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Wise Counsel Interview Transcript: An Interview with Raul Moncayo, Ph.D. on Lacanian Psychoanalysis

David Van Nuys, Ph.D.
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Dr. David Van Nuys: Welcome to Wise Counsel, a podcast interview series sponsored by , covering topics in mental health, wellness and psychotherapy. My name is Dr. David Van Nuys. I'm a clinical psychologist and your host. On today's show, we'll be talking with Lacanian psychoanalyst, Raul Moncayo. Raul Moncayo, Ph.D, is training director for Mission Mental Health, San Francisco, under the Department of Public Health.

He's a member of the research faculty at Alliant University, formerly, the California School of Professional Psychology, and a training analyst at the Lacanian School of Psychoanalysis in Berkeley, California.

He also has a private practice, in which he provides psychoanalysis, psychotherapy, consultation and supervision. Now here's the interview.

David: Dr. Raul Moncayo, welcome to Wise Counsel.

Dr. Raul: Thank you. It's a pleasure to be here, and thank you so much for interviewing me.

David: Well I'm really pleased to have the opportunity to learn something about the Lacanian approach to psychoanalysis. A listener, some time back, alerted me to the fact that there is a Lacanian institute practically in my own backyard. And then, in your book, I found a mention of Andre Patsalides, who taught part-time in my own psychology department at Sonoma State University. One of the things I remember about him is that he's a wonderful accordion player. Is he the person, who actually founded the institute?

Raul: Yes. He is a Belgian, Lacanian analyst who was the founding member of the school, and he was actually in analysis himself with Lacan. Now he's retired and living back in Europe.

David: OK. I didn't know any of that, so that's good information. Now before we get into our discussion of Lacan, and your book, how about telling us something about your background?

Raul: Yes. Well I was born in Chile to a North American mother and a Chilean father, so I've always been bilingual and bicultural. And I've been here in the U.S. for about 30 years. I had to come and live in the States for two years, before a certain age, in order to retain my U.S. citizenship. So I did that, and then eventually ended up staying. And here in the U.S., I like to consider myself Latino American and what I call "Continental American", in addition to now what some of us call ourselves, "Lacanian American".

I became a psychologist first in Argentina, although I was from Chile. I'm from Chile, but I went to study at the University of Buenos Aires. After that I traveled in Europe, worked for the United Nations in Geneva, and then went to London to study with R.D. Laing and his followers.

There I met somebody from San Francisco who told me about similar work that was being done here in the Bay area. And since I was a U.S. citizen, I came here and immediately got a job in Martinez working in the county hospital there.

They had an experimental ward working with young schizophrenics with minimal medications, in mostly individual, group and even family therapy; then eventually, I ended up staying.

David: I didn't know about that R.D. Laing connection. We may have to table that for a follow-up interview, if you're open to that possibility. I would love to find out and to share with the world more about his work. And then, you also did graduate work at the Wright Institute in the Bay area. Is that right?

Raul: In Berkeley. Yes. Well I chose the Wright Institute because of my interest in both psychoanalysis and social theory. The Wright Institute was started by Nevitt Sanford, which was the only North American psychologist who part of the Frankfurt School of Critical Theory. The Wright Institute no longer has much to do with this anymore. But the Frankfurt School had people like Erich Fromm and Herbert Marcuse and Adorno, and used concepts derived both from sociology and psychoanalysis.

David: OK. What a fascinating background you've had, I must say. Now just to jumpstart our listeners here, let me say early on that we're referring to Jacques Marie Emile Lacan, a French psychoanalyst and psychiatrist who died in 1981, at the age of 81. He's much better known on the continent in Europe than he is here in the U.S. How did you first hear about Lacan?

Raul: Well I was in Buenos Aires, Argentina, like I said, where I was studying psychology. Buenos Aires is an important psychoanalytic center, which was largely Kleinian, until the late 60s, early 70s. Then it became very heavily influenced by Lacan and his work; and now, it's the largest tendency there within psychoanalysis.

David: And what was it about the Lacanian approach that particularly appealed to you?

Raul: Well I perceived it as intellectually profound. And since, initially, I didn't know whether I wanted to study philosophy, sociology or psychology, this seemed to be a form of psychology that combined all three and was, essentially, multidisciplinary. Lacanians also study Freud's texts very closely, and I was very interested in studying Freud, although I was also exposed to Jungian thought in Buenos Aires. But I felt that Jung rejected too much of Freud, unnecessarily, even though I agreed with Jung that Freud was only able to see the pathological side of religion.

David: That's really fascinating. I just love all the different theoretical touchstones that have made up your career. We don't here much about Lacan, here in the U.S. In your book, you talk about what you refer to as the "English-Anglo bias" toward the empirical over the theoretical. I suspect that I'm guilty of that. Tell us a bit about that.

Raul: Well, you don't hear much about Lacan in the social sciences and in Anglo-American versions of psychoanalysis, although this is changing. The United States widened the split between the humanities and the social sciences that was inherited from British empiricism. Lacan is quite well-known within the humanities departments in the U.S., but the social sciences and the humanities departments have very little relationships between them.

The social sciences are trying to be sciences according to the model of the natural sciences, and use statistical analysis and control studies as a basis for the scientific method.

And even psychoanalysts, first spoke of psychoanalysis as a natural science, though without defining very clearly what was meant by that, other than psychoanalysis is a clinical theory that works with actual problems and practices of psychiatry and human experience.

Lacan said that psychoanalysis is "a science of the subject", or a science of subjectivity. It works with single-case histories and the articulation of theory and practice.

The social sciences, by and large, here in the U.S., tend to be anti-theoretical, and do not necessarily teach people how to think across different disciplines. They have to a large degree severed the connection between philosophical theory and scientific theory.

They rely on empirical studies that have very poor theoretical basis, and ignore the fact that the human senses are organized by a rational, symbolic function that determines the results of any possible study.

The hypotheses that are derived or confirmed by studies are not articulated or organized within larger constructs that can inspire future generations - inspiration and aspirations are often replaced by technocracy and materialism.

In addition, Lacanian thought takes a very long time to study in order to understand it. You have to be able to not understand in order to understand it. North Americans often do not have the patience for this. They want the facts, and they want to understand something right away that can also be used to make money.

Europeans and Continental Americans tend to worship, to use that word, their intellectuals, whereas, North Americans worship their movie stars.

If somebody goes to a conference and they don't understand, or are not entertained by what a speaker is saying - using PowerPoints that can also be read in handouts - they're likely to be frustrated, walk out, or they feel insulted in their ego intelligence if they don't understand something.

Whereas, Europeans are likely to say something like "the master is saying wonders I cannot understand". And so, they have much more tolerance to be able to listen to somebody speak about things that they don't completely understand.

Another factor is that psychoanalysis, in general, has lost some of its prestige due to the criticism of its clinical efficiency or inefficiency and the length and cost of treatments.

Analysis became longer and longer lasting, up to 20 years, whereas Freud's treatments were only a year long. Lacan wanted to increase its effectiveness or the effectiveness of psychoanalysis by introducing some changes into the classical post-Freudian frame.

For this he was expelled from the International Psychoanalytic Association, and this has also contributed to the limited dissemination of his work within the circles of the International Psychoanalytic Association.

Finally, Lacan's work also represents a return to Freud, and to the question of the father in Oedipal structure whereas object relation represents more of a mother centric form of psychoanalysis in response to the feminist critique of patriarchy, and of the analysis of sexuality and sexual difference.

Object relations focuses on the pre-Oedipal at the exclusion of everything else of the Oedipal structure. In Lacan the pre-Oedipal became the first form of the Oedipal and it's not seen as outside Oedipal structure. But Lacan doesn't simply represent a reactionary nostalgia for the patriarchal family.

It is a post-modern reading of the father and of sexual difference.Both feminism, and male domination or patriarchal ideology confuses the difference between the imaginary and symbolic fathers. Lacan distinguished between these two different types of fathers.

David: OK. Let me jump me because you are covering an awful lot of ground here. Anyways anticipating some of the questions to come, let me just slow you down a tad here. I love the candor some of your earlier remarks came out, [laughs] in terms of the critique of the American versus the European approach. One of the phrases that jump out in your introduction was repression of critical clinical theory in the social sciences.

I guess that was kind of in the earlier part of your remarks there, and also you make a distinction between scientific versus scientistic. Just say a little about the repression of critical, see I am not even sure what that phrase means, critical clinical theory. What do you mean when you say the repression of critical clinical theory?

Raul: OK. Well, partly it is related to what I was talking about and I guess we'll come back afterwards to see how changes in family structure and in the culture itself lead to changes within epistemology, and to different frameworks that the culture develops to understand psychical and psychological phenomena. But we will come back to that.

David: Yes.

Raul: But more specifically this question of critical clinical theory articulates the relationship between the psychical and the political as I just said. In addition, this reference is to clinical practice within public health and the private insurance industry. This is what I mean that to a large degree, psychiatry has repressed the psyche from psychiatry.

David: OK.

Raul: Meaning the great geniuses of psychiatry are not spoken about much anymore, whether Freud or Jung, or more currently whether Bion or Lacan. Bion is the most creative theoretician within the British object relations schools, and Lacan is who we are talking about.

David: Yes. I am going to have to do a show on Bion at some point as well. What about this distinction between scientific versus scientistic?

Raul: Before I respond to that I want to mention that the notion of multiaxial diagnoses was derived from Freud's concept of the complementary series which is the actual inspiration behind the multi-axial diagnosis. What that means is that any symptom or disorder has multiple causes that include biological, genetic, psychical and social environmental causes. Contemporary psychiatry represses the psychical and collapses the trinity of causality into a brain social behavior dualism or into a brain-only worldview or an environment-only worldview.

David: OK.

Raul: With respect to the scientific versus the scientistic, this is done in the name of science but it represents what I would call scientistic obscurantism, if I am pronouncing that word correctly, because it represses dimensions of subjective experience and reality unaccounted for by empiricism. Empirical evidence only finds what the method allows rather than what actually exists in reality.

Reality is distorted in this way, not only for scientific reasons but to benefit specific economic interests. This is what the Frankfurt school called instrumental reason.

Instrumental reason represses, for example unconscious subjective dimensions that are otherwise accessible through different forms of rationality. What we call dialectical reason or critical reason but not instrumental or formal reason.

Critical theory is the theory that criticizes these aspects of science that under the influence of economic interests represses aspects of rationality and reality.

David: OK. That sort of accounts also for your criticism of the current enthusiasm for bio-psychiatry which you say is a tool of big pharma and Wall Street.

Raul: Yes. Most empirical clinical studies are very short in duration, and are done with clinical populations that are different than those that are actually seen in the clinic. This is what the evidence shows. It shows what the empirical researchers want to find to benefit specific economic interests. It is no secret that pharmaceutical industries are some of the wealthiest global corporations, and there isn't much research that happens without their financing.

Of course, they are not evil and they also do a lot of good, and the problem comes when they attempt to dominate the market and together with scientism, they erect themselves as the only form of legitimate and reimbursable treatment.

For example, people don't know that placebos are 80% as effective as anti-depressants or there is a range in what studies of anti-psychotic show with regard to the efficiency of anti-psychotic medications.

The optimistic study shows 70% efficiency, in suppressing symptoms and the pessimistic or realistic one show only 30% effectiveness. That means in 30% to 60% of cases of anti-psychotic medication fail to suppress psychosis or psychotic symptoms.

You actually, see this in the clinic in clinical experience but you'd not know about it if you only listen to scientific presentations financed by the pharmaceutical companies. Some treatments that empirical evidence show as efficient are, not actually effective within clinical populations.

Psychoanalysis can be clinically effective although it is not efficient in that it cannot be measured through empirical studies. This is not entirely true in that brief form of psychotherapy, have been empirically validated as efficient.

But consumer reports and case studies are important elements of clinical effectiveness and outcome research that are needed to balance the picture that is given by statistical studies of efficiency.

David: Yes. Now this next question is a big one. [laughs] You could write a book about it. I challenge you to be somewhat concise. But how does Lacanian differ from Freudian psychoanalysis?

Raul: First of all we have to define what we mean by Freudian psychoanalysis. From a Lacanian point of view classical analysis, is post-Freudian rather than Freudian which is different than what most people think. Freud's clinical practices were much more flexible and elastic than what is practiced under the International Psychoanalytic Association. Freud did treatments of variable duration and frequency and in different settings. Psychoanalysis is not defined quantitatively by the orthodox formalities of the setting or frame but by the qualitative nature of the material that is worked with the sessions.

Many analysts work with material that is not that different from supportive psychotherapy or from addressing the failings of the maternal environment. The analyst becomes a good or better supportive mother or breasts, and the patient is seen as a victim of its environment.

This produces dependence on the analyst. The analysis gets longer and longer and the Oedipal issues are never resolved or the treatment remains stuck in early phases of Oedipus.

The unconscious, is only understood as a container of traumatic experiences. What disappears from this picture is the conflictual, traumatic elements of sexual and desire, the problems of sexual difference and unconscious fantasy, personal responsibility and the question of the father.

This is also related to the question of time and to how the frame is considered or organized. Lacan introduced the practice of cutting the session or a thematic ending to a session that is not chrono-metrical, precisely to maximize clinical effectiveness, and to bring out the unconscious dimensions that need to be worked through in the analysis.

In Lacanian analysis the analyst ends the session, but the analysand ends the treatment.

David: In other words, you are saying that in the Lacanian approach the analyst may end a particular therapeutic session at the point that feels right. That might be in a short amount of time. It might be less than the 50 minute hour, or it might be more than the 50 minute hour. Is that what you're saying?

Raul: Precisely. There is some work that needs to be done that is qualitative in nature in each session. That may take more or less time, and that varies from session to session.

David: OK.

Raul: This has something to do with the separating function of the father that is different from the holding environment or the standard frame that can become stale and predictable. So session frequency also varies depending on what is happening in the treatment. Lacanian analyses are usually three rather than four times a week, although they can also be four or twice a week. And [they] last three to five or six years rather than the 10 or 20 years that have become common in what people consider to be Freudian psychoanalysis.

From our point of view, past five years you have to be near the termination phase of the treatment and having identified and worked on several unconscious themes. Otherwise, the quality review of the analysis and supervision becomes necessary.

Of course this is relative, when it comes to the question of the severity and the chronicity of the pathology in question. When working with psychosis, the treatment may be quite long or may need to be eventually stepped down to a form of maintenance care that is still a form of treatment over a long period of time.

There is also the question of how to practice psychoanalysis, within a public clinic and within the healthcare industry. This leads to also having to think of psychoanalysis in different ways than the majority of people think of what Freudian psychoanalysis is. I could say more about that, but that would take a little bit more time.

David: Yeah. We might come back to the public setting a bit down the line. While we are still in the theoretical realm here, though, it seems like, linguistic analysis is really central to the Lacanian approach. You've mentioned that it is much better known in the humanities than in the social sciences. Maybe it is that linguistic, analytic emphasis that causes that to be the case. Can you say a little bit about this linguistic approach? How it's done and why that is such a central part of it?

Raul: Yes. Lacan was a student of linguistics. Since very early on he realized that psychoanalysis and psychotherapeutic treatment is a talking cure. As a talking cure, it depends on the resources of language. This is another example of his multidisciplinary approach. We are talking here of the '50s when nobody was doing this. He doesn't invent his own theory of language or communication, but he uses linguistic ideas for analytical purposes.

On a theoretical level, he looks at the overlap between language structure and psychical structure, as well as the emotional and Oedipal or familial underpinnings of language. He examines the relations between words, between signifier and signified, and how signification, or meaning, operates between conscious and unconscious experience.

In the actual practice, you listen to the actual words of an analysand or a client, but you listen for key signifiers, as well as for the affect that points to repressed speech elements. Lacan distinguishes between what he calls "idle speech" or "useless prattle" and true speech regarding desire.

Out of Lacanian theory, one can differentiate between unconscious language in a descriptive sense, in the sense that Freud, spoke of the unconscious in a descriptive sense. And differentiate unconscious language, from the language of the unconscious in a dynamic sense.

Pretty much like Chomsky speaks about grammar being an unconscious structure. And differentiate between that and the language of the unconscious.

These are two different languages that we all speak. Grammatical language is unconscious in a descriptive sense. We are not aware of all the rules of grammar and all of the words that we know when we are speaking.

Then there is also repressed speech. This is the dynamic unconscious in the Freudian sense. Then as well, there is a dimension of language that points to something beyond language.

David: OK. Each theoretical approach develops its own jargon. When we first hear it, it can ring very strange. Most of us have had so much exposure to Freudian ideas that terms like ego, id and so on seem, quite familiar and ordinary. Three ideas that seem to be important in the Lacanian approach use specialized terms. One is called "the real, "another is "the symbolic" and a third is "the imaginary." Help us to understand these terms and their importance, if you will.

Raul: Yes. OK. These are dimensions of what we call subjective experience. They are organized as a knot that Lacan called the Borromean knot. The three intersect one another and they cannot exist without each other. So the Borromean knot is like the three circles that intersect, a little bit like the Olympic circles of five.

David: Yes.

Raul: The Borromean knot has three, and there is a point in the middle where they all intersect. They are intersected and they are interlinked. They cannot exist without each other. Lacan's work over time focused first, in the imaginary, and second, in the symbolic and finally, in the real. The imaginary comprises, both fantasy life and visual reality, the virtual image and the real image. Lacan invented the concept of the mirror phase, which was a phase of development occurring somewhere between six months and 18 months. The ego first develops as a body image, or a bodily ego as Freud called it, in identification with the mother's desire.

The body image is both an anchor of the body, but also of visual reality. And visual reality is shot through with unconscious fantasies where the ego is first an object of the other.

Lacan is different from Freud in that reality and fiction are interdependent rather than dual opposites. At the same time, they are not the same. We also have to differentiate reality and fiction. He says, "Fiction is reality and reality is fiction."

What makes them different, however, is the intervention of the symbolic. This has to do with the function of father. The father separates the child from being a fantasy object of the mother.

And helps establish a subjective identity, in terms of identification not with the mother's desire but with social rules which include kinship rules - the prohibition of incest - and the laws of language and grammar.

Finally, the real is the remainder or what remains of experience that is not captured by images or words. Images only appear to be beyond words, but often this is illusory. A word can contain or determine one thousand images. Often people say that an image has a thousand words, but a word also has a thousand images.

Both images and words are lacking to represent the real. This is what Lacan calls the lack in the other or the lack in language to represent a dimension of experience that is beyond language.

David: You have emphasized a couple of times the importance of the father. I'm sure that there are some listeners out there who are going to be wondering, "What if there is no father present?"

Raul: The father is not the real father. It is the paternal function. The paternal function can be occupied by different people. It could be occupied by a different woman in a different form of relationship. It can be occupied by an uncle, by a grandfather, by the community, by the mother herself introducing the other to the dyadic relationship with the child. Speaking to the child about the dead father or speaking to the child about her own father, so long as the child realizes that it's not just about the child and the mother, that the world is larger than that. It contains a third and this third is the paternal function.

David: OK. I went to Wikipedia to prepare a little bit for this discussion, and it was there that I read something that you made earlier reference to that Lacan was expelled from the International Psychoanalytic Association, according to Wikipedia, for his clinical practices. I was wondering what clinical practices... what...

Raul: For this... sorry.

David: What did he "do" that will trigger that expulsion?

Raul: Well, this is because he was criticizing the classical frame which most people attribute it to Freud, but actually it's post-Freudian.

David: Yes.

Raul: Although they want to establish Freud as the authority for it, it actually was established after Freud. They criticized the fact that he was seeing people in sessions of variable length and variable frequency when the orthodox frame, according to the bureaucracy of the IPA, it was supposed to be four times a week and of sessions of 50-minute length.

David: OK. Yes, God that makes sense. Another thing that I read in Wikipedia was that Lacan's return to Freud emphasizes a new attention to the original text of Freud, which you already said, and a radical critique of ego psychology Melanie Klein in object relations theory... Those have, really held sway for quite a while now and American psychoanalytic thought. Can you characterize, I think you have before but just to focus it again, what is this critique of ego psychology, Klein and object relations?

Raul: OK. Well, ego psychology can be separated from object relations is several ways. The critique applies differently to one or the other. Object relations developed because the whole idea of sexual difference, the castration complex, the question of the father and the feminist critique of patriarchy and so on, became so problematic. And Freud did not emphasize so much the relationship to the mother.

That's what the work of Melanie Klein primarily did, which focuses everything on the first few years of life. In fact, the first six months of life with a notion of the schizophrenic position and the manic-depressive positions.

Then ended up telescoping that to the rest of psychic life and to the rest of psychic development, and that's mostly what they deal with. They have abandoned the phases of Oedipus and the pre-Oedipal... they say they want to focus on the pre-Oedipal, and not necessarily to the exclusion of the Oedipal, but in actual practice, that's mostly what they are dealing with and they are focusing on the early dyadic relationship to the mother.

But in Lacanian theory, since it's multidisciplinary, it's multi-perspective, and we are dealing both with the mother and the father, with the imaginary and the symbolic, so we have to keep all these dimensions together in some way, and not collapse questions of later Oedipal structures into questions of early relationship to the mother.

Now, I wanted to say something before about the question of sexual difference because object relations theory eliminates the question of sexuality. I mean sexuality is almost not addressed. This is even true in Bion.

I think Bion is a brilliant theoretician. He has contributed a lot of useful ideas, but is still within a Kleinian framework. Klein was his teacher and analyst; no, not analyst, teacher.

A lot of Bion doesn't address sexuality whatsoever, and just talks about sexuality in terms of container and contained, but doesn't really address the question of genital organization, or the question of the presence and the absence of the phallus that is the term that differentiates between masculinity and femininity.

This is something that Lacan, says that is really central to Freud's theory of the unconscious. This has to be differentiated from a notion of male domination or patriarchal ideology.

And because that critique of Freud, and it's often also because Freud is not so clear about the different ways of speaking about the father, Lacan makes much more clear the difference between the imaginary father and the symbolic father and the difference between biological female and maleness, and psychical masculinity and femininity.

Lacan continues to distinguish and separate that, when we talk about sexuality we are talking about psychical sexuality, we are talking about psychical masculinity and femininity, not about the anatomical distinctions between the sexes.

The imaginary father, as I was saying before, is the father that says he is the law, he has the phallus and everybody else has to submit to him. Feminism rightly so objects to this form of domination, but only in that it wants the same power for the female instead of criticizing the relation of domination itself.

From a Lacanian point of view, we see chauvinism or sexism or machismo as defenses against castration and forms of neurotic pathology. The symbolic father is the one that is also subject to the law and stands for the lack of the other, and the function of symbolic loss and castration.

In this sense, this means that the emperor has clay feet, the father and the master are castrated or subject to castration.

The father is a function by which human beings become subjects under the law. The father is a principle of renunciation and the developmental figure, through which subjectivity is constructed in culture. We need a new definition of the father that would be appropriate for post-modern culture.

Lacanian theory is also different from Freud when it comes to the question of sexual difference. Freud believes that boys have the phallus and are afraid of losing it and girls don't have it and suffer from penis envy. Within Lacanian theory, having and not having occur across the imaginary and symbolic registers, and across masculinity and femininity.

As I said, these are different than biological male and female. We consider Freud's ideas on sexual difference as within the imaginary register but in the symbolic the values are reversed. The masculine has to lose it, the phallus, in order to have it. The feminine is also able to symbolically having it by not having it in the imaginary to begin with.

Both sexes have it and not have it in different ways. The difference between masculinity and femininity is given by the order of whether you have it first and then, you lose it or whether you lose it first and then you have it as well by the registers in question. But the important point point, is to recognize sexuality and the relationship to the presence and absence of the phallus.

To recognize the fact that sexual difference exists. That both sexes, and this is important, tend to reject femininity. Femininity here represents a space or cavity within the real and that is outside signification. Within the real, femininity is beyond the phallus, is not phallocentric, and at the same time is in a symbolic and imaginary relationship to the phallus.

When femininity is construed as without a relationship to the phallic function, then it ends up being formulated with disguise phallic metaphors of one kind or another.

David: You know, you mentioned earlier that the feminist critique of Freud, and I am wondering how feminists theorists have responded to the Lacanian analysis.

Raul: Well, I think its mixed. Some don't understand precisely this point that is not always so clearly articulated in Lacan. I see that as part of my work is to clearly articulate some of these Lacanian concepts with precision. And at the same time, be able to clearly differentiate the Freudian and Lacanian points of view, and how Lacan improves Freudian theory and makes it more relevant for contemporary culture.

At the same time, there are many Lacanian feminists or many feminists and queer theorists who find Lacanian theory very helpful and relevant. So its kind of a mixed bag.

David: Interesting. I was fascinated to see that you have a long standing interest in Zen Buddhism. So how do these two world views complement one another?

Raul: Yes, and I didn't get to the topic of ego psychology, so maybe I will start there because it is relevant. In Buddhism there is the doctrine or the teaching or no self. And there's a critique of the ego as a source of suffering or an understanding of the ego as something illusory. This is something that Lacan also did. Lacan focuses much more on the imaginary ego of narcissism that needs to be superseded by the symbolic subject and focuses less on the reality ego.

Instead reality testing is seen as a function of the symbolic order, more than the illusion of a free will that some how is not subject to the will of the other, in terms of the autonomy, the psychological notion of the autonomous ego.

Only if the ego can be heteronomous with respect to the symbolic can the subject function autonomously within the symbolic. So in many ways the ego blocks symbolic understanding of functioning. And this is both true in Lacanian psychoanalysis and Buddhism.

I don't know if you may know that I contributed a chapter to a recent book edited by Jeremy Safran on psychoanalysis and Buddhism, who was written by analysts who are also Buddhist teachers.

The title of my chapter is called the "The Signifier Pointing to the Moon." And this is a Zen phrase, classical Zen metaphor. I mean, the finger pointing at the moon is the classical Zen metaphor and I call it the signifier pointing to the moon.

So in the classical Zen metaphor the finger is a metaphor for language, as well as for form or how we construct forms within language. So, on the one hand, you can say that Zen experience is about the moon or silent illumination, which is something that is beyond words.

But also within Zen you can say that the moon is the finger itself, meaning that the experience beyond words is also within words.

But this is only the case, if you have a practice to access that which is beyond words. And you have the words or the signifiers that are not caused by the practice. Meaning that the analytic situation doesn't cause these key signifiers that are manifesting or at work in the unconscious producing symptomatology.

So, neither the words nor the realizations the words reveal are caused by the practice of meditation or analysis. We can say they were neither already there, nor are they arising just now as a consequence of the practice. This is both true for Zen and psychoanalysis.

Lacan formulated the goal of Lacanian psychoanalysis as one of subjective, what he calls subjective destitution for the analysand, which is a form ego loss, and benevolent depersonalization for the analyst, which is also a form of ego loss.

So those are key current technical terms: subjective destitution and benevolent depersonalization. Both parties have to shed the illusory or imaginary ego. Once the imaginary ego becomes symbolized as a metaphoric subject in language, then the subject eventually becomes a subject in the real, without a fixed identity and yet coherent at the same time.

David: Yes, and that ego loss, certainly does resonate well with Zen. Also, I notice as you were talking about Lacan, several times you spoke about the role of desire and it seems to me that desire also plays a strong role in the Zen conception of things.

Raul: Yes, well, there is a way in which both parties have to work with desire. For Lacan, ethics, for example, was a question of being true to one's desire. So that just like the Buddha, he realized that the key to suffering lied with the question of unconscious desire. But once desire is realized, it turns into something else. So there is no need to repress or extinguish desire, which is what Freud criticized in religion and Mahayana Buddhism criticized in Hinayana Buddhism: that Hinayana Buddhism tried to repress the desire in the same way that Freud critiqued religion for trying to do that.

Within Lacanian theory I distinguish between three floors within desire, three levels within desire. First, there is the wishing or wishful thinking, which the wish for a maternal type of object that will love us.

Then there is sexual desire proper, which is a desire for a forbidden sexual object. Finally there is the desire of the analyst which is not a desire not to desire, but is a desire for emptiness and the emptiness of desire.

This is the desire that sustains the analyst and that remains with the analyst once they are no longer needed by the analysand. And we can say, or I say that this is also Buddha's desire, the lack within desire is realized as emptiness or as something more fundamental than a simple negation of desire. Desire doesn't need to be negated because desire itself is empty.

David: OK, well while we're still talking about Buddhism and Zen, you cited a Zen saying that "A Zen teacher's life history is one mistake after another." Do I understand you to be saying that mistakes of both the analyst and the analysant are an important part of the process?

Raul: Well, for Freud mistakes represent the formations of the unconscious: slips of the tongue or the pen, forgetfulness, misplacing of objects, and bungled actions. The mistakes I'm talking about are errors in speech, memory, writing or action that reveal unconscious forms of desire. And these mistakes are closer to truth rather than further away from truth. Or we could say, in a Zen sense, they are closer to the ground of being on which and by which we fall, but by means of which we also stand up. So we fall so that we may rise up.

These phenomena are great facilitators of both psychical and spiritual growth. The analyst is also established by his or her own mistakes and by his or her own problems and symptoms that have to be addressed in the personal analysis.

In this sense the analyst is like a comedian, like Charlie Chaplin or Laurel and Hardy or Woody Allen that can take themselves lightly and humorously, and use any action to promote the work of analysis of understanding.

A mistake only looks like a mistake but it is quite taken by something very important. Mistakes also require humbleness and a willingness to be fooled by one's own unconscious. And we never stop having an unconscious, but we develop a more flexible relationship to it.

And finally, within the analysis itself, the analyst has to be open to examine his or her own mistakes or parapraxis and not try to hide them.

This means that to help the analysant to discuss them openly, but at the same time the analyst has to be careful in giving an interpretation of his or her mistakes to the analysand because these have a double edge.

They could cause a negative reaction and cause the analysand to leave the analysis or they could trigger material or a crisis that could represent a big step forward in the work.

David: OK. One of the obstacles to psychoanalysis typically has been that it has been seen as too expensive, both in terms of time and money for average folks. You indicated that the Lacanian approach, typically would take three to five years, as opposed to orthodox psychoanalysis which could go as long as 20 years. However, personally I don't see three to five years as dramatically economical, and at the same time I got the impression from your book, though, that you have done work in clinics that...

Is there some way that you are able to bring your Lacanian perspective to short term work, I guess, is the question, to bring it more into the public sphere?

Raul: Yeah, well the public sphere depends on how you think about it. Basically, even if you do one session with a patient or with a client, that session has to have depth and amplitude. And it has to address several dimensions or floors of experience at the same time. So it's not a question that you only do that with people that you see for over many sessions or many years.

It's a dimensional perspective that is present in every session, even if the treatment ends up lasting only one session. And this has to do with being able to address, not only surface structures, but also deep structures that are involved in the production of symptomatology.

Even if you cause a suppression of a symptom at a particular time, because you have addresses a surface form of causality, if you don't address the depth causality, eventually, the symptom will cause a relapse or will reoccur. That's, precisely why we need the more long term approach.

There are economic realities. The public health system goes through times of plenty and times of scarcity, so you have to be able to open or close the gates, accordingly, in terms of how much services you have available, and in terms of to what kinds of patients you make it available.

Brief therapy is appropriate for milder disorders. For milder disorders, you can offer them a limited number of sessions, which can be used analytically.

Basically, you have to move through the phases of treatment in a shorter period of time, rather than a longer period of time, and with some compromise in the effectiveness of the treatment. Particularly, the long term effectiveness, in terms of how much relapse prevention will take place. But if that's all you can do at this time, well, that's all you can do.

With severe and chronic disorders, I don't think that society can dispense with long term treatment. The individual with a severe disorder cannot function in society without this more long term treatment, but you may also have to limit the number of sessions that you give, based on what your economic resources are.

This means that if you have a lot of people that you have to see, you have to parcel out the resources. You give fewer sessions to more people, but you still have to see them over a longer period of time, than you could with milder disorders.

This is how to think about it, economically how to parcel out the analytic point of view, within the economic constraints.

I'm also in the process of developing a brief model of analysis. I'm calling it "brief analysis from a Lacanian point of view," that could be used as a second-best option or as preparatory for a longer term analytic course.

David: Oh, that sounds good. Speaking of analytic courses, tell us a bit about the Lacan Institute there in Berkeley, with which you're affiliated. Just briefly, what's your role there? How many students does the Institute take on? What are the requirements for admission? What does the training consist of? What's the length of the program? Somebody might be listening that might be interested in signing up.

Raul: We have people take seminars for about four years. The most important requirement is for the personal analysis, although we do recognize prior analytic work in different orientations within psychoanalysis, which is something that the other analytical institutes don't. We also don't call it an "institute." We call it a "school." We're just not training technicians; we're training people that are engaged, in some way, with their whole minds and bodies, and with their own experience of the world, in this process of analytical training. The school is there to produce knowledge and not simply to train technicians.

That's more of the intellectual aspect of the work, but that also involves a certain extensive degree of personal work and personal analysis. People have to do that, and do a certain number of hours of personal analysis. Then they have to take on cases of psychoanalysis under supervision.

We usually take about two or three new candidates a year. We are rather small and intimate. It's similar to the early days of the initial development of psychoanalysis. My role there is, I'm a training analyst. I give seminars and I also see people in analysis.

At the same time, we want to be careful how we combine the educational and the analytical aspects of the relationships, because this has led to many problems in analytical institutes. So, we're careful with handling dual relationships. When somebody is being seen both as a teacher and as an analyst that can create problems.

David: Yes.

Raul: But we also emphasize a lot of personal responsibility - that people have to take a lot of personal responsibility for their training, rather than always relying on some bureaucratic structure to enforce that, and that people do a fair amount of independent study, as well.

David: Do the trainees have to come in with any particular degrees or licenses?

Raul: Yes. We go with the California laws. California law says that in order to do clinical practice you have to have one of the California licenses - MFT, LCSW or a board certified psychiatrist. However, we have been recognized by the medical board to train scholar analysts. These are people with PhDs in other fields who undergo Lacanian training and upon graduation, they can only do analysis, they can't do psychotherapy or they can't do any other kind of clinical work. But they do have to come with a PhD in a field of knowledge.

David: OK. Well, as we wind down, is there any last sentence or two that you'd like to share with our audience?

Raul: No. I think it's been an interesting journey. I know that I've touched on a lot of very difficult and important topics that would require a lot more time to, really go through these things carefully, but hopefully it has been an inspiration for the listeners and something that they might be interested in picking up and exploring further, themselves. In general, please take care of yourself and study yourself and at the same time, let go of yourself. That's really how we take ourselves lightly and seriously at the same time.

David: [laughs] Great! That's good advice. Dr Raul Moncayo, thanks so much for being my guest today on Wise Counsel.

Raul: You're welcome and it's been a pleasure, David.

David: I hope you found this interview with Dr Raul Moncayo to be informative. As he suggested might be the case, there's a lot of underlying theory, and it can take years to really develop an in-depth understanding of this approach. Hopefully, though, you heard enough here to get a general orientation, and if you're left hungering for more you might want to get your own copy of Dr Moncayo's book, which is available through

You'll also find more information at, including a link to the Lacanian School of Psychoanalysis in Berkeley, California. And Lacan, by the way, is spelled LACAN.

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