The Challenge of Promoting Psychoanalysis Outside University Campuses in Taiwan

By Ping-Yuan Wu

Image Credit: Enrico CC BY 2.0

To be a psychologist in Taiwan, you must complete a Master’s degree in counselling or clinical psychology. Only after one year of internship can you partake in the annual national license exam. This process takes three to six years, and for a large part of this process, learning about different therapeutic schools and clinical practice are both important.

However, psychoanalysis classes are relatively unpopular in schools compared to other therapeutic traditions. Many universities also completely lack faculty to teach psychoanalytic theory or psychoanalytic-based therapy practice. Interpersonal process psychotherapy, emotion-focused therapy and the postmodern approach are currently the most popular amongst younger students. The lack of appeal of psychoanalysis is due to the years of misunderstanding surrounding psychoanalysis in Taiwan. In Taiwan, psychoanalysis is often mischaracterised as only caring about intrapersonal factors (and thus ignoring relationships and outside influences); being too strict and arbitrary, and featuring therapists with a blank and cold approach to treatment.

The field of clinical psychology also prefers that professors provide courses in evidence-based therapy, such as cognitive behavioural therapy. Because of this, those in literature departments or those who enjoy analysing films are more likely to come into contact with psychoanalytic knowledge to understand texts. Unfortunately, the strength of psychoanalysis, which facilitates us to find our unconscious truth and desire behind our experiences of suffering, might be lost if we merely treat psychoanalysis as a method of media study or a heuristic device to explore cultural artefacts in the humanities. Psychoanalytic understandings of trauma, the logic of phantasy and desire become lost intellectual property under the prevailing tradition of positivism and the emphasis on efficiency in medical care. Hence, the desire to know oneself and achieve the liberation of one’s subjectivity is replaced by the demand to adapt to society.

In contrast to the poor reception psychoanalysis has received in schools, the practical clinical learning system has developed over the last two years. Moreover, organisations that have long promoted psychoanalysis, such as the Taiwanese Psychoanalytic Association, Taipei Psychotherapy Clinic(思想起心理治療中心), IAnalysis or the Taiwan Self Psychology Study Group, have lively groups promoting the psychoanalytic practice in different fields. Finally, I will introduce the psychoanalytic status outside Taiwan’s university campuses.

Let us first begin with the Taiwanese Psychoanalytic Association (TPA). Set up in 2004, the TPA was acknowledged by the International Psychoanalytical Association (IPA) as a training centre in 2015. The centre currently has nine analysts approved by the IPA and nearly 170 members. They have an introductory class, a 2-year clinical theory and practice class, and a training program to become an IPA analyst. Some analysts have also set up in-depth reading, clinical practice, and other advanced courses in IAnalysis in the heart of Taipei, creating a space for those interested to learn from the sights of the Freudian classics, as well as the insights and knowledge that have been developed by North American, British, and British psychoanalysts.

Within hospitals, the Taipei Psychotherapy Clinic, TCPC is an organisation dedicated to training counsellors trained in the psychoanalytic method. It is a public clinic in Taipei City Psychiatric Center (TCPC), located in Xiangshan district, Taipei city. Masters students and those with a therapist license can come into contact with psychoanalytic theory and engage in supervised clinical practice. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, TCPC also co-hosted the Taipei International Conference on Psychosomatic Medicine and Psychotherapy with the TPA every year, which invited international psychotherapy analysts to give speeches. In addition, a group trained by the British Tavistock Centre have returned to Taiwan and set up the Taiwan Association of Child and Adolescent Psychotherapy, which promotes the use of psychoanalysis in therapy for children and adolescents.

Apart from the previously-mentioned training-based organisation, psychoanalysis enthusiasts have also set up the Taiwan Self Psychology Study Group, first set up by North American psychoanalyst Heinz Kohut. This association runs a conference annually and has now hosted over twenty meetings. They have also engaged in a long-term partnership with Japanese scholar of contemporary self-psychology & relational psychoanalysis, Koichi Togashi, to develop innovations.

In addition, in 2010, the late psychologist, Prof. Der-Heuy Yee, with other scholars and his students, set up the “Humanistic clinical practice and ethical healing approach” to get close to those suffering from various insurmountable difficulties in different fields. Although this group of scholars come from multiple fields, such as philosophy, anthropology, psychology, psychoanalysis, religious studies, literature etc., they are all invested in finding a way to stand by the suffering people and inspire them to transcend the given situation. When encountering those suffering, they treat what the suffering people tell them directly with direct reference to the specifics of their language. Moreover, what they observe in a “not-knowing” attitude or “bracketing” existing knowledge and assumption to explain is the same as what psychoanalytic practitioners and anthropologists do in their fieldwork. In other psychoanalytic traditions, this is also known as cultivated ignorance or non-knowledge. It suspends external knowledge by precluding assumptions and judgement to focus entirely on the patient’s subjective experience. As Jacques Alain Miller points out, the analyst must know how to ignore what he knows.

They have entered different fieldwork sites, such as hospice wards, families of children with rare diseases, natural disaster sites, religious ceremonies and the families of victims of the 228 incident and white terror. And they are trying to meet with diverse types of suffering to create a new language to understand the experiences of those suffering in the above-described situations and respond to the difficulties of ethical relations between living people. Their results have helped those who have experiences which find no form of expression in the existing pathological narratives and forms of medical knowledge. Moreover, they help give a voice in creating new knowledge for the humanities working within a psychoanalytic tradition (such as literature, arts, philosophy, and religious studies). They have also indirectly promoted the development of psychoanalytic practice outside the therapy room. Thus, it is worth looking forward to how this community will develop psychoanalytic knowledge based on Taiwanese culture.

Finally, the Lacanian Practice & Promotion Society, LPPS, set up in 2019, is the newest option for those studying psychoanalysis outside the university. This society is working hard to promote Lacanian psychoanalysis, which is much less popular in Taiwan and actively encourages a different point of view within existing psychoanalytic training. Lacanian psychoanalysis is a quite different form of psychoanalysis than practised clinically. It fundamentally questions many of the assumptions that come with clinical practice. It is more at home in university departments being utilised as a philosophical tool rather than having therapeutic value. However, in countries like Argentina and France, there is a long-standing tradition of treating Lacanian psychoanalysis very seriously. One of its strengths is that it focuses on our formation in language and how our desire and trauma are caught up in this linguistic formation.

The society runs a book club on theory and clinical practice, hosts talks, and promotes peer exchanges. They also encourage enthusiasts from all levels of society to form small “cartel” groups on different topics, allowing psychoanalytic knowledge to come into dialogue with various parts of life. As a result, this society has stayed connected with other groups. In addition, they have attempted to use clinical case stories, analysing movies and literature and other formats to reduce the formidable barrier of Lacanian analysis for students. This, in turn, will make people more passionate about the teaching and transmission of psychoanalysis as a distinct body of knowledge and practice.

Overall, even if psychoanalytic practice and the psychoanalysis community are small on campuses, the groups mentioned above work to promote and practise psychoanalytic techniques. Outside of universities, psychoanalysis still has the potential for more diverse development.

A chinese version of the article can be found here.

Ping-Yuan Wu is a counselling psychologist who practices a psychoanalytic approach in Taiwan. He has worked in a counselling centre in universities and private clinics. His recent professional interests are trauma and narcissistic wounds, lived experience of mental illness, couple and family, emotional self-care, and spiritual bypass.

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