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What's it like to train as an Analyst? A Black, African Perspective

Updated: Jul 3, 2022

I’ve been reading about Lewis Hamilton’s experience of, and response to, racist comments made about him by a former Formula One racing driver, Nelson Piquet. The story leads on to another incident of racism in Formula One. This time, Juri Vips, a Red Bulls Formula Two racing driver was sacked but ultimately stayed within the team for using a racist slur during an online game. Racing is one of those sports that is mostly White and with just one person of colour among its sporting ranks, Lewis Hamilton. Hamilton is a talented racing driver. Born in the UK to a Black father and White mother, he has won seven World Drivers’ Championships titles and holds the records for the most wins, pole positions and podium finishes. He regularly experiences racist slurs but he handles them with grace. He does whatever he can to raise awareness and encourage others to support change in attitudes within the sport towards people of colour.

This latest incidence of racism within the sport of Formula One coincides with my latest blogcast - blog and podcast - exploring my experience of training as an Analyst as a Black, African man in a mostly White field of Jungian analytical psychology. I’m not aware of any other Black person in training within the field. I’ve attended many lectures, seminars, conferences over the years and I have not seen another Black person within the ranks of Jungian Psychology. Naturally, the question ‘Why?’ has floated in my mind for some time now. I’m now four semesters into my training as an Analyst with some experience of training and living in Switzerland so I thought this could be a good time to talk about my experiences.

In my latest podcast, I speak to Rotimi Akinsete about the challenges facing black psychotherapists in the UK. Rotimi is a therapeutic counsellor and clinical supervisor with extensive experience in community and NHS counselling services in the United Kingdom. He is the founder and director of Black Men on the Couch a special interest project focussing on psychotherapy and identity politics of African and Caribbean men and boys. It was great to have a chat with Rotimi. You can find out more about what we discussed here.

I’ve been training as a Jungian Analyst since the autumn of 2019. The pandemic hit in early 2020 which forced ISAPZurich’s training online during the second semester of my training. After the spring 2020 semester, I decided to take a leave of absence due to the pandemic and which lasted two semesters. I returned to training in the Autumn of 2021 and at the same time, I relocated from London to Zurich. It was a tough decision to relocate to Zurich and to return to what was now mandatory face-to-face Analyst training. Training as an Analyst in Switzerland has been an eye-opener. It was a cultural shock and I was surprised at how Black men are perceived in Switzerland. Let me start with a ‘macro’ perspective and then tell you a little bit about my ‘micro’ experience.

Living and studying in Zurich

Zurich has an overwhelmingly White Swiss-German population. As a Black man, life here can be challenging on so many levels. From the moment I leave my apartment, I’ve noticed that people stare at, or are very alarmed, to see someone like me. It isn’t considered normal for people to see or even engage with someone who looks physically different from the wider norm. The emotional reactions to me last for some moments which manifest in being stared at for quite some time which can be uncomfortable. I’ve also noticed that people will physically move or avoid being anywhere near Black people on public transport or even cross the street or veer away to avoid walking anywhere near me.

I don’t speak Swiss-German and have been ‘told off’ by shop workers when purchasing goods that ‘you must learn German!’. Whilst I don’t disagree with this sentiment, I also know that as a Black man it is highly unlikely that I'll be able to secure a job here or even meet Swiss people who are genuinely interested in me as a friend, so I ask myself ‘What’s the benefit of learning Swiss German in a culture that isn’t inclusive of Black people?’. I’ve picked up some Swiss-German which is enough to get by. However, I don’t see a compelling reason to become fully conversational in Swiss-German. Perhaps if I became more proficient in Swiss-German I might be more integrated in the Swiss community? I’m not so sure. Even Oprah Winfrey and one of the richest people in the world visited Switzerland and was told by a shop worker in an expensive shop that she could not afford any of the goods in the shop. I've been actively followed in shops by security guards as I browse, obviously pre-criminalised, for the simple fact that I'm a Black man, out shopping!

I’ve travelled to some countries where you feel ‘welcome’. People are proud that you’re visiting their country and wish you the best during your stay. Someone hiding in some dark corner shouted ‘nigger’ to me when I was walking down a street in Zurich but I couldn’t see who said it. I was at a bar meeting someone from Australia and a guy standing next to us asked my friend whether I was an ‘Aboriginal’. I grew up in the UK but I’m often asked, ‘Where are you originally from?’

My sense of safety as a human being greatly reduced when I moved to Zurich. I was so concerned that I remained in the UK during the height of the pandemic because I was concerned about the standard of medical care and treatment that I would receive if I ended up sick in a Swiss hospital. My concerns were somewhat legitimate. I had dental treatment last December and was told by my dentist as we talked about the impact of Covid on non-White communities that people of colour in Zurich were significantly impacted by the pandemic in terms of mortality and serious illness. Negative perceptions about living somewhere can make one’s quality of life drastically reduce. I certainly feel that the quality of my life is impacted by the fact that I look physically different from the majority of people here.

I’ve met some great people in Zurich. I’m slowing building a network of friends who see beyond my skin colour and physical experience but it is taking time to do so. Even friends or acquaintances have made underhand, and unexpected racist comments. An acquaintance once said to me and another Black friend of mine while we were having drinks with him 'I’ve never been near a Black man for so long without being robbed!’. I’ve even heard so called friends mock the physical appearance of Black people - our noses, skin colour, lips. A Black friend of mine even told me that he has been called a ‘nigger’ on dating apps for turning down requests to meet. As I said it was an eye opener moving to Switzerland from a city like London. Of course, I knew it wasn't going to be easy but I didn't expect to encounter such attitudes in Zurich.

Studying here has also had some unexpected turns. I once received an unsolicited email to inform me that there were ‘questions and concerns’ about my blog. An individual wrote to me to say that I wasn’t being friendly in class and that ‘I worry about what others might think about you’. Another individual wrote to me to say standing next to me in a large group photo, which incidentally I was the only non-white person in the group, was ‘clever’ because they could easily find themselves in the photo. Needless to say, I didn’t take any of these concerns or jokes seriously but it gives you a flavour of what it’s like at a micro level of life in Zurich as a Black man. It certainly doesn’t make me popular.

Not long after the ‘concerns’ were raised with me, a poster of #JungianBitsofInformation promoting my blog and podcast was taken down from a notice board at my training institute. A clear signal to me that my blog and podcast was not welcome. It wasn’t surprising to me. Life here is difficult for Black men. It is virtually impossible to find work unless you work as an Uber driver, a takeaway delivery driver or take manual jobs. Don’t get me wrong, these are important jobs but if you [a black man] aspire to do something else, there are significant barriers such as attitudes which prevent you from reaching your true potential and capability. I’m fortunate to run my own company and have clients in the UK and elsewhere who are willing to see past my skin colour. I would like to work in Zurich but the effort involved in searching for work versus any practical gains is not worth it.

So why am I in Switzerland if it is all so difficult? Well, overall the training at the different institutions here is good and I’m absolutely clear that I want to become a Jungian Analyst. I’ve just written my Symbol Paper which explains why I wanted to become a Jungian Analyst and will be published here soon. I’m not going to live in Zurich forever. In fact, I’m wondering where I’ll live next because I don’t think a return to London is on cards. I also have a ‘Rosa Parks’ attitude within me. Parks was an American activist in the civil rights movement. She is best known for her role in the Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott. On 1 December 1955, Parks refused to follow an order given by bus driver James Blake to vacate a row of four seats in the "coloured" section in favour of a White passenger, once the "White" section was filled. Parks' act of defiance and the Montgomery bus boycott became important symbols of the civil rights movement. I’ll continue to do what I want to do despite the obstacles that I face as a Black, African man in Switzerland. I’m not going to let cultural attitudes prevent me from progressing in life. My experiences might come as a surprise to you but it is a reality for me. We still have a long way to go before racism eradicates itself from popular culture.

Training as an Analyst - a Black, African perspective

Training as a Black African man in analytical psychology has made me even more aware of the lack of diversity and inclusion in the training field as a whole. The material is mostly from a white perspective, contains mostly white experiences and if there is anything remotely black it is usually relegated to the field of ‘ethnography’. I get round this conundrum by finding information that fits in with my own cultural background. I recently completed my Symbol paper entitled ‘Rearing Cobra’ and actively sought out materials relating to serpent symbolism in Africa. I was fortunate to work with a reader who actively supported and encouraged my research into serpent symbolism in Africa. I’ve also joined BAATN [The Black, African and Asian Therapy Network] who are based in the UK so that I can dialogue with like-minded people about my experiences of training as an Analyst, to network and find mutual support and to learn from others. In my latest podcast, I chatted to Rotimi Akinsete who is part of the leadership team at BAATN about the challenges of training as a Black man in psychotherapy and psychoanalysis. It was a fascinating conversation. I was surprised to hear from Rotimi that he is not aware of any Black men currently training in psychoanalysis.

Why does the field of psychoanalysis lack diversity in its professional and training ranks? First of all, it is expensive to train as an analyst. I’m fortunate to work as a freelance management consultant which affords me the opportunity to train but without such income, I wouldn’t be able to train. Secondly, the training in Jungian institutions is wide ranging and it does touch upon non western cultures but the perspective is mostly western which can dampen non western interest in such psychoanalyst training. Thirdly, it is also a requirement to undergo analysis before and during training. I’m aware of just two Black Jungian Analysts, Fanny Brewster and Alan Vaughan, but there aren’t any more so Black people do not have readily available access to Analysts from their own cultural backgrounds.

The psychological interpretation of dreams, myths and fairy tales are a fundamental part of training as an Analyst. However, most of the materials available for training are most European in nature. One has to work hard to find similar material that isn’t from a European perspective. The total lack of diversity within the training field also contributes to the lack of diversity in the training. There just aren’t enough people requesting such materials for their training. I would love to hear dreams from African clients, read an African myth or fairy tale or explore the unconscious of Africans. Not just Africans but other cultures too; Asian, Latin American without it being relegated to ‘ethnography’. Having said that, I do value my training. There are some universal truths in analytical psychology that transcend racial differences. Jung had a great psychological mind but when you read his work, Jung's Collected Works, his use of the word ‘Negro’ and ‘Primitive’ is so prolific and offensive, it can be hard to let it go.

For example, Jung’s book Symbols of Transformation [Jung's Collected Works 5] marked his break from Freud. In the foreword to the second edition of Symbols of Transformation, Jung explains how the book came to him with a sense of urgency and like a landslide that could not be stopped. The urgency that lay behind it became clear to him only many years later, ‘It was the explosion of all those psychic contents which could find no room, no breathing space, in the constricting atmosphere of Freudian psychology and its narrow outlook’ [Jung's Collected Works 5: 5].

Jung’s break from Freud was partly over their theoretical differences about what is to be meant by ‘symbol’, specifically, the concept, its purpose and content. Jung describes Freud’s conceptual framework for understanding dreams as ‘unendurably’ narrow in that dreams are an expression of a repressed sexuality. Jung reached the conclusion that Freud’s approach to dreams is reductive and disregards what he saw as the teleological directedness or purposiveness of the psyche. However, Jung did not entirely disagree with the Freud’s approach to dream interpretation, but he felt that it ‘moved within the confines of rationalism and scientific materialism of the late 20th century’ [Jung's Collected Works 5: 5].

In Symbols of Transformation [Collected Works 5] Jung states that there are two kinds of thinking; directed thinking and non-directed or fantasy thinking which form the basis of his theoretical argument that Freud’s conceptual framework for dream interpretation is concrete as a result of directed thinking. According to Jung, dreams are also to be taken symbolically which is a result of non-directed or fantasy thinking. He elaborates on this point saying dreams have a hidden meaning and therefore are capable of interpretation using both directed and fantasy thinking. However, he considered the true psychological meaning of a dream can be understood through fantasy thinking. Jung explains the conceptual difference as follows, ‘Those unconscious contents which give us a clue to the unconscious background are incorrectly called symbols by Freud. They are not true symbols, however, since according to his theory they have merely the role of signs of symptoms of the subliminal processes. The true symbol differs essentially from this and should be understood as an intuitive idea that cannot yet be formulated in any other or better way’ [Jung's Collected Works 15: 105].

Jung describes directed thinking as thinking in words, directed outwards to the outside world. It is a form of scientific thinking focused on facts in the here and now, physical objects, and literal definitions. The term ‘concrete thinking’ is itself a metaphor [and a metaphor is a type of fantasy thinking] for directed thinking. In analytical psychology terms, directed thinking is an adaptation to reality and logic. People engaged in directed thinking do so with directed attention and for short periods of time. It is fatiguing to think with directed attention for long periods of time. The material with which we think is language and verbal concepts. It has a single purpose i.e. communication, we think for others, speak for others, and think in words. Jung says it is also an instrument of culture and has its origins in education which has developed directed thinking from the subjective, individual sphere to the objective, social sphere and at the same time has readjusted our thinking in terms of empiricism and science, ‘Cultural development is the mobility and disposability of psychic energy. Directed thinking, as we know it today, is a more or less modern acquisition which earlier ages lacked’ [Jung's Collected Works 5: 17].

Fantasy thinking on the other hand is spontaneous, turns away from reality, is unproductive and a form of abstract thinking which opens up the psyche to engage in symbolic expression and metaphor. The characteristics of the two kinds of thinking bring the distinction between the two sharply into focus enabling us to better understand what we mean by Symbol. Whereas directed thinking is objective and literal, fantasy thinking is subjective and metaphoric, driven by inner unconscious motives and the language of myth, symbol and dream. ‘Much of fantasy thinking belongs to the unconscious realm and brings conscious thinking into contact with the oldest layers of the human mind long buried beneath the threshold of consciousness’ [Jung's Collected Works 5: 39]. The contents or motives of the unconscious i.e. dreams, fantasies, complexes and archetypes are often the sources of mythology and are not to be taken concretely but must be interpreted according to their symbolic meaning, ‘A dream is a series of images which are apparently contradictory and meaningless but it contains material which yields a clear meaning when properly translated’ [Collected Works 5: 6].

Fantasy thinking in contrast to directed thinking is a tireless endeavour and leads one away from reality and subjective tendencies to limitless fantasies. It is a form of dreaming which is both effortless and spontaneous. ‘All the creative power that modern man pours into science, the man of antiquity devoted to his myths’ [Jung's Collected Works 6: 24]. Here Jung observes that earlier mankind adapted the real world to meet his subjective fantasies. Controversially, Jung says fantasy thinking is a form of archaic thinking which he describes as a peculiarity of children and primitives, but he also says the same thinking appears in modern man as soon as directed thinking ceases. Jung referred to ‘Africans’ or ‘Blacks’ as primitive and 'Europeans' as 'modern man' so it can be extremely challenging to read Jung and not feel offended. I’ve reconciled myself to Jung’s writings about Black people. Yes, Jung was a product of the time, and these attitudes still remain even in modern times. Personally, I benefitted from Analysis and it has opened up a new path for me as an Analyst. Racism is everywhere even in the field of psychotherapy and psychoanalysis. It is a part of life and will continue to be a part of life.

Lewis Hamilton, the Formula One Driver, was recently subjected to a racial slur. Hamilton tweeted in response ‘It’s more than language. These archaic mindsets need to change and have no place in our sport. I’ve been surrounded by these attitudes and targeted my whole life. There has been plenty of time to learn. Time has come for action’. I couldn’t agree more with Lewis Hamilton. Black men are often surrounded by and targets of rigid, archaic attitudes that devalue them as human beings. To some people, my blog and podcast is an inspiring self-endeavour but to some individuals, I am going ‘above my station’.

I’m also training as an Analyst because I’d like to make a difference within my own community by providing therapy and analysis to those who need it. Poor mental health remains a taboo in African communities. In Uganda, where my family is originally from(!), there is a psychiatric hospital called Buta Bika on the shores of Lake Victoria which I visited some years ago after a family relative was hospitalised with severe depression and suicidal thoughts. I was in Uganda for a holiday and happened to get in touch with her. She told me that she had voluntarily taken herself to Buta Bika and was undergoing treatment. She told me not to say anything to anyone because she was ashamed of her hospitalisation in a psychiatric hospital. I visited her at Buta Bika and was to my surprise, impressed and touched by the support and care given to her and the other patients. I spent most of my holiday in the beautiful grounds of Buta Bika, visiting her and speaking to some of the other patients. Their stories touched me greatly and I fondly remember my time at Buta Bika.

The challenges I face living and studying in Switzerland are just distractions. I’m determined to succeed and not let the less than positive experiences demotivate me. I’m even hoping to carry out part of my three-month psychiatric clinical placement at Buta Bika if all goes to plan. I do hope diversity and inclusion finds its way into analytical psychology. But there are no signs of any transformational change now or in the near future.


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