I’m happy to announce that I’m launching a new podcast in January that I’m calling “Mysteries of the Mind.” I’m going to take up a different topic in psychology each week, topics that highlight the interesting and powerful ways our unconscious minds affect our lives. I’m aiming this podcast at lay people, not professional therapists. […]
Psychology and Psychoanalysis
During my psychoanalytic training in the 1990s, I became quite critical of psychoanalytic orthodoxy. In response to this orthodoxy, I wrote a series of articles for mainstream psychoanalytic journals that sought to critique, expand and humanize psychoanalytic theory. More recently, I was delighted to write a regular column for my local newspaper, The Union.
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Sometimes it seems that it took images of crying toddlers and grieving mothers to mobilize Americans against Donald Trump and his Right-wing enablers. Of course, there has certainly been a “resistance” to Trump before now, but nothing like what erupted following the implementation of Trump’s zero tolerance policy. Notwithstanding, the current Right-wing echo chamber’s cynical spin about these news stories, the outpouring of spontaneous indignation about forced family separations at the border spanned the political spectrum. Christian evangelicals, the UN Commission on Human Rights, several Republican lawmakers, and even the Pope were all upset and angry. The depiction of children who lost their mothers sparked greater and more intense resistance than most of Trump’s other offensive and provocative initiatives.
I’m a psychoanalyst. So it was with great interest that I read Daphne Merkin’s New York Times Magazine article about her forty-year history of psychoanalysis and psychoanalytic psychotherapy. Merkin is a terrific writer, a brave observer of her inner life, and a lively critic of the professional cultures devoted to studying and healing inner lives. She found the New York psychoanalytic culture reassuring, even if not always helpful. She says: “…aside from the fact that the unconscious plays strange tricks and that the past stalks the present…..[there is] a certain language, a certain style of thinking that, in its capacity to reframe your life story, becomes—how should I put this?—addictive….Whether [it does] so rightly or wrongly is almost besides the point.”
In our theory and practice as psychoanalysts, we have a tendency to idealize and elevate process goals over therapeutic outcome. This tendency is problematic because it deprives us of a vital check and balance in our technique and can lead to an implicit pessimism about our ability to systemically evaluate and modify our theory of therapeutic action. This trend in analytic thinking is traced, and vignettes are presented to illustrate it. Speculations about the reasons for the tilt toward process goals and away from therapeutic goals are offered.