Will Psychoanalysis Survive?

A dialogue on the future of Freud's science

Posted Jul 11, 2013

Will psychoanalysis survive? If so, how?

Alan A. Stone, professor of law and psychiatry at Harvard, laments he has lost the feeling and conviction of being part of a collective enterprise.  

He argues the proliferation of the various schools of thought has splintered the conceptual solidarity of psychoanalysis, undermined its theoretical language, and prevented it from becoming a “cumulative discipline.”  Freud belongs to the arts and humanities, Stone contends, and this is where the future of psychoanalysis will thrive.  In response, analyst Jane Hall says competition between the pursuits of science and art is ages old going back to the Greek myths of the Apollo and Dionysus. The God of the sun and reason versus the God of wine, intoxication, ecstacy. The two are always interlaced. Rarely do they combine in optimal balance, but when they do great things happen: from Michelangelo to Picasso to Palestrina, Bach, Stravinsky, the Beatles and Snoop Dogg. 

Both authors agree that Freud was an artist and an historian. Those who continue his adament push to make psychoanalysis a science (perhaps more prestigious in 19thc Vienna) have hamstrung the field.  Most of its history, psychoanalysis has tried to prove itself as a science and disassociated from the arts. Perhaps, more recently, there is a shift in the balance.

Hall contends the main requirement in the practice of psychoanalysis is being able to listen well. "We analysts seem to put a premium on how we help our patients understand their lives by making interpretations and constructions, often based on one theory or another. But, most often, our narcissistic need to cure involves too much activity….”  Crucial to analytic training is reading, going to the theater, to museums and galleries, and listening to music. “The arts open our minds. Listening to a Beethoven string quartet or the improvisation in jazz trains us to hear patterns – so important in our work.”  In helping others, we use our associations to books, movies, even pop songs.

The received wisdom of Freud, if valued too highly, blinds us to our own observations, contends Hall. More helpfully, psychoanalytic theories of the masters (Freud, Melanie Klein, Anna Freud, pick your own) are useful in hushing us, in keep the analyst quiet in order to hear the patient’s story. They ground us during the regressions we witness and undergo so we don't fall in our own emotional relapse. 

Recourse to theory calms the analyst’s unease, says Hall, because it is really "the analyst’s anxiety that must be tamed.”  Theoretical fussiness, among other things, keeps the analyst from being present for the patient's narrative. With experience, we find our own voice, says Hall, which, paradoxically, helps us listen to others without all the props. 





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