Member in the Spotlight:  Interview with Juan Francisco Jordan

Interview by Maria Tammone (Italy)

Juan Francisco Jordan is currently a member of the board of IARPP-Chile as well as Past-president. In addition to having chaired the 2013 IARPP conference in Santiago, Chile, Jordan also serves on the IARPP board. This interview is an opportunity for the IARPP membership to get to know him better and learn more about psychoanalysis in Chile.

Maria Tammone:
bettertammonephoto0616wThank you for your participating in this interview for the IARPP eNews. We are curious to know what attracted you to IARPP in the first place? Also, what are your observations about the spread of relational thinking in Chile and South America?

jordanphoto0616wJuan Francisco Jordan:
It started with my Freudian-Kleinian training in which I felt like the pressure to do psychoanalysis technically correctly was like wearing a straitjacket. Instead, I needed a psychoanalytic practice in which I could feel free. The latter feeling joined with my need to find a theoretical basis for influencing the traumatic environments that are the genesis of human suffering.

During the early 1990s, coincident with the arrival of democracy in our country, I was asked to supervise a group of psychotherapists from ILAS (Instituto Latinoamericano de Salud Mental y Derechos Humanos, the Latin American Institute of Mental Health and Human Rights) who were treating severely traumatized patients, victims of the human rights violations of the Pinochet dictatorship. It became immediately clear to me that an almost exclusive focus on the drives and the intrapsychic wasn’t enough to help these patients.

My first “discoveries” beyond classical psychoanalysis were Winnicott and a couple of papers published in the International Journal of Psychoanalysis by J. Cohen and W. Kinston in the mid 1980s. The latter papers put forward a theory of trauma that reinterpreted Freudian primal repression in terms of relational trauma. They were of enormous help in understanding the intensity and pervasiveness of the unbearable anguishes and destroyed lives that our traumatized patients were experiencing. The ILAS group had already questioned the stance of neutrality with these patients, and had discovered the risks of retraumatization when maintaining neutrality under any circumstance. These patients needed what the ILAS group named a “committed link” (vinculo comprometido) with their psychotherapists.

I’ve always liked to wander into libraries looking for books that, in a sense, also look at me. In this way during the 1990s I discovered two books that were very important in my relational turn, The Intersubjective Perspective by Stolorow, Atwood, and Brandchaft, and Stephen Mitchell’s Relational Concepts in Psychoanalysis. I was already acquainted with intersubjectivity from my readings of the Barangers and the French authors Lacan and Lagache, as well as the work of Eliane Amado Levy-Valensi. Yet these authors didn’t fully question drive theory and the analyst’s neutrality as part of the psychoanalytic frame. What was fascinating in the North American authors’ writing was the deconstruction of the supposedly neutral, non-influencing analytic stance, as well as a critical reading of Freud’s drive theory. This matched with the flexibility needed by our patients and the already questioned neutrality of the analyst.

Comparative psychoanalysis has always been a characteristic of relational psychoanalysis as theorized by Stephen Mitchell. It has also been a characteristic of Latin American psychoanalysis. Perhaps this is related to the fact that here in Latin America we have witnessed from afar the polemics that have occurred in the psychoanalytic mainstream. These can be very passion provoking, yet from a distance these passions are moderated leading to, for us, the desire to find a middle way.

I think that IARPP has the enormous merit of having given an institutional frame to the concept of comparative psychoanalysis, thus allowing many kinds of psychoanalysis to coexist under the big umbrella that is IARPP. In this way it is possible to make comparisons from within its womb, so to speak. For me, this has been a very attractive part of IARPP as an institution. But there is also the other side of the dialectic, the need to establish the defining characteristics of this newborn baby. So, as in any search for identity, there are inherent risks when determining which canons are to be recognized as truly relational. To paraphrase Gorge Orwell, “All relational analysts are equal, but some are more equal than others.” Despite these risks, I am confident that IARPP will be able to sustain its diversity and its spirit of openness. I hope to be able to contribute to this from this corner of the world, sharing with those in the other corners of the same world.

There are three important factors I have identified in the movement to help spread relational psychoanalysis throughout Latin America: (i) the questioning of neutrality and the need to find theoretical concepts to account for the environmental influence in severely traumatized patients, (ii) the need to liberate the therapist from the constraining practice dictated by the epistemological and ontological asymmetry of the classical analytic frame, and (iii) the appeal of comparative psychoanalysis in Latin America. These factors can be thought of as the fertile ground in which we have taught and spread relational psychoanalysis in Chile.

The relational movement in Chile has given a home to many psychotherapists who were trained analytically but within non-institutional frames. We have also spread relational thinking by inviting relational analysts to the most important annual psychotherapy conferences in Chile, those organized by the Psychotherapy Chapter of the Neurology, Psychiatry, and Neurosurgery Society, as well as the Society for Psychotherapy Research. These conferences gather a wide variety of psychologists and psychiatrists from different schools of thought, fostering an environment that values ecumenism and integration. Not surprisingly, relational psychoanalysts have been very welcome in this environment. We have been visited by Christopher Muran, Jessica Benjamin, Joseph Lichtenberg, Jeremy Safran, Donna Orange, Darlene Ehrenberg, James Fosshage, and Shelley Doctors, most of them IARPP members and all wholly relational psychoanalysts and psychotherapists. This year Steven Knoblauch will visit us. We will be always grateful for their generous contributions.

In our efforts to spread relational psychoanalysis in Chile we have also started teaching in post-graduate programs in various universities. As a result we are influencing a continuous flow of enthusiastic young professionals who are vitalizing our movement. There is something very alive in relational psychoanalysis. I was struck by a comment made by one of our students recently. She said that during her graduate studies she had only studied authors who were dead—mainly, Freud, Klein, Lacan, and Winnicott—and she was so happy now to be able to study the work of authors who were still living. So, the enthusiasm of younger clinicians is an important stimulus that keeps relational psychoanalysis vitalized, as was the theme of our recent conference in Rome.

The spread of relational psychoanalysis in South America has been a different issue. One of the aims of the 2013 Conference in Santiago was specifically to introduce relational thinking to the rest of South America, particularly to Argentina and Brazil. I think we partially accomplished this goal. There is a strong political resistance in these countries to anything coming from the USA. It is, not surprisingly, a big prejudice. Besides the political factor, I guess there is a big influence still of the Lacanian devaluation of ego psychology, as well as the Kleinian devaluation of self psychology and interpersonal psychoanalysis. This prejudice is coupled with the almost nonexistent desire in South America to read in English. I believe a big effort needs to be made to translate relational thinking into languages spoken in South America, and to give all the support we can to the small study groups dedicated to relational thought, that, as far as I know, exist in Sao Paulo, Buenos Aires, and San Luis.

MT: We are interested in knowing something about your training and experience to date. Can you tell us something about this?

JFJ: I first trained as a psychiatrist. I began my training in the clinical psychiatry department at the University of Chile, which was founded by Ignacio Matte-Blanco. After one year I had to leave, as the dean of the School of Medicine, appointed by the Pinochet regime, named as Chief of Staff a professor who was not from the staff so as to take control of the clinic. Many of us left because we couldn’t accept such a dictatorial measure. We migrated to the Department of Psychiatry at the Hospital del Salvador, also at the University of Chile, where I completed my training at the Hospital Psiquiátrico, a national hospital that receives patients from all over the country. I was in charge of a ward of men with acute psychosis. I arrived there along with other young fellow colleagues who had the goal of offering psychotherapy to all our patients. This was a difficult goal to achieve, but we did manage to implement a more human approach to the treatment of psychosis. I think this was the beginning of my interest in a phenomenological attitude toward comprehending mental illness before the medicalization of psychiatry with the DSM.

I trained as a psychoanalyst in the Chilean Psychoanalytical Association, an IPA affiliated society. My training was mainly Freudian, Kleinian, and post-Kleinian, including the school of el Río de la Plata. Winnicott was not considered truly analytical in my society at the time. You can imagine I have a phobia about the idea of the “pure gold of psychoanalysis” whatever it’s said. I was president of the society and a training analyst. Finally I resigned, mainly because I could not agree with the indoctrination that was part and parcel of a training analysis, as well as the persecutory atmosphere derived from the rigid definition – one that emerged as a group phenomenon – of what was and was not considered to be psychoanalysis.

MT: What is the current attitude toward psychoanalysis in Chile today? Among the different psychoanalytic schools, which are the most popular in Chile? And what attitudes are there toward relational psychoanalysis in particular?

JFJ: Psychoanalysis as a whole is alive and thriving in Chile. There is a strong psychoanalytic presence at the universities, especially within psychology departments. In graduate programs the main psychoanalytic approaches that are taught are Freud, Lacan, Klein, and Winnicott. Relational psychoanalysis is mainly taught as a post-graduate course of study. I guess the most popular psychoanalytic school is Freudian-Lacanian, sometimes with an integration of some of Winnicott´s ideas.

Relational psychoanalysis is the last to have arrived on the Chilean psychoanalytic scene, and there are many critics who say that it does not take sufficiently into account the idea of the unconscious. Those from other psychoanalytic schools have great difficulty thinking of the unconscious without the drives. However, there is an interest in what we have to say and in our criticism of the technical and omniscient practices of classical psychoanalysis and psychotherapy. There is also an interest in exploring ideas we have in common with psychoanalysts influenced by Pichón-Riviere and Racker.

MT: Which theorists and writers have inspired your work the most?

JFJ: I have a Freudian and Kleinian foundation, though I’ve benefited from many other influences during my 35 years as a practicing psychotherapist in various contexts. I would distinguish between two kinds of influence: theories or authors with whom one falls in love with a kind of passion, and other influences that are more rational and intellectual. My psychoanalytic romance has been with Winnicott. I still go back to his writing to find inspiration. I have also been influenced by the British middle group—among them Balint, Bollas, Little, Rayner, and Fairbairn—and, from Latin America, by the Barangers’ field theory. A special place is reserved for Matte-Blanco whose discovery of the isomorphism between emotion, the mathematical concept infinity, and the Freudian unconscious I find outstanding. I think that his emphasis on the infiniteness of emotional experience can add something very important to the way we conceive of the relational unconscious.

As I already said, Mitchell, Stolorow, Atwood, Orange, and, Brandchaft have been very influential in my relational turn as have all the relational analysts that have visited us that I already mentioned. From philosophy I have been powerfully influenced by my having studied, over the course of ten years, Heidegger’s Being and Time.

Finally, I would like to comment on my process of recognizing an influence of importance to me. This mainly occurs when I become aware of how the theories with which I am acquainted influence my clinical practice. I also think that being well-acquainted with more than one theory allows for a kind of mental binocular vision that enhances our clinical practice by stimulating our psychoanalytic common sense, one of the practical merits of a comparative psychoanalysis.

MT: Would you share a few words describing what you are involved with at the moment?

JFJ: I am interested in understanding dissociation, a clinical phenomenon that still is, for me, a mystery, despite all that I’ve read about it. I am always surprised when I encounter it in my clinical practice. I am also interested in exploring the notion of “being” in psychoanalysis as introduced by Winnicott, Matte-Blanco, Bion, Loewald, and Laing, a theme that invites a number of interesting questions. For example, how does being manifest itself in our clinical practice? And how do enactments permit us to access non-conscious and dissociated ways of being through our being-with the patient? Is there a psychoanalytic ontology to be further developed? And what can we learn from existential analysis?

MT: We would be interested in any comments you might have regarding the recent Rome conference.

JFJ: I am pleased to have assisted with the conference organization by serving on the international steering committee. I was very moved by papers that addressed the practice of psychoanalysis in countries in distress, such as Greece and South Africa. We in Chile have been through tough times too and empathy flows naturally.

Also, I am grateful to have deepened my understanding of Stern´s concept of the forms of vitality and how it applies to the clinical encounter. As a consequence, now I am more sensitive to rhythms, tones of voice, crescendos, decrescendos, and bodily experience in general. Enactments have acquired new meaning for me as well. Playing as a form of vitality is so relevant although I find that we tend to forget about it while attending only to the verbal. So I am more playful with my patients now too.

I am very grateful to Susi, Gianni, and the local chapter for all their effort and thoughtfulness in organizing this conference. Finally, thanks for such a joyous party on Saturday!!!

Juan Francisco Jordan, MD
Napoleon 3565. Of 1005
Las Condes. 7550 219.
Santiago, Chile
Email Juan Francisco Jordan