Psychoanalysis: The Impossible Profession

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Psychoanalysis: The Impossible Profession
Psychoanalysis, the Impossible Profession.jpg
Cover of the first edition
AuthorJanet Malcolm
CountryUnited States
PublisherAlfred A. Knopf
Publication date
Media typePrint (Hardcover and Paperback)

Psychoanalysis: The Impossible Profession is a 1981 book about psychoanalysis by the journalist Janet Malcolm. It was published by Alfred A. Knopf. The book received positive reviews.


Malcolm discusses the work of a psychoanalyst whom she refers to as "Aaron Green", concealing his real name through the use of a pseudonym. She describes his patients and teaching job at a local medical school, the influence of the psychoanalysts Charles Brenner and Jacob Arlow on his theory and technique, and his dismissal of other trends in psychoanalysis, such as those associated with Jacques Lacan, Otto Kernberg, Heinz Kohut, and Melanie Klein. "Green" reveals much of the inner politics of the New York Psychoanalytic Institute, to which he is attached.[1] He also explores the challenges to his brand of ego psychology that were being presented by the British Object relations theory, and by such American figures as Kernberg and Kohut, in the late 20th century.[2]

Publication history[edit]

Based on material originally published in The New Yorker, Psychoanalysis: The Impossible Profession was published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1981.[3]


Mainstream media[edit]

Psychoanalysis: The Impossible Profession received a positive review from Joseph Adelson in The New York Times.[4] The book was also reviewed in The Antioch Review by Dianne F. Sadoff and discussed by the journalist Mary-Kay Wilmers in the London Review of Books.[5][6] Malcolm discussed the book in an interview with the journalist Gaby Wood in The Daily Telegraph.[7]

Adelson credited Malcolm with providing an accurate discussion of psychoanalysis, including "a lucid and accurate account" of its "current doctrinal disputes" and a "a chilling depiction" of its politics as an organized movement. He also believed that she conveyed "the claustral atmosphere of the profession". He concluded that Psychoanalysis: The Impossible Profession was an "artful book" in which Malcolm showed "a keen eye for the surfaces - clothing, speech and furniture - that express character and social role."[4]

Wilmers described the book as a "very striking" book of reportage.[6]

Scientific and academic journals[edit]

Psychoanalysis: The Impossible Profession received a positive review from Moss L. Rawn in Psychoanalytic Psychology.[8] The book was also reviewed by Joseph L. DeVitis in the Journal of Thought.[9]

Evaluations in books[edit]

The historian Peter Gay described Psychoanalysis: The Impossible Profession as a "witty and wicked" work that had been justly praised by psychoanalysts as "a dependable introduction to psychoanalytic theory and technique" in Freud: A Life for Our Time (1988). He added that it had "the rare advantage over more solemn texts of being funny as well as informative."[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Malcolm 1981, pp. 3–5, 48, 64–67.
  2. ^ Malcolm 1981, pp. 4, 120.
  3. ^ Malcolm 1981, p. iv.
  4. ^ a b Adelson 1981.
  5. ^ Sadoff 1982, pp. 242–243.
  6. ^ a b Wilmers 1985, pp. 10–11.
  7. ^ Wood 2013.
  8. ^ Rawn 1988, pp. 81–82.
  9. ^ DeVitis 1984, pp. 117–122.
  10. ^ Gay 1995, p. 763.


  • DeVitis, Joseph L. (1984). "Psychoanalysis and Education: An Essay Review of Janet Malcolm's Psychoanalysis: The Impossible Profession". Journal of Thought. 19 (4).
  • Rawn, Moss L. (1988). "Review of Psychoanalysis: The impossible profession". Psychoanalytic Psychology. 5 (1).
  • Sadoff, Dianne F. (1982). "Psychoanalysis: The Impossible Profession". The Antioch Review. 40 (2).
  • Wilmers, Mary-Kay (1985). "Fortress Freud". London Review of Books. 7 (7).
Online articles