I am very excited to share with you my interview with Dr. Bruce Fink, a Lacanian psychoanalyst and analytic supervisor, regarding his new book, “A Clinical Introduction to Freud: Techniques for Everyday Practice.“ I have followed Dr. Fink’s work for quite awhile now; have read and reread a bunch of his books, including A Clinical Introduction to Lacanian Psychoanalysis: Theory and Technique, Fundamentals of Psychoanalytic Technique: A Lacanian Approach for Practitioners, and The Lacanian Subject: Between Language and Jouissance, to name a few.
When I heard about his new book, I HAD to ask him for an interview and thankfully, he agreed. I hope you will enjoy it and please, share your thoughts in the comment section below. Here it is:
Dr. Fink, thank you for agreeing to do this interview. It is an honor to be able to talk to you about psychoanalysis and your new book.
Thank you! It is an honor for me to be asked.
For those people, who do not know you, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do?
I had a broad background in the sciences and the humanities—having studied math, physics, literature, psychology, political theory, and philosophy for many years—before doing my Ph.D. in psychoanalysis in Paris, where I simultaneously trained as a psychoanalyst. I taught psychoanalysis in the Department of Psychology at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, for 20 years, and have been practicing psychoanalysis for over 30 years, writing many books about it and translating several works by Jacques Lacan, the famous French psychoanalyst, into English. I have a very international practice, and divide my time between the U.S. and France. In more recent years, I have been cultivating anew my love for literature by dabbling in the writing of novels—mysteries involving an inspector loosely based on Lacan who solves crimes using psychoanalytic methods!
How did you discover psychoanalysis and what attracted you to it?
I became interested in psychoanalysis in my late teens as a way of trying to understand myself and the people around me. I became fascinated by the emphasis on the unconscious in the work of Jacques Lacan and decided to undergo analysis with a Lacanian in Paris in the 1980s.
Tell us about your new book. What gave you the idea to write A Clinical Introduction to Freud?
What, one might wonder, could there possibly be left to say about Freud that hasn’t already been said by dozens of writers? Much to my surprise, and despite having taught Freud’s work for over 20 years to undergraduate and graduate students at Duquesne University, I never came across any book that showed how to apply the techniques Freud developed to encourage free association and interpret dreams, for example. The vast majority of books on Freud seem to be devoted to expounding and/or criticizing his theories, or to talking about the personal, historical, and intellectual development of Freud the man.
My interest has always been in explaining those of Freud’s ideas that are of direct use to practitioners and that seem to me to have survived the test of time. Whereas his speculations regarding the Oedipus complex, female sexual development, and the oral, anal, and genital stages tend to receive the lion’s share of writers’ attention in most textbooks and even in many advanced presentations of his work, these strike me as of little direct usefulness in the clinical setting. On the other hand, learning how to trace symptoms back to their sources, encourage patients to free associate to their stray thoughts, daydreams, and night dreams, and locate wishes in them can be of immense and immediate value to clinicians of many different persuasions.
I became convinced that this was so by seeing, over the course of two decades, how useful the class I gave on Freud was to graduate students in clinical psychology, helping them expand their array of techniques and deepen their psychotherapeutic practice more generally. Having once again surveyed the available literature recently and finding nothing that seemed to me specifically designed to present what is still clinically relevant in Freud’s work today, I decided to turn my course into a book.
Who would benefit from reading your new book?
Any and all clinicians looking for ways in which to broaden and deepen their own practice. And especially those who are interested in the unconscious but whose training has never really taught them how to gain access it.
What would you say to the next generation of clinicians?
Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater! Just because certain of Freud’s more speculative theories have rightly been called into question and even sharply critiqued, that doesn’t mean that the more fundamental concepts and techniques he developed related to the unconscious, free association, and dream interpretation are useless. Studies in France have shown that people who go through analysis often say that their work with dreams was the most helpful part of their analyses. I think we should take what patients say was most helpful very seriously indeed!
I could approach this question from many different angles, but let me simply point out a very curious fact: when psychologists themselves decide to go into therapy—regardless of whether they are practitioners of CBT, cognitive psychology, existential phenomenology, hypnosis, or what have you—they almost invariably seek out a psychoanalyst. (This has been pointed out by many clinicians, although the evidence for it is largely anecdotal as no one seems to be willing to do a full-blown study of it.) There thus appears to be an implicit recognition of the value of in-depth psychoanalysis on the part of clinicians of virtually all ilks, even though many of them would dispute large swaths of psychoanalytic theory and even critique psychoanalytic practice in any and every public forum. When it comes to getting treatment for themselves, they seek out analysis. Go figure!
In your opinion, who can benefit from a psychoanalytic treatment?
It seems to me that this question cannot be answered in advance—that is, before someone begins treatment. A psychoanalysis is hard work and analysands must show courage and fortitude if they are to get something out of it. Those who are looking for easy answers are not likely to go far in analytic treatment, but there are no hard and fast rules here: sometimes even people looking for quick fixes get intrigued by the process and end up going very far!
How would you say psychoanalysis and the work you do as a psychoanalyst permeate your everyday life?
Once you have learned to hear people’s slips of the tongue and double entendres, you cannot turn such hearing off and inevitably notice slips and mistakes made by loved ones, friends, and even casual acquaintances. This can occasionally be awkward, but I try to turn such things into opportunities for good-natured levity.
Then there are, of course, the friends and family that come to you for advice, which is something an analyst should always avoid giving in the analytic setting, but which we sometimes feel obliged to give to family and friends, even if we know that this usually gives rise to a no-win situation for us: if the advice is taken and things work out, we are rarely credited for it, and if things don’t work out, we are almost invariably blamed for it!
In a personal vein, psychoanalysis is an ongoing practice that keeps me aware of all kinds of things about myself, regardless of whether they arise while I am awake or asleep!
Please, share with our audience your writing process? What inspires you to write?
I am always writing and each writing project is different! In the case of this book, I knew I had a lot of good material from my course, but I needed to find an angle that would inspire me to get started and organize the material. Once I found my angle—the exclusively clinical approach to Freud’s work—everything else fell into place.
What recommendations do you have for those of us, who aspire to write about psychoanalysis?
Don’t wait until you think you have thought something out completely. The writing process itself puts your thinking to the test in a way that thinking things through in the privacy of your own head does not. This is related to what Lacan calls the Other with a capital O: simply stated it has to do with the fact that once you write up an idea, you can step back from it and try to look at it as other people might, at which point flaws in your argument or exceptions often spring to mind! It is probably an illusion to think you can work out all the details in your head before beginning to write, and it is only by writing that you can begin to see what is going to be comprehensible and what is not going to be comprehensible to your intended audience. Steps and moves that seem obvious to you will not seem so to others, and the only way to realize that is to put it down on paper, set it aside for a while, and come back to it with fresh eyes.
Even better, of course, is to give a draft to trusted colleagues to read and take their points of view seriously! I gave this Clinical Introduction to Freud to a half-dozen friends and colleagues to read and they provided hundreds of incredibly useful comments that allowed me to vastly improve the book!
Any final thoughts?
Is there anything final about psychoanalysis?! Can there be such a thing as a last word?!