Thursday, April 04, 2019

The heart and mind—or soul—of psychoanalysis


These finely if not exquisitely crafted thoughts about the nature of psychoanalysis are from the Preface to Adam Phillips’ Promises, Promises: Essays on Psychoanalysis and Literature (Basic Books, 2001)* [yours truly is responsible for the bracketed material, which I hope is not too intrusive]: 

“As a therapy, [psychoanalysis] investigates character in language in order to make people happier, and find their lives more interesting.” 

“… [P]sychoanalytic writing (and practice) of every persuasion still sounds a bit like religion, a bit like metaphysics, a bit like anthropology, a bit like science. And a bit like what was still called in the earlier days of psychoanalysis, literature [and, I would add, at least on occasion, a bit like philosophy]. Indeed, it has been to literature that psychoanalysts [beginning with Freud himself] have turned when they grow weary of their supposed system, of their technological psychological sentences.” 

“Psychoanalysis, at its best, should be a profession of popularizers of interesting ideas about the difficulties and exhilarations of living. And, as so-called treatment [‘therapy’ is more apt], it should be more about living day-to-day as oneself than about being initiated into a sophisticated or prestigious theoretical system. Listening to what people say, which is more or less what psychoanalysis consists of, should be above all a reminder of fellow feeling.” 

A suitably modest “… psychoanalysis is more committed to happiness and inspiration (and the miscellaneous) than to self-knowledge, rigorous thinking, or the Depths of Being [although any one or more combination of these may come about as an unintended by-product or spillover effect]. It values truthfulness but not truth [or Truth]; and as a clinical practice it prefers small gains to revelations [at least for the analysand, some of these gains may, in the end as it were, turn out to be rather revelatory].” 

“… I think that reading what used to be called Literature is probably a better preparation for the practice of psychoanalysis than the reading of anything else (political history would be a close second). The ethos of psychoanalysis would be greatly improved if was more widely acknowledge that one can no more institutionalize psychoanalysis than one can institutionalize poetry. You can teach poetry, but you cannot teach someone to be a poet. The same is true of psychoanalysis. More people are harmed, though, by bad psychoanalysis than by bad poetry.” 

* Adam Phillips (b. 19 September 1954) “is a British psychotherapist and essayist. Since 2003 he has been the general editor of the new Penguin Modern Classics translations of Sigmund Freud. He is also a regular contributor to the London Review of Books.” 

Relevant Bibliographies


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