The Comeback Couch

Dust off the couch. But let go of your id. Psychoanalysis is back. With a difference.

After two decades of decline, the therapeutic method that Sigmund Freud made famous is enjoying new popularity. This time around, however, it's been purged of some classic orthodoxies, made female-friendly, and cut free of its medical roots.

Across the United States, a new crop of psychoanalytic institutes is springing up to turn out practitioners, now drawn for the most part from psychology. In the old days, in keeping with Freud's dictates, psychoanalytic training was largely restricted to M.Ds. Even the old-line institutes have recently had their doors pried open by psychologists who successfully sued.

What the newcomers bring with them are fresh theories and practices. "They've introduced cutting-edge relational views," claims Jonathan Slavin, Ph.D., head of Boston's Massachussetts Institute for Psychoanalysis. "The analytic process is now seen as a two-person field. The analyst is involved."

More than 50% of the new analysts are women, and they have forced the most profound change. Feminists have long challenged the Freudian view of development, which regards women as defective men--weaker because they are more attuned to relationships. "The psychoanalytic model of mental health is no longer the autonomous, isolated Western male," says Slavin. "We now see that all people are embedded in relationships from the beginning."

Dying too, say the avant-garde, is the theoretical imperialism that made analysis cultish and rigid. Fast fading is the strict Freudian ego psychology, although psychoanalysis is still based on the belief that most thoughts and feelings are outside the conscious self.

One factor spurring interest in psychoanalysis may be its view of that most contemporary social problem, trauma and sexual abuse. "Psychoanalysis offers the only comprehensive way to understand the massive effects of trauma on personality formation," contends Slavin. "It understands splitting off, dissociation--processes the mind goes through in order to survive. It understands that the longing for good parenting affects how a child handles the bad parenting, and how the information gets stored in the mind."

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