Saturday, December 15, 2018

A summary introduction to the Freudian psychoanalytic model of therapeutic psychology

I think it is true that Freudian interpretation depends generally on the everyday reason-explanation model—sometimes calledfolk psychology’—which it then expands in various ways, and that precisely this is one of its strengths. — Marcia Cavell
  1. In brief, and thus minimally speaking, psychoanalytic theory provides us with a theory of irrationality (not identical to existing from other forms of irrationality, psychologically based or otherwise) that involves both propositional and non-propositional mental states or primary and secondary process thinking;1
  2. a philosophically sophisticated psychology, a metapsychology, and a therapeutic model of psychology;
  3. a method of scientific investigation as a “science of subjectivity” (at once intra-clinical and extra-clinical, psychoanalysis being the ‘first great theory and practice of personal life’), psychoanalytic explanation involving both causal relations and relations of meaning, with the analysis of symbolism depending upon their mutual inextricability (we might plausibly imagine a ‘grammar, semantics, pragmatics’ of psychoanalysis);
  4. a dyadic model of therapeutic treatment involving the analyst and analysand;
  5. a triune psyche consisting of the id, ego, and super-ego as subsets, so to speak, of “the person;”
  6. the postulation of a notion of repression as a mechanism that explains the inaccessibility of mental states sans the imputation of intention;
  7. and related to repression, sophisticated concepts of suppression, wish-fulfillment, phantasy, and sublimation implicating “unconscious” as well as sub-conscious and conscious states of awareness;
  8. the building blocks for models of self-deception and states of denial;
  9. the postulation of somewhat opaque and elusive psychological dynamics such as introjection, identification, and projection, as well as more routine or common psychological processes of remembering, repeating, free-association, working-through, and play (or playing);2 and
  10. specific and explicit value commitments, including a commitment to the ideal of truth, which treat in both philosophical and psychological terms, the questions, possibility, and normative importance of moral autonomy, (retrospective and prospective) self-responsibility, happiness or contentment (in the sense of eudaimonia), existential freedom, rationality, and the notion of “worthwhile” or fulfilling life in general.
The therapeutic model of psychoanalytic psychology entails, like most therapeutic relationships, a relation of unequal power involving scientific and therapeutic authority derived from professional training and clinical discoveries, as well as the corresponding knowledge provided by its psychological “theory” or model, “hypotheses,” and methods. The analyst/analysand relationship likewise involves an asymmetry of needs and desires. Reality has been described as “mediated” to the patient by the analyst in the form of an “erotic” communication bringing into conjunction and play both the “pleasure” and “reality” principles. These facts become conspicuous with the onset of transference, as the analyst becomes the embodied site of an “auxiliary” ego or super-ego as an idiosyncratic world comes into view, soon followed by counter-transference: psychological dynamics which place the analyst in a “privileged” position as historian, teacher, and healer (through transference, resistance, and interpretation), although there remains a risk that the analyst and analysand will enter into a “narcissistic” collaboration. The therapeutic setting relies on forms of linguistic, symbolic, and bodily communication that assume the presence of various levels of conscious and subconscious mental states that respond to processes of empathy, self-observation, and (clinical) judgment. The clinical setting becomes a safe and trusting space for “play” which, in turn, is capable of transporting the participants into another “world”/reality, one with its own situational constraints. This fragile yet safe space for play and spontaneity permits the emergence of a genuinely shared reality betwixt and between the individual lifeworlds and worldviews of the analyst and the analysand.4 

Psychotherapy demands the mastery of a therapeutic craft or art by the analyst and the acquisition of sundry emotional and practical-cognitive skills on the part of the analysand. One—if not the—overarching goal of the therapeutic process is to account for and overcome the analysand’s lack of self-knowledge while providing the psychological space for at least a rudimentary commitment to the process of individuation.5 The knowledge of other minds, which presumes a model of folk psychology, permits and encourages experiential sensitivity (‘concentrated listening’) that is simultaneously personalized and contextualized—built up over the course of a long and profound acquaintance with a particular person and his social and cultural surroundings (both large and small), and informed, meaning the psychoanalyst will draw upon an  extensive conceptual vocabulary and clinical training to make sense of what the analysand has been motivated to say, as well as making inferences with regard to what has not been said (motivated or otherwise). Narratives of one kind or another, be they fragmented or manifestly coherent, involving memory (with varying degrees of veracity) and notions of personal and collective identity, will often be prominent in the clinical setting, although the analyst must remain cognizant of the possible if not likely difference between actual lives and the stories told about those lives. 

Psychoanalytic psychology has shared conceptual and disciplinary boundaries with medicine and psychiatry, academic psychology, biology, the neurosciences, sociology, anthropology, and the humanities, especially art, literature  (e.g., narrative and hermeneutics) and philosophy (in particular, philosophy of mind: consciousness/subconscious(ness)/the unconscious, the emotions, personal identity, and moral psychology, but also ethics, epistemology, and even metaphysics).6 With regard to ethics and moral psychology, questions of egoism, psychological and ethical hedonism, moral conscientiousness, wishful thinking, weakness of will, self-deception, and denial may be prominent. With regard to moral psychology, the emotions, rather than drives, are now often at the center of its theory of motivation, and motivations are recognized as typically mixed and “overdetermined,” as the traditional conceptual cluster of terms that define Freudian metapsychology (instincts and drive theory) are often challenged, revised, or even rejected.7

    1. Jonathan Lear elaborates: “Psychoanalysis tends to move simultaneously in two directions. On the one hand, it tries to discover a hidden irrationality in the thought, speech and action which presents itself as rational. On the other hand, it tries to find rationality hidden within the irrational. There among the flotsam of dreams, physical symptoms, slips of the tongue, psychoanalysis discovers that mind is active.”
2. Cf. Lear: “In the analytic situation there tends to be an inverse correlation between remembering and repeating. In the analytic situation, ‘the patient does not remember anything of what he has forgotten and repressed, but acts it out. He reproduces it not as a memory but as an action; he repeats it, without, of course, knowing that he is repeating it.’ So, for instance, the analysand does not remember that he used to be defiant towards his parents, but he acts defiantly now toward the analyst.”
3. Cf. the late Eugene Victor Wolfenstein: “In theory and practice Freud offers us only amelioration of and consolation for the pain of being human—only the chance to be ordinarily unhappy.”
4. Cf. Lear: “The psychoanalytic situation is structured to offer an existential Sabbath: a benign environment that does not produce too much anxiety....”
5. Again, in the words of Lear, “Freudian method has a Socratic quality to it: through a particular type of ‘cross-examination,’ the patient’s own beliefs about his past and his emotional life are elicited, and eventually ‘refuted’—in the sense that he is shown to have an inadequate conscious understanding of who he is, what has happened to him and how he feels about it.” Moreover, “[f]ar from seeking to return a disturbed individual to a preexisting order, as the shaman, healer, or priest did, [Freud] formulated the analytic project as a personal and provisional hermeneutic of self-discovery, one that a psychoanalyst could facilitate but not control. In this way, he gave expression to possibilities of individuality, authenticity, and freedom that had only recently emerged, and opened the way to a new understanding of social life.”
6. As Joseph Schwartz says, “To those who regard the world of human feeling as inherently unreliable, who distrust the novel and poetry as a source of human knowledge, the claims of psychoanalysis will always be unsatisfactory.”
7. Ernest Wallwork reminds us that “...Freud expressed great caution with respect to his entire meta-psychological enterprise. He repeatedly described the metapsychology as ‘tentative,’ ‘speculative,’ and ‘hypothetical,’ and even went so far as to call it a ‘phantasy,’ a ‘myth,’ a product of wish fulfillment on the part of its creator.”

My bibliography for Freudian psychology is here. The introduction to that compilation contains embedded links to related bibliographies (e.g., on ‘the emotions,’ and ‘dreams and dreaming’) that may also be of interest.


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