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  • Writer's pictureMarian Wiener-Margulies

Creativity During Candidacy

An article from The Candidate Connection Newsletter - June 2013 / Volume 15, Issue 2

Creativity can mean many things to many different people. For Phyllis Greenacre, MD, creativity is “the capacity for or activity of making something new, original or inventive, no matter in what field.” In her classic 1959 paper, “Play in Relation to Creative Imagination” she stresses that creativity is not just the making of a product, but a product that has the characteristic of originality. As a candidate, and as someone who has interviewed several fellow candidates and senior analysts, I have come to find that the training process for candidates inspires creativity, laying a foundation for further creative growth. While some emphasize the importance of mastering the discipline first before candidates can express much in the way of creativity, others find that many candidates begin to express themselves creatively from the very start. This article is the first in a three-part series on creativity and candidacy. In this first part, I explore the question, What is creativity during candidacy? In part two, I will explore the similarities between play and creativity, and in the third and final part, I will focus on factors that either foster or inhibit creativity.

This article was inspired by a recent panel discussion entitled “Creativity during Candidacy: Revisiting Kernberg’s ‘30’ and Looking Forward.” Luke Hadge, PhD, an advanced candidate at the Columbia University Center for Psycho- analytic Training and Research (Columbia) conceptualized and moderated the panel of prominent analysts from Columbia which included Otto Kernberg, MD, Robert Glick, MD, Eric Marcus, MD and Robert Michels, MD. I felt stimulated by the panel discussion but left wanting to hear from candidates what they thought about this topic which, after all, focused on them. I was not alone. Columbia psychoanalytic director Marcus pointed out to candidates present that the senior analysts and educators on the panel should really be the ones in the audience while the panel itself should be filled with candidates talking about their ideas about creativity. “Candidates are the future, and you need to let us know what you need,” and, he added, “you need to let yourselves know what you need.”

Creativity during candidacy, in my mind, begins with one’s own training analysis, where you dare to delve deeply, where you embark on a voyage that col- lapses past, present and future, and you have no idea, really, where you’ll end up. Being in my own analysis, with a few years under my belt, I’ve felt a growing sense of freedom to share my innermost thoughts and feelings. Analysis provides this wonderful invitation to express one- self as freely as possible with the hope and expectation that something good will come of it. This freedom to express oneself opens windows for creativity. I believe a good analysis provides the foundation for creative expression. While creativity lies within, one’s analysis helps bring it out. Accompanying this candidate on her never-ending journey to know herself is her fellow journey-man- wise-elder-analyst. His curiosity, inter- est, rapt attention, and nonjudgmental stance provide the necessary fuel for this voyage inward. The analyst might say things the candidate’s family and friends will not, and he will not say things they will. He will never take sides, remain always on the sideline but is ever present, sometimes in view, mostly not. What, then, could be more creative than this process where two minds meet, almost daily, facing demons and ghosts from one’s past, occasional intruders into the present, with the intent of examining, understanding, and expanding one’s mind, to describe just some of what goes on in the analytic endeavor. And where else can one be on both sides of the couch but in a training analysis?

But what do others think? To explore the topic of creativity further, I decided to talk to the analytic community of candidates and seasoned analysts. I contacted candidates and senior analysts from four leading NYC institutes: Columbia University Center for Psycho- analytic Training and Research (Columbia), Institute for Psychoanalytic Education affiliated with NYU School of Medicine (IPE), New York Psycho- analytic Society & Institute (NYPSI) and the William Alanson White Institute of Psychiatry, Psychoanalysis & Psychology (WAWI).

Richard Weiss, MD, dean at NYPSI, is one of the many analysts who holds the belief that it is difficult for most analytic candidates to be creative until they’ve been doing analysis for some time. “Only then are they comfortable enough in the analytic setting to do the work in a less self-conscious way and have the intellectual space to think about their own ideas.” Likewise, Anne Erreich, PhD, training and supervising analyst at IPE, agreed that learning the discipline is a necessary prerequisite. She said candidates need to have a “deep appreciation of the subject matter of psychoanalysis to be creative.” Seasoned analysts are not alone in this belief. Dan Zimmerman, MD, third year candidate at Columbia, agrees with this view. He sees creativity during candidacy as “somewhat premature” given that “the candidate needs to first absorb so much during training with its many requirements.” Alphonse Osinski, MD, a third year candidate at IPE, has a similar take on the timing of creativity. Grateful for the “many experienced minds” he’s been privileged to sit with for the past several years, he’s content for now “to take in what they have to tell me.” In that sense, he said, “the question of my creativity is premature.”

Theodore Jacobs, MD, training and supervising analyst at NYPSI and IPE, has learned from personal experience just how creativity can be sparked during candidacy. In his case, necessity was the mother of invention. Jacobs recalls the intensity of his struggle to under- stand his own counter-transference feelings with his patients. At the time, no-one could help him make sense of his feelings so “left to my own devices, I had to think deeply about what came up, especially memories of mine that were evoked by patients’ material and that helped elucidate their communications.” He said people were too afraid back then to acknowledge their counter-transference feelings. “If they did, they’d be told, ‘it’s a personal problem; take it up with your analyst!’” Jacobs defines creativity as “making use of the known to arrive at the novel.” He finds that “Models of people who think out of the box and don’t follow standard formulations and ways of thinking typify creative people.”

Edgar Levenson, MD, training and supervising analyst at the WAWI, considers “the analytic process to be an extreme example of creativity contained by the frame. You create an atmosphere of genuine exchange.” In fact, he likens the analytic process to one of the most creative processes of all: writing. ”The goal of therapy,” he said, “is not to get things clear but rather to unpack the patient’s story by free association and inquiry. Make it unclear and some clarity emerges from that.” Similarly, in the writing process, “The writer might struggle for a while, then put his piece away for a few days and when he returns to it, his head puts it together.” Another part of the creative process is being able to sit with uncertainty, to be open to not knowing and letting things unfold in due course. Levenson believes that an essential ingredient “is the capacity to hold onto things that don’t fit together and tolerate non-closure.” Continuing, he said, “Something emerges on its own. This will allow something to pop into your head like when you’re having an Aha! moment.”

For Navah Kaplan, PhD, a fifth year candidate at NYPSl, “Creativity is only possible when I give myself permission to speak.” Creativity does not take hold of her immediately, but rather unfolds in a progression. She first allows her thoughts to speak to her. She then shares her thoughts with friendly others (super- visors, classmates, etc.), then discloses them in a broader arena, perhaps asking a question or making a comment at a symposium, and finally, “I throw caution to the wind and speak in print.” Reflecting some more, Kaplan added, “Being creative in the world requires some degree of bravery, being willing to risk negative feedback, and to survive to try again.” Susan Fine, PsyD, an advanced candidate at IPE, views creativity during candidacy as “the freedom to develop my own style and voice as an analyst.” Fine said that “creativity is enhanced when one’s mind is open, so that one can think about one’s own work with patients and about themselves as an evolving analyst.” Philip Rosenbaum, PhD, a second year candidate at WAWI also finds this to be the case. He said, “It’s about listen- ing to and creating your own voice within the context of all the other voices,” He has found that creativity has to do with “coming up with your own way of thinking about things and creating your own synthesis of ideas both in terms of theory and practice.”

Candidates and analysts, alike, have found their creativity with their patients unleashed by a supportive and creative supervisor. Michels recalls an experience with a supervisor while training as a psychotherapist. “I had a seriously disturbed patient whom I was seeing in psycho- therapy and who wanted to lie on the couch. I said ‘no,’ thinking that should be for psychoanalytic patients only. As she was insistent, I brought this up with my supervisor. He said, ‘let her lie on the couch. It will make her feel important and special.’ He added, ‘you can always talk about what it means to her, what does she want.’” Michels remarked, “I found what my supervisor said was eminently reasonable and that I was being unreasonably rigid.” Marianne Goldberger, MD, a training and supervising analyst at NYPSI and IPE, also recalls an important lesson she learned from her supervisor Paul Gray, MD. “During one session, I said to him, I can’t imagine saying this...His response was, ‘How come there’s anything you can’t imagine?’ ” Goldberger continued, “At the moment, I felt stupid, but ultimately, what he said has been very help- ful.” “That’s creativity!”

While some analysts and candidates expressed their belief that creativity is not in much evidence during training but more likely to be expressed after one has mastered the discipline and has been doing analysis for some time, other analysts are quick to point out the many ways that candidates express creativity. They publish original papers, present cases at local and national meetings, participate in candidate committees and organize candidate-run meetings. In spite of these different views, I think all would agree that whatever creative sparks get set off during one’s candidacy, continued investment in the work and in the field will foster greater creativity over time. One never stops learning and as long as one has a sense of wonder and curiosity, is imaginative, willing to try new things, and think out of the box— to name just a few of the qualities of a creative mind, creativity will continue to unfold and flower.

As we, as candidates, knit together our own clinical and training experiences, I hope we continue to be creative in our work and in our lives. We are on this shared journey of discovering what’s within ourselves and how to use it in creative and caring ways to help our patients find their individual voice and their own creative sparks. I look forward to sharing with you in part two of this article how play and creativity are intimately connected during candidacy— and beyond—and in part three, ways that might foster or inhibit creativity during candidacy. I invite both candidates and graduate analysts to share your thoughts on this next topic.

Feel free to write me at (click here for part two).


Candidate Connnection June-2013
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