Tom McGrath – The Institutionalisation of Psychoanalysis

THE LETTER 10 (Summer 1997) pages 1-13

The word ‘Institute’ can be understood to refer to a society or organisation for the promotion of scientific or educational aims or objects. The process of creating structures through and within which these objects can be fostered on a continuing basis could be considered to be what is referred to as ‘institutionalising’ something. It has to do with making it permanent and fixed and looks to the lasting establishment of whatever desirable aim is in question. In this sense then the word ‘institute’ – (and the derived ‘institutional’ and ‘institutionalise’) – has clearly positive associations and sounds like a thoroughly worthwhile enterprise – depending of course on the particular aims in question.

There is also the verb, ‘to institute’, which can mean to establish, found, or initiate and sometimes to appoint. The word is usable legitimately in a wide variety of contexts and with a wider variety of meanings fairly generally carrying the notion of initiating some procedure or system. To ‘institutionalise’ carries something like the same meaning, with the additional sense of putting what has been initiated on a longer-term basis.

However, in contemporary usage the word ‘institutionalise’ more easily carries a negative connotation. For an individual subject to be institutionalised is indeed a fairly dire fate and only something to be done as a last resort, if at all, in these enlightened days. But to institutionalise a set of procedures or a way of doing things is not in any sense so ominous, though carrying with it indeed some risks of killing off the spontaneity and charisma of the original set of ideas. To avoid the negative aura here, one might prefer to speak of the structuring of an activity or set of procedures. This structuring of a set of activities will give rise to a patterned way of proceeding that…

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