Belonging is the theme of the Ninth Joint Conference of International Psychoanalysis in Halifax, Novia Scotia on August 12,2018. In preparation for my presentation at the Panel Discussion on, “Boundaries and Boundary-Crossing: Where Does the Analyst Belong?”, I have written a paper on the complicated dual relationships between some group leaders of analytic training organizations and the neophyte group therapists that populate these places. Here’s an excerpt from that paper. “In looking for the opportunity to live a charmed life, to be taken care of by an all-powerful and all-knowing authority figure, perhaps unlike one’s own biological progenitor, a neophyte group therapist might attach himself or herself to charismatic, brilliant, grandiose, and authoritarian leaders whose group training institutes more closely resemble religious cults than centers of learning. Ultimately, however, the blind trust of the initiate must be betrayed. Philip Slater points out that “sooner or later, all protection contracts eventually become protection rackets.”
Many of us group therapists, like many of our group members, want to be taken care of. It is not just our emotional, spiritual, and financial needs that are in question. On a deeper unconscious level we want to be taken care of in some unconditional and even supernatural way. We are looking for the “wonder rabbi” who will understand us at our core and who will even do magic. We’re looking for the messiah.
There’s an old story of a small town in Eastern Europe where a wonder rabbi appears one day and offers the town’s people protection from all evil, if they agree to follow him. Excited about this offer, the people ask the town’s rabbi for his opinion. The rabbi offers this sagacious advice: “If someone offers protection from all the bad things in the world on the condition that he be followed, then don’t follow him.”
The Buddhists say that when the student is ready the teacher appears. I would add that may be true, up to a point. There comes a time when one must keep his own counsel, hence the title of this paper, “The Messiah Always Comes the Day after We Don’t Need Him Anymore.” For better or worse, we’re all alone to struggle with our personal demons. The opportunity for unconditional acceptance starts at birth and lasts for the first several months of life. After that, the process of socialization and its qualified acceptances begin. When we finally give up looking, perhaps then the teacher appears. Pogo once said it quite well: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”The infantile wish to be cared for can interfere with the neophyte group leader’s own personal development and, by osmosis, it can impede his or her willingness and ability to help group members learn to individuate. The prime goal of psychotherapy is to help patients understand the emotions that underlie their decisions, a seemingly simple task that is actually quite daunting. The group member’s urge to regress, and the leader’s impulse to gratify his or her own narcissism, are both so potent that it’s like Ulysses’s attempt to resist the sirens’ song. We must all lash ourselves to the mast in order to avoid being dashed against the rocks.”