Stung by Psychoanalytic Politics

Sunday, September 6, 2020
Cambridge, Maryland

Stung by Psychoanalytic Politics

Ready yourself for some aggressive but hopefully entertaining and informative venting.

I write to let go of anger, hurt, pain at a recent slate of manuscript rejections.

Earlier this year, I submitted a piece about self-disclosing to my patients a sudden need for emergency open-heart surgery. The article was sent three times each to two separate journals. Each submission ultimately ended with a rejection, with being advised the piece did not “fit” with their readership.

Of course, this happens to any of you interested in writing.

It is inevitable.

I wonder, though, if politics plays such a role in other areas of nonfiction, or even in fiction.


I have no idea.

Politics clearly plays a role in scholarly psychoanalysis.

Here’s the brief version of the story.

Contemporary psychoanalysts work along a basic continuum of conservatism versus liberalism.

Traditional psychoanalysts, often relying heavily upon Freudian or Kleinian theories, hold psychoanalytic neutrality dear. They adhere to the triumvirate of abstinence (no gratification of clinicians’ needs), neutrality (equally hovering attention regardless of topic), and anonymity (little or no self-disclosure).

Consider them as consisting on the far right side of a continuum of professional psychoanalytic practice.

On the far left side, you’d find the psychoanalysts practicing the more interpersonal, inter-subjective, inter-personal, and relational methods. In stark contrast to the traditionalists, these clinicians rely heavily upon the interpersonal aspects of their professional relationships. They might use self-disclosure frequently. They would certainly comment on here-and-now interactions, i.e. “I’m getting a sense of anger at you that I wonder may mimic the way your father behaved critically towards you.”

I work somewhere between these two extremes.

A deep, personal value of mine, I consider clinical psychoanalytic work facilitative. I morph myself, within the limits of my psycho-social-cultural-biological limitations, to the styles of my patients.

Therefore, those more socially withdrawn, cognitively oriented patients might find me working in a more neutral fashion, at least initially. Those highly extroverted and emotionally-toned persons would likely find me behaving in a more open, interpersonal fashion.

I work in a way that works best with them.

The first valve replacement episode, in 2008, was an abject emergency. Unbeknownst to me, my aortic valve had become infected with bacteria. I left my practice with 20 minutes notice, unable to advise any of those who regularly consult with me what was up.

The more recent one allowed me around a month’s time to prepare for a six-week leave, advise patients of my situation, arrange my affairs, etc. Since I’m enough of a psychoanalytic leftist to assume I’d tell patients, I did so, in a balanced, patient-centered way. In the course of doing so, it occurred to me then that I’d have a good paper to write for more of the relationally-oriented journals.

I submitted the paper, entitled “Cardiac Self-Disclosure,” to the most well-known relational journal, Psychoanalytic Dialogues. The blind reviewers liked the first draft. I made two sets of changes in response to their critiques.

Then, after submitting the third one, the manuscript was summarily rejected.

I was advised of two problems with the manuscript. First, I had not been “relational enough” in my five case examples. The editors wanted me to elaborate on how I had disclosed the information, how patients had reacted, how I reacted to their reactions, and so on ad infinitum. I don’t work that way, fearing making sessions entirely about me.

Perhaps, therefore, I truly didn’t belong in their club.

Second, they clearly disliked my reliance upon a friend’s scholarly work. Although he works on the center-left side of the continuum like me, he has criticized the far left. Some would say, for example, some highly relational psychoanalysts practice “rent-a-friend.” This person has critiqued excessive use of relational models which sometimes blur doctor-patient boundaries.

In rejecting the manuscript, the two editor-in-chiefs proclaimed my explorations of self-disclosure offered little new. Significantly, though, they also complained of: misconceptions and misreadings of relational approaches to self-disclosure, including taking concepts and even quotations out of context, so as to create wholesale distortions.

Wholesale distortions?

I respectfully disagree.

The two editors added, similar misconstructions appear in the work of other authors upon whom you rely approvingly.

Ah, now I had found a personal nerve struck!

I named another scholar critical of their work, namely my cherished friend (who, btw, has published more than 100 articles and many books).


Alas, I did what other scholars have advised me to do in such situations. I zapped the manuscript off to another journal. I sent it to Psychoanalytic Perspectives, another relationally oriented journal.

This time the blind reviewers accepted the work on the first review. It then went on to the editor, who eventually reached the same conclusion that it was not relational enough.

The email from the editor reads, in part:

Our decision comes down to our sense that the paper does not adequately reflect a relational sensibility… your own experience and reflections upon it as expressed in the paper do not contribute to the vast Relational literature on self disclosure… It leads us to wonder if your paper might find a better fit in a journal that is more classically oriented.

Oh, so my viewpoint lacks sufficient “relational sensibility.”

It might be accepted by a more-to-the-right journal.

That rejection stung.

It was the first time I’d had a conditional acceptance by blind reviewers overturned by the editor-in-chief.

Also, and as the editor acknowledged, the rejection came despite my having fully responded fully to several requests for revisions.

As my private editor told me, writers walls are all papered with letters of rejection.

So be it.

I get it.

But what about the politics here?

I deliberately wrote the piece to appeal to the relational psychoanalytic audience, those on the left side of the above-noted continuum. Obviously, both journals thought I was not “relational enough.”

I receive it as a critique of not being Christian enough, or liberal enough, or Vegan enough.


It seems my own political leanings are too moderate for either extreme of the continuum.

Traditional psychoanalysts would have recommended against any self-disclosure on my part. In fact, in 2008, a conservative colleague suggested I only tell patients I had to leave for two months due to a “family emergency.”

In the final analysis, and many thanks to any of you who made it this far in the tale, editorial boards are like middle-school clubs*.

They have their areas of specialization.

They have their political leanings.

They get to decide who gets into their club.

It would have been patently absurd for me to submit this manuscript to, say, a journal about cognitive behavioral psychology. Its editors would have no interest in psychoanalytic ideas.

What I find disheartening is the middle-school level of behavior here, who’s in the “in-group,” who’s the popular kid, and who conforms to the norms of the school.

I find compassion in the realization that clubs are inevitable.

If you’re writing in any genre, and you want to be published, you must find a club to invite you into membership.

It’s a sad but real part of life.

As I sit here overlooking a gorgeous river in the Chesapeake Bay, licking my wounds from this recent rejection, I receive a boost from one of Winston Churchill’s most famous quotes. I pass it on for your consideration:

Success is all about going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm.

And so, along I go.

I hope you readers also keep your mojo up when facing life’s inevitable disappointments.

*An occasional source of reminiscent shame, I was actually a member of the Coin Club in middle-school. Speaking of politics, the advisor, who owned a coin shop, was later arrested for money-laundering.

    lso, we note

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