Psychoanalytic Transference Vs friendship from Lacanian Perspective

My Analyst, My Impossible Friend


The concept of friendship has been evaluated from different perspectives throughout time. The term ‘Friendship’ refers to “A fluid, voluntary relationship, varying greatly in duration and intensity, between persons well known to one another, which involves liking and affection, and may also involve mutual obligations such as loyalty. Forming friendships is an important part of the development of a team.” (Oxford Dictionary, 2011) It used to be a topic for discussion for Plato and Aristotle. Aristotle argued that since a friend is the similar self to one’s being; a person needs to behave and relate to his friend in the same way as he treats himself. In other words, the friend’s being is as worthy as one’s own being (Aristotle, 1156b12-15). He argued that friendship is meaningful if it only happens between two individuals and lasts constantly over time (Aristotle, 1156b25-30). In other words, friendship in Aristotle’s view is mutual affectionate behaviours between two individuals which continue throughout time. In fact, for Aristotle constancy and the mutuality are the main characteristics of friendship.

From a different perspective, for Freud friendship is an inter-personal relationship which stems from sexual aim-inhibited impulses (Freud, 1911). Love of humanity, comradeship and esprit de corps and moreover the relationship between lovers, according to Freud is the sublimated form of aim-inhibited sexual impulses (Freud, 1921). From post-Freudian psychoanalysts such as Winnicott, friendship originates from the mother-infant relationship in early childhood, which forms the child’s relationship with the others in future (Winnicott, 1958). Since Freud’s notion of transference implies a redirection of feelings and attitudes from earlier relationship with a significant person, to the analyst (Freud, 1910), can the relationship between the analyst and the analysand be considered as a kind of friendship or as an inter-personal relationship which can potentially lead to a friendship?

In this paper, by evaluating the philosophic and psychoanalytic dimensions of friendship from Lacanian perspective, the possibility of friendship between the analyst and the analysand during (on the couch) and after the termination of the analytic course (off the couch) will be discussed.

The Philosophy of Friendship from Lacanian Perspective

Lacan describes friendship as a transformation of impossibility and hate to the possibility of love (Lacan, 1972-3). As the result of this transfiguration, the subject relates to the Other in a different way than the Imaginary order; the realm of rivalry. Having recourse to Aristotle’s philosophy in his seminar XX, Lacan argued that ‘there is no such thing as sexual relationship’ (Lacan, 1972-3, p71). Therefore, there are alternative ways of tolerating this impossibility coming from the Other; the tyranny Other who can evoke our hate and even our desire for its death (Freud’s notion of primal father (Freud, 1913)). Lacan believed what Aristotle meant by ‘Philia’ (Aristotle, 1156b25-30) “is namely, what represents the possibility of a bond of love between two of these beings, can also, manifesting the tension towards the supreme being, be reversed in the way in which I expressed it- it is in their courage in bearing the intolerable relationship to the supreme being that friends, philio, recognise and choose each other.” (Lacan, 1972-3, pp 84-85)

Derrida believed that friendship is a kind of relationship with someone else with differences; the differences which are essential and pre-conditional for friendship. He argued that a friend loves his friend without any condition or anything in return (Derrida, 1994). Moreover, Aristotle argued that the friendship is meaningful only if it happens between two individuals and lasts over time constantly (Aristotle, 1156b25-30). Derrida discussed this unconditional love for the other, and argued that it is accessible even after the death of the friends. In other words, according to Derrida, the duration of the friendship lasts beyond death (Derrida, 1994). “It is I who speak at the graveside of my friend. Strangely, this unilateral and unconditional activity is doubled to form a kind of broken or incommunicable symmetry according to which my friend in turn bears my death and mourns my life.” (Derrida, 1994, p13) The characteristics of friendship (constancy and continuity) described by Aristotle, and revised by Derrida, determine two different times at the same time in friendship; At present we keep our relationship together, in other words, remaining faithful to the friendship, while looking forward for an eternal friendship after death. According to Derrida this desire is reciprocal: “I could not love the other without feeling myself in advance engaged to love the other beyond death.” (Derrida, 1994, p12)

These two types of friendship, argued by Derrida, coincide with the Lacanian notions of the Symbolic and Real realms. A friend shares time with his friend (the Other) by presenting his interests, admiring behaviours, exchanging topics, common activities (Signifiers) in current time in the Symbolic order. As Derrida pointed to the anticipation of the friendship beyond death, the concept of the friendship goes into the Real order. The infinity of the friendship, being a union or esprit de corps forever, falls beyond the Symbolic order or in other words, it cannot be symbolized (the Real). The tendency to be eternal intimate friends to gain the unconditional love and attention, whole happiness and care (the object petit a) from his friendship is causing a subject, desiring an eternal friendship.

Friendship from Psychoanalytic Perspective

In the case of Schreber (Freud, 1921), Freud determined friendship as one of the ties originating from inhibited sexual impulses: “After the stage of heterosexual object-choice has been reached, the homosexual tendencies are not, as might be supposed, done away with or brought to a stop; they are merely deflected from their sexual aim and applied to fresh uses. They now combine with portions of the ego-instincts and, as attached components, help to constitute the social instincts, thus contributing an erotic factor to friendship and comradeship, to esprit de corps and to the love of mankind in general. How large a contribution is in fact derived from erotic sources (with the sexual aim inhibited) could scarcely be guessed from the normal social relations of mankind.” (Freud, 1911, P61) Later on, he considered the relationship between people in different forms such as the relationship between parents and children, lovers and moreover the bonds between individuals in society, which can potentially lead to a broader sense of unity or esprit de corps, as a sublimated type of aim-inhibited sexual impulses (Freud, 1921).

The approach to the concept of friendship by applying psychoanalytic theories, as a method to investigate the dimensions of friendship and its necessity in human society, raises the question as why do people desire the other as a friend? In other words, where is the origin of such tendency to friendship? In a paper called ‘The capacity to be alone’, Winnicott refers to the infant-mother relationship as a way in which the child learns to be alone, away from the presence of his mother, which is a part of a developmental process. Moreover, he determined such relationship as the kind of material from which friendship would be made of (Winnicott, 1958). “It will be seen that I attach great importance to this relationship, as I consider that it is the stuff out of which friendship is made.” (Winnicott, 1958, p33)

According to Winnicott, the phenomenon of the transference during the analysis is a second chance for the analysand to experience loneliness in the presence of the other. Winnicott argued that friendship is a ‘holding’ model. The limitation of this notion to be applied to the concept of friendship is that in the frame of infant-mother coupling, the mother is the active agent having a capacity of the container or holder, while in the frame of the relationship between two friends, they are mutual agencies for each other, where one projects his intimate part of the self to the other, the other one receives it or vice versa.

In a paper called ‘Do be my enemy for the friendship’s sake’, Gordon Montagnon argued that the enemies fulfil many of our functions. In fact, since our boundaries are threatened by the enemies, we defend our own identity not only in a defensive manner but by recognising the Other in order to find our identity to be stronger. Moreover, as a result of ‘projective identification’ (Klein, 1946, p9), the Other is the recipient of our hateful self in order to let us recognise our own goals, values and beliefs, which brings us a sort of relief. Montagnon concluded that since human beings seek a friend to find a relief, seeking an enemy with “the positive value and function” brings the subject a sort of relief as well as the function of friendship in one’s life (Montagnon, 2005, p33).


On the Couch, Off the Couch

Since the foundation of psychoanalysis and Freud’s idea of transference, to Lacan’s notions of the desire of the analyst, the possibility of another form of relationship during and outside the analysis, has remained as a controversial issue in psychoanalytic debates. In other words, this question has been presented whether or not it is possible to have another form of relationship, other than the transferential one as such; the personal relationship, co-workers relationship or in general, a friendship during the analysis process or after its termination?

Lacan in seminar II claimed that the essential element in the frame of psychoanalysis is keeping the analyst’s personality out of the analytic relationship, although at the beginning of the analysis, the analysand may assume the analyst as another person (Lacan, 1954-5). This frame of the relationship at the beginning of the analysis was called ‘Imaginary’ in Lacanian language. The Imaginary is the realm of competition and rivalry. When the analysand tries to compare himself to the analyst, the analyst is in the imaginary order of his relation to the analysand. In early Lacanian work, the aim of the analysis was crossing the Imaginary order to the Symbolic, in order to let the analysand face the Other (Lacan, 1954-5). Later on, Lacan in seminar XI, claimed that the ‘subject supposed to know’ is not the analyst. In fact, the unconscious of the analysand, according to Lacan, is considered to be the ‘Subject supposed to know’ (Lacan, 1964, p 232). To clarify the position of the analyst and the analysand, eventually Lacan argued that the position of the analyst in the analytic sessions is neither the Imaginary other, nor the Symbolic Other. The analyst is a Real concept. In other words, the analyst is supposed to be the object petit a (Lacan, 1966).

As a fundamental rule in Lacanian analysis, the analyst causes the analysand’s desire to bring his/her fantasies, dreams and secrecies to the sessions (Fink, 1997), while keeping his own secrecy away from the analysand. Does our very close friend know about us, in particular, the very private aspects of our life? Although our intimate friends do not know many aspects of our life, our analyst knows even the very intimate parts of our personal life. In return, we do not know a lot about our analyst. Therefore, one of the essential criteria for the friendship does not exist in the analyst-analysand relationship. As the process of the analysis is a long term interaction, the analyst’s neutrality does not allow the experience of a mutual expression of topics and ideas or showing agreement or disagreement. In other words, the reciprocity, which is essential in friendship, does not exist in the analytic setting for a long period. Therefore, changing the type of the relationship, from analytic one to the intimate friendship, even after the termination of the analysis (off the couch), seems rarely to happen. Celenza points to the four ‘fundamental longings’, claiming that during the course of the analysis (on the couch), they are both ‘stimulated’ and ‘frustrated’ (Celenza, 2007, p 287):

“(a) the desire for unity (to be loved totally and without separateness), (b) the desire for purity (to be loved without hate and unreservedly), (c) the desire for reciprocity (to love and be loved in return), (d) the desire for the omnipotence (to be so powerful that one is loved by everyone everywhere at all time).” (Celenza, 2007, p 287)

The analyst’s commitment to his analysand and the disciplines of the analytic practice frustrate these longings. Eventually, an intimate friendship remains out of reach between the analyst and his or her analysand (Celenza, 2007). In a recent paper of 2010, Celenza argues that both the analyst and the analysand experience a ‘regressive’ and ‘progressive’ variation of emotions during the practice of psychoanalysis; there would be a sort of frustration as well as motivation in the course of the analysis for both the analyst and the analysand. She suggests ‘a primary intimate relationship’ for the practicing analysts as a necessary requirement to carry on the psychoanalysis as a career in order not to have an intimate friendship with the analysand, which can possibly happen for any analyst (Celenza, 2010, p60). A question that can be raised in one’s mind is: why is this intimate relationship not allowed to happen with the analysand outside the framework of analysis on the couch or off the couch? Gilbert Cole insists on the conditions which make the relationship of the analyst-analysand different from the ordinary intimacy and relationship we experience. She argues that the ‘Disciplined’ situation, in which an intimate relationship cannot take shape, prevents the analyst and the analysand to have a friendship. Moreover, being primarily in the analytic frame, then changing the type of the relationship, has some limitations compared to the friendship of two ordinary individuals meeting each other in another context. Cole states that during the analysis “…one thing that we might trace is the oscillation among discipline, spontaneity, ordinariness, and being special.” (Cole, 2007, p364) In fact, she believes the frame of the analytic course does not let the friendship or intimacy between the analyst and the analysand take place. Although it is necessary for the analyst to show his or her attention and care to the analysand, the nature of such feelings differs from the intimate feelings between two friends in the ordinary form of intimacy. As can be seen, the story of the analyst-analysand relationship has started from an agreement which can affect the possibility of the friendship between them in future.


In conclusion, friendship as an intimate social relationship originates from choosing and voluntariness. Moreover, it is based on spontaneity with variable ‘emotional content’ (Paine, 1969, p 507). Friendship is not an attributed status but rather an attainable status. The most important characteristics of friendship are mutuality, sharing time and wishes, faith and trust (Kennedy, 1986). The intimate aspects of our beings are shared with our friends but this does not necessarily mean sharing all our secrets (on the contrary, our analyst knows too much about our privacy). We meet our friends whenever possible for both in order to exchange our feelings and thoughts to gain equilibrium in life. Generally speaking, the loneliness which can bring anxiety to human beings makes them search for a friend. As time passes, the duration of the friendship can affect the intimacy since the two friends have experienced their relationship in different situations (Uhl, 1991). With all these descriptions of the friendship, how could my analyst possibly be my friend, either during the sessions or after the analysis has terminated? From the beginning of the analysis, the analyst-analysand relationship is disciplined, which is definitely different from what two friends experience during their relationship. As mentioned earlier, Derrida discussed the eternity of the friendship (Derrida, 1994), but the analysis eventually has a termination, which both analyst and the analysand agree about. On the other hand, during the analytic sessions what is mutually shared is the time; the time that is paid for. As can be seen, this frame of the relationship is based on regularity and a certain agreement, whereas the friendship is a spontaneous relationship. Finally, since the analytic discourse has been practiced for a long time, changing this type of the relationship to the intimate friendship is less probable.


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