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American Imago 57.1 (2000) 71-81

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A Liberation: Psychoanalysis for Russia

Judith Kuppersmith


During my visit to Russia I found it to be a confused and confusing place.

Since my visit to Russia in October of 1997, I have developed some tentative ideas concerning the possible "place" of psychoanalytic theory and practice in today's Russia. While there, and now as well, I feel that the present Western psychoanalytic establishment, which I believe is very vulnerable itself, may be taking an hegemonic approach toward Russia which would be in Western self-interest rather than in the interest of the Russian people. I think that Western psychoanalysts might be enticed by the market value of Russia in at least two ways: the chance to spread a Western brand of psychoanalytic thought and practice to a potentially newly developing democratic/capitalist nation; and to reap the "profits" of their "God's Eye View." The "God's Eye View" of the orthodox psychoanalyst is that they represent a universal standpoint that reifies neutrality in all circumstances. In Russia's current political atmosphere of post communism/post-totalitarianism and authoritarianism, neutrality and politics cannot coexist. Russia, with its totalitarian history, has a population that responds unreflectively to authoritarian rule. Western orthodox psychoanalysis delivers its messages with authority. The paradox is that although Western analysts are working from a so-called free model of the mind, their delivery style might greatly appeal to Russians who are used to dogma, rigid thinking, and taking orders. The Russians, it seems clear to me, have "no mental model of freedom" (Sebek, Michael, personal communication, Prague, Oct. 1997). The "God's Eye View" as taken by Western orthodox psychoanalysis might have [End Page 71] seemingly very fertile ground. But the real outcome might very well backfire. Psychoanalysis was used by Stalin against the Russian people to make them into "homo Sovieticus." Freud himself warned (1922) that psychoanalysis cannot serve the "interests of any political party, but can only exist in an atmosphere of freedom." My position is that we have to be social constructionist (post-modern) psychoanalysts and recognize the influence of totalitarian politics on the Russian psyche. You might say we have three choices. We can collaborate with the Russians to promote, to the best of our dialogic ability, a mental model of freedom for the entire Russian culture--hence a "liberation psychoanalysis" requiring us to give up neutrality and the "God's Eye View." We can promote the non-liberated, orthodox psychoanalysis that is morally corrupt in its position of neutrality particularly in a global 21st century.

We can stay away and just let it all unfold.

A Working Model for Liberation Psychoanalysis in Russia

I would like to propose a model for "liberation psychoanalysis" that could potentially support the Russians in generating their own unique praxis. In so doing I ask that we Westerners see ourselves as the "other" at all times in order to avoid that authoritarian stance that generates a theory and practice from the top down instead of from the Russians themselves. Granted, the Russian institutes, universities, and clinics that we visited were all clamoring for our ideas, our books and articles, our praxis. In turn, we were too eager to provide them. What I kept wondering during each visit was why they would really be so interested in psychoanalysis as the Western world knows it. The stretch for them seemed so incomprehensible to me. As the "other," the "outsider," however, I struggled with that "know it all" attitude as well. Ultimately I came to believe that this exchange with the Russians had to be kept completely reciprocal in my mind. I came to feel more and more that I had nothing as great to deliver to them as they seemed to expect. Instead I could offer [End Page 72] only what I knew and practiced as a reflexive psychoanalyst but not with certainty nor authority of any kind. I needed to sustain a dialogic model in my mind and in my presentations so that information could flow both ways. I felt really different from...


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