Robert: Hi again, Dr. Aron! It’s great to talk with you again and learn more about your thoughts on the future of psychoanalysis.
Dr. Aron: Thanks for having me, Robert! It is good to hear from you again.
Robert: To begin the second part of our interview, I had a question the experiences of artists in your analytic practice.
As an artist, I am really curious about the benefits and risks of creative individuals doing psychoanalysis. Many artists I have spoken to seem to appreciate the potential insight offered by psychoanalysis and enjoy the inner exploration of fantasy life, but many often express the ambivalence of not wanting to be pathologized or risk losing the source of their creative output. How have your experiences with artists and creative individuals in therapy been, have they been productive? Are there any specific vulnerabilities or sources of strength that creative individuals as a group seem to bring to the analytic process?
Dr. Aron: Yes. As much as you hear that idea about psychotherapy drying up the sources of creativity, and I’ve certainly heard that argument. The fact of the matter is that in the times that psychoanalysis was popular and even today, analyst practices have been filled with creative arts. Writers, creative artists have always been one of the largest segments. And also, most artists can’t afford big fees, and so they’re among the people that are most treated at lower fees by analysts. It’s a very large segment of the patient population. I’d also recommend that you take a look at the works of Spyros Orfanos at NYU. He’s the head of the committee on creativity at Division 39 and he’s doing a lot of work on this. There’s a lot of interest in art and creativity.
Robert: I read a paper you wrote about music and psychoanalysis. Are you still playing?
Dr. Aron: Yes, I wrote one paper on music, guitar playing, and psychoanalysis. And yes, I play. I play. I have a rock band of all psychoanalysts.
Robert: I think that is awesome!
Dr. Aron: I think I’m the only psychoanalyst who quotes Neil Young as much as he quotes Freud, you know?
Robert: Absolutely! As you’ve progressed through your journey of music and analytic practice, have there been any psychoanalytically informed writers and thinkers that you think could be helpful reading for psychologists wishing to work with and better understand the creative process? Personally, I have found Winnicott, Bion, and Jung to be useful writers to consider with regard to better understanding creativity…
Dr. Aron: It’s a very interesting question. Jung was the archetype of the non-psychoanalyst. He was the archetype of the ones who deviated from Freud. And so the psychoanalytic community and the Jungian community were really at odds for many decades. But I would say there’s a very strong, very, very strong rapid response because the relational and the Jungian are much closer. And there are many…many Jungians call themselves now relational Jungians, and many in the relational community are reading Jung and reading contemporary Jungians. I don’t know if you know Donald Kalsched’s work, but he’s a leading Jungian who tries to reconcile relational and Jungian approaches. And I’m doing a lot of work on Jung and I think a lot of people in the relational community are interested in Jung.
There’s a huge groundswell of interest in Bion. And Bion was a painter, yes, and he was clearly influenced by Jungian ideas. So I see the triangle of relational Jungian and Bionian as a very important connection.
Robert: I didn’t realize that. I also had this perception that pursuing advanced training at a Jungian institute would be career suicide if I ever wanted to be taken seriously by contemporary psychoanalysts! I love reading Jungian stuff and especially going to the Jungian institute, I feel kind of at home there. The people there are quite creative and a bunch of non-conforming, kind of like me! (laughs)
Dr. Aron: Right. They’ve had the advantage and the disadvantage. They’ve had both of being on the margins. The analysts were in the mainstream and they paid a price for being in the mainstream. And the Jungians were on the margins and they paid a price for being on the margins. But that created two very different cultures where the Freudians were known as the more conservative establishment, stayed, and the Jungians were the more radical fringe, like you say, more freaky. But I think that now, in today’s world, that dichotomy is broken down.
The other thing that’s connected to that is that because the Freudians were in the mainstream, they insisted for a long time that you have an MD and then only gradually did they open it up to PhDs and social work.
Robert: I heard about that.
Dr. Aron: Whereas the Jungians were always open to anybody. So the Jungians were able to take creative artists and writers and painters, musicians, and they could become analysts, they could become Jungian analysts, whereas in the Freudian world you couldn’t do that. So it’s another reason why the cultures are so different. But in today’s world, that dichotomy is broken down. And I think there’s much more dialogue between the two groups now.
Robert: That’s good to hear. I hope in the future I’ll be able to blend something together in there. I don’t want to banish myself from the psychoanalytic community before I even begin.
Dr. Aron: There’s no reason you should be. In today’s world, you should be able to learn from everybody and put together what’s best for you.
Robert: Could you tell me more about what recommendations you have for early career psychologists beginning their practices?
Dr. Aron: One of the main things I’m interested in is psychoanalytic education and training young people. And I think that’s where the answer lies. It’s making our institutes more welcoming of diversity and allowing people to have training experiences where they can work with a variety of populations, and certainly one of the main things that I would advocate is getting away from these doctrinaire, “This is the theory that we think is right at this institute,” and instead really welcoming people to experiment and explore the whole range of theories, learning what works best for them, individualizing the education.
Robert: I agree with you. Yes, even just from reading books about art that try to deal with it from a psychoanalytic approach, the ones that seem less successful are the ones that are more rigid and try to apply a one-size-fits-all type of approach to art. And it’s not as interdisciplinary as it should be, I think, you know, in terms of bringing in other fields and perspectives, I think.
Dr. Aron: Yes, I agree with you about that.
Robert: I have a last question. I was actually talking to my supervisor at a site that’s there for children and families and we’re talking about this whole issue of how you craft your online presence. And so I’m a photographer, too, an artist, painter. And I have a website. So we’re talking about the meaning of what that is to clients and people who might look at it. It’s a challenging conversation, something I’ve been thinking about for a while, because I don’t really want to put my artwork back in the closet. How do you recommend psychologists starting out today handle their online presence?
Dr. Aron: What was your supervisor’s leanings? Or what were they advising you?
Robert: I think she’s more on the side of being a little more conservative. She was describing her experience of having a child with some kind of illness or something. And she would give talks about that early in her career and she said it was hard for her to have clients and bring that into the sessions because she didn’t want to reveal that much about herself. So I think she was just cautioning me to be careful about that, having the online presence. But I don’t know. There’s a part of me that wants to scream and revolt against that.
Dr. Aron: Well, this is the same issue. In the time when psychoanalysis was so much in power, the standard approach was that an analyst shouldn’t even come out in favor of…publicly, you shouldn’t come out in favor of one candidate over another political office because that might affect how your patients, future patients might be affected by that. But then of course people responded to that and said that’s crazy because it means that analysts can’t be active in the political world, which we should be.
So there’s always been a debate about how public you can be. And my own feeling about it is that I can be as public as I want to be in whatever it is and I think, will I lose some patients because of that? I might. But I’ll get other patients because of that. I have to be who I am and that won’t appeal to everybody. But hopefully it’ll appeal to enough people that I’ll be able to have a practice, and whatever it stirs up I’ll work with very carefully.
Robert: You’re very public.
Dr. Aron: Well, I have to be public because I make my living by attracting students and teaching. And if you’re not at least somewhat public, you can’t do that.
Robert: Yes, exactly. Has there been times when someone, the client brings something that they’ve read about you online and then you’ve had to address it?
Dr. Aron: Oh yeah, all the time. I mean, I don’t think I have any patients that haven’t gone… In today’s world, who has a patient in today’s world that hasn’t Googled them? Somewhere along the way, whether it’s when they first get the referral or when they first come to see you or later, patients Google you. That’s natural, that’s normal. I’d be more curious about why somebody would be working with me and never having Googled me. Most of my patients, they Google me, they end up reading one of my books or more or they scan the internet. So yeah, people find out things and you talk about it. You deal with it to whatever degree it’s relevant.
But in today’s world, I think younger people are learning right from a younger age that they have to be careful about what you put on. I have a daughter who’s 20 and she’s a college student. And she uses a pseudonym for certain sites because she knows when she applies for her first job, they’re gonna Google her. And so she’s learned from high school, she’s learned that you have to be careful what you put on the internet. And in some ways, you have to control it.
Robert: So what do you tell the students you work with?
Dr. Aron: I tell all of my colleagues, my students, I tell all of my students that they should have their own website. And when they ask me why, one of the main reasons is that you want to have a little more of a say on what patients see about you. At least if you have your own website and if it’s one of the first things that pops up about you, then at least you have a chance to craft an image of what you want potential patients to see. Whereas if you don’t have a website, you’re leaving it to the chance of whatever Google picks up. And if Google is listening to this… I think having a website in today’s age is a very important thing and that you really have to give some thought to what the messages are that you want to send out to the public.
Robert: Have you ever painted before?
Dr. Aron: I would like to try.
Robert: Personally, I love to paint and make photographs. And I love to share my work with others.
With regard to sharing my art online, I appreciate what Vladimir Nabokov wrote with regard to feeling that his imaginative life would be pathologized by others: “Some might think that the creativity, imagination, and flights of fancy that give my life meaning are insanity.”
Dr. Aron: That is a wonderful quote.
Robert: Thank you so much, Dr. Aron, for talking with me again and all of your words of wisdom.
Dr. Aron: I am not sure how wise they have been, but it has been great talking with you too.