major Psychoanalytic Journals on their Perspectives of Current and Future Trends in Psychoanalysis
Editorial of no. 1/2000 of Psychoanalytic Dialogues

Neil Altman & Jody Messler Davies

[Neil Altman and Jody Messler Davies sent this Editorial as a background for their discussion at the Round Table of Editors of Major Psychoanalytic Journals held on June 15, 2003, at the Annual Meeting of the Rapaport-Klein Study Group]


As we officially assume the editorship of Psychoanalytic Dialogues, we face one of those junctures at which it seems natural to stop and reflect on the journey thus far—the accomplishments and the frustrations—as well as on future directions. At this time, we want to reach out to you, our readers, who have always seemed to us more of a community defined by a shared vision than a simple roster of subscribers. This vision was a project, in the shape of a journal—a project to breathe vitality into psychoanalytic discourse, to recognize creative thinking, to empower those with the courage to confront difficult questions while maintaining the intellectual rigor and academic standards required for theoretical evolution and advancement. It has been an active project, shared with all of you. In the evolution of this journal, many of the doubtful have become readers, readers have become contributors, contributors have become editors, and the face of psychoanalysis has changed in profound ways.

As we enter the journal's second decade of publication, our commitment to intellectual creativity, innovation, and rigor will remain unchanged. But we recognize that, at the beginning of its second hundred years, psychoanalysis is in a particularly paradoxical place. Intellectually, our field has never been so rich, so alive with well reasoned disagreement and debate, so free from the constraints of tradition for tradition’s sake, so ready to ask the kind of bold questions that will prepare psychoanalysis to secure its own future. But as a therapeutic modality, a treatment option for those most in need, psychoanalysis stands more threatened than at any other time in its history. Some within our field believe that the survival of psychoanalysis depends on a demonstration of political unity—on de-emphasizing theoretical diversity and debate in an attempt to produce a "united front" to the purveyors of managed care and health insurance benefits. Some suggest that highlighting differences among us is somehow dangerous to the future of our discipline. From such a perspective, it is easy to see why some have tried to outline the common ground among the diverse psychoanalytic perspectives that have developed in recent years. A sense of common ground provides an air of certainty to a therapeutic modality, as well as a feeling of community among psychoanalysts, despite differences in sensibility and perspective. Feeling so threatened, any of us might prefer a theoretical viewpoint that is felt to provide such a secure sense of orientation and outcome.

We recognize the need for, and value of, community among psychoanalysts, whose work can be isolating and highly stressful, and we share in the general concern for the future of psychoanalysis. But the issues of diversity in psychoanalytic theory and technique and the relationship between psychoanalytic politics and the evolution of psychoanalytic ideas are complex. We believe that the health and vitality of psychoanalysis, of any discipline, is predicated on and not threatened by the vigor of respectful intellectual debate—that a field such as ours grows and develops best through critical thinking, which depends on critical evaluation of competing ideas and viewpoints. Therefore, we feel that seeking and defining areas of agreement must occur in tension with a commitment to highlighting differences in approach to psychoanalytic work. Only through an awareness of difference can we become aware of underlying assumptions, values, and biases in any given theory or technical approach. An ongoing effort to bring to light these underlying commitments is our best insurance against authoritarianism in psychoanalytic clinical work and in psychoanalytic training. This effort is a form of making conscious (i.e., subject to critical evaluation) what is unconscious in the sense of being unrecognized, unformulated, taken for granted. In this regard, nothing could be more true to the spirit of psychoanalysis, especially an intersubjectively oriented psychoanalysis, than an ongoing attention to the sense of contrast provided by an awareness of differences among us.

Of course, there is sometimes a fine line between fostering awareness of differences and contributing to divisiveness. Divisiveness, the highlighting of differences in the service of political ends, battles over turf, can be recognized by a lack of respect for the ideas of others, a failure to cite relevant work of people from other groups, an attitude of dismissiveness and contempt. Our commitment in Psychoanalytic Dialogues is to foster a critical conversation about psychoanalysis by bringing together clinicians and theorists with diverging and converging viewpoints regarding crucial questions—and to avoid such dismissiveness and contempt.

In this spirit, our highest priority will be to present articles of use to the practicing clinician. We will continue to seek out the liveliest and most intellectually rigorous debates—to energize our pages with the kinds of clinical material that draw theoretical and technical differences into finely nuanced conversations. To the extent that we intend to question and challenge, we also invite others to question and challenge us. We are eager to publish articles that rigorously challenge the relational perspective. We will also redouble our efforts to seek new voices, to help new authors develop "first papers," to leave space for the special kind of creativity that comes from those who are trying to "speak" for the first time.

On a more personal note, we take this opportunity to thank our executive editor, Anthony Bass, and our associate editors, Lewis Aron, Margaret Black, Philip Bromberg, Carolyn Clement, Muriel Dimen, Jay Frankel, Emmanuel Ghent, and Adrienne Harris, for their energy and commitment to Psychoanalytic Dialogues during this time of transition. They are an extraordinary group of colleagues and friends whose vitality and intelligence have created a sense of excitement and discovery around their own work and the work of this journal. We feel privileged to be part of such a vibrant and supportive intellectual community. This community extends to those who write for us, to you who do the cutting-edge work that cumulatively has helped reinvigorate psychoanalysis. Your achievement is extraordinary at this historical moment when, with managed care and the emphasis on the "quick fix," the deck seems so stacked against your efforts both culturally and economically.

We also thank Paul Stepansky and Eleanor Kobrin for their continued support. And a special thank-you to Johanna Tiemann, who has taken over as our editorial assistant at a particularly challenging moment in the history of the journal. She has attempted to follow, with determination and good humor, the evolving processes endemic to editorial transition—and for that we are most grateful. We also thank our contributing editors, our editorial board, and our peer reviewers—all the people who, behind the scenes, have done the essential and basic work of helping us choose a limited number of papers from an embarrassment of riches. And finally, we thank you, our readers, who have engaged in the most essential dialogue of all. In your clinical work, in your thinking, and in your conversations among yourselves has lain the truest test of—the truest development of— the ideas that we have presented and will continue to present in these pages.

Before concluding, we must all pause and recognize that there would be no Psychoanalytic Dialogues without the particular brand of intellectual vision, courage, and rigor that its founding editor, Stephen Mitchell, has brought to and will continue to bring to this journal. Indeed, we believe that it is fair to say that so many of the changes in contemporary psychoanalysis—changes that we now take almost for granted—would be absent from our ongoing professional dialogue if not for Steve’s challenging mind, open curiosity, and innovative thinking. His initiative in stimulating dialogue in the pages of this journal expresses and enacts the idea basic to our vision—that evolution and creativity, in an individual or in the development of a field such as ours, take place best within dialogues. We are grateful to Steve for beginning and consolidating this tradition within psychoanalytic writing, and we look forward to continuing to develop the potential for creative thinking that is made possible by the dialogic structure.

With an unparalleled openness to new ideas, as well as a healthy respect for psychoanalytic tradition, Steve has changed the ways in which so many of us think about our work. That such a belief is infused with personal affection and gratitude goes without saying, but we believe that the essence of our belief is unexaggerated. For all of us, Steve has been a mentor, role model, and friend. In assuming the editorship of this journal, we commit ourselves to the preservation of his vision and to the continuing evolution of psychoanalytic discourse and change that he holds dear.

We invite you to join us in contributing to the next decade of Psychoanalytic Dialogues. Please let us know how you think we are doing!

Neil Altman, Ph.D., and Jody Messler Davies, Ph.D., co-editors of Psychoanalytic Dialogues

[Note: This editorial appeared in Psychoanalytic Dialogues, 2000, 10 (1): 1-4. We thank The Analytic Press, Inc., for the permission]

Neil Altman, Ph.D.
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New York, NY 10024
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Jody Messler Davies, Ph.D.
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New York, NY 10025
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