Academic journal article Indo - Pacific Journal of Phenomenology

Images of Psychoanalysis: A Phenomenological Study of Medical Students' Sense of Psychoanalysis before and after a Four-Week Elective Course

Academic journal article Indo - Pacific Journal of Phenomenology

Images of Psychoanalysis: A Phenomenological Study of Medical Students' Sense of Psychoanalysis before and after a Four-Week Elective Course

Article excerpt


In 2014 the International Psychoanalytical Association (IPA) set up an Image Task Force chaired by Angela Mauss-Hanke to study how the field of psychoanalysis is perceived by non-psychoanalysts. This paper reports on one of multiple studies to achieve that end.

The idea of an image is not a formal psychoanalytic concept but a descriptive one within the field of psychoanalysis. Therefore, it is not a topic that has a cadre of published papers in psychoanalysis. For that reason, this account of the subjects' images of psychoanalysis goes outside the field of psychoanalysis to deploy a descriptive phenomenological praxis to capture shared representations of the field of psychoanalysis. I will cite the work of Jean-Luc Nancy and Jean-Luc Marion to provide conceptual borders for this study. This study is therefore not a study to add to the already rich body of either phenomenological philosophy or phenomenological psychology. Rather, this study is a limited use of a phenomenological praxis to capture a profile of the images medical students bring to medical school on their journey to become physicians and what happens after a four-week period of study. What will they do with a nuanced account of psychoanalysis within their medical training? The subjects in this particular study are fourth year medical students who are taking a four-week intensive course on Freud, Klein, Kohut and Fairbairn and are interested in psychoanalysis for any number of reasons. After this fourth year, they would enter post-graduate residency programmes in psychiatry, pathology, paediatrics, anaesthesiology, obstetrics and gynaecology, among others.

After capturing the intersubjective constitution of these medical students' image or view of psychoanalysis, we shall dialogue our phenomenological findings with both psychoanalysis and phenomenologists in the broader field of Continental philosophy where applicable.


If we are going to study images of psychoanalysis with a phenomenological praxis, we need to proceed from an understanding of what phenomenology is. In essence, it is a methodological attitude proposed by the German philosopher, Edmund Husserl, for looking at problems in the human sciences so that we may reflect on them and ask new questions accordingly. It is an open-ended praxis that requires a problem-centred attitude. This methodology is therefore a fitting one for studying shared images of psychoanalysis within a sample of medical students who have chosen to study psychoanalytic theories in a fourth year elective course. This study will thus give us an opportunity to study external world images of psychoanalysis in the first instance, and then to observe what those findings can contribute to psychoanalysis. In the end, external fields of reference to the internal world will interact with internal fields of reference to the outside.

Long before phenomenology became a disciplined psychological research methodology, the psychoanalyst Heinz Hartmann (1964), well-known for his work on ego psychology, echoed Kronfeld (1920) in defining phenomenology as a preliminary approach for the study of any psychological theory that seeks to explain human phenomena genetically, that is, developmentally, to translate the denotation of "genetically" into modern psychoanalytic discourse. As such, for Kronfeld (1920), phenomenology is "a preliminary approach in the same sense that any psychological ontology is" (p. 394). More poignantly, Kronfeld adds, it is the precondition for the formation of theories; a precondition that nevertheless demands such theories. For, otherwise, phenomenology would remain essentially incomplete.

From Basic Assumptions to Method of Inquiry

It must be stated before we venture far afield that the term "image" is what the International Psychoanalytic Association used when they formed a research group to determine how the field of psychoanalysis tends to be viewed by non-psychoanalysts. …

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