Have We Lost Our Minds?

Finding your mind in the talking cure

Posted Aug 29, 2012

In my blog as a whole, I really make an effort to translate some of the heavy psychoanalytic jargon into more everyday language.  To help the ideas come alive, I freely borrow from other models of psychotherapy—even from religion, literature, films, tv shows, and comic strips.  That means that I don't always sound like you'd expect a psychoanalyst would sound.

But in light of my reader’s comment, I began asking myself a few questions. Do I confuse rather than illuminate a subject by bringing in a different model? Do I betray my tribe if I wander over to another tribe to take a peek at what they’ve got going on, just in case it might be interesting, useful, or thought-provoking? If I am truly Kleinian, must I dismiss and look down upon other models of therapy? 

I certainly hope not. The attitude of us-vs-them, while so human, is so toxic. When we are overtaken by it, it poisons everything from psychoanalytic institutes to town hall meetings. It makes enemies out of neighbors. It wreaks havoc in political, religious, racial, and ethical conversations.  When valid ­­differences of opinion become hills to die on, we lose the chance to think. 

One of the core values of psychoanalysis—just like many other models of therapy—is open-mindedness. Psychoanalysts do not always live up to this aspirational value, but we do hold it dear. You see, psychoanalysis is fundamentally about thinking. It is called analysis, after all! 

This flexibility of thought in the psychoanalytic treatment approach is expressed beautifully in the title of Jim Grotstein’s recently published book on psychoanalytic technique:   “…but at the same time and on another level…”  He shows how the psychoanalyst needs to think about the complexity of psychological life.  He understands that it is filled with paradoxes. Opposites can co-exist.  Hate and love, dread and courage, the urge to life and the urge to death.  All at the same time, all at different levels. 

I think that all good psychotherapy shares this common value of open-mindedness.  If we really want to understand someone’s wild and precious life—to use poet Mary Oliver’s most delightful phrase—we must be open to seeing it from all sides, in all its depth, in all its complexity.  That is why I am happy to be viewed as and to actually be CBT-friendly.  The diversity of thought enriches me.  Thinking outside my own worldview challenges me.   Open-mindedness is the best path that I know for helping make sense of some truly complicated things.

I think that we, in our culture today, are suffering greatly because we don’t think through the issues of our lives in a very thorough way.  We take an overly simplistic approach to very complex matters.  We hide out in ideologies.  We look down upon the viewpoints of other people.  We do not listen very well.   We shun diversity rather than learning from it.  We have become “anti-mind,” as psychoanalyst Hanna Segal has observed with great concern.

To be clear, I believe it is useful to have a model to work from. Sometimes we are called to take a stand.  It is important to know who you are and what you believe. But if we do so rigidly, we limit ourselves from seeing the whole picture. And the whole picture is the view that tends to help us move forward.

Let me paint it with the broadest of brushstrokes. Whether we identify ourselves as Kleinians or CBT folk, Hatfields or McCoys, conservatives or liberals, pro-Lifers or pro-Choicers, Bible believing Christians or card-carrying secular humanists, perhaps an open mind would help us find our way in this one wild and precious life of ours.   

Copyright 2012 Jennifer Kunst, Ph.D.  Like it!  Tweet it!  Comment on it!