The Noncorrective Emotional Experience
So-called neo-Freudianism covers any number of different theoretical angles and therapeutic methods that have been developed over a long period of time by many different psychoanalysts. They come together as neo-Freudians because their positions , developed from Freudian psychoanalytic concepts modified rather than discarded the Freudian model for the origin and treatment of neurosis. Neo-Freudians tend to reject the same Freudian notions, though they do not always replace them with shared viewpoints.
At the head of the neo-Freudians were some of Freud's own colleagues who defected from orthodoxy at one time or another. Key figures in the emerging heresy were Alfred Adler, Harry Stack Sullivan, Karen Horney, and Eric Fromm. Although all of these theorists parted company with "the master" on significant issues, none of them rejected Freudian thought or methodology wholesale.
Emphasis upon the influence of childhood experience was maintained by the neo-Freudians, with neurosis still viewed as the result of unassimilated childhood disturbances. While "intrapsychic conflict" is still part of the more recent analytic focus, early life experience has been increasingly relegated to that of a reference point. It is thought to be helpful in understanding how the neurosis emerged, but is not considered to play an active role in recovery. The most obvious parting of the ways with Freudian orthodoxy came over the issue of instinctual drives (the libido), a central dynamic in the Freudian scheme. The neo-Freudians dispense with the issue of infantile sexuality (or at least show far less concern for it), favoring instead a focus upon the present environment with its ongoing interpersonal dynamics. As a result of this trend the matter of repression and the unconscious has gradually lost attention, with the here-and-now interactions of daily life coming to the fore.
Therapy for the neo-Freudians focuses on how the person feels in his environment, what he perceives his needs to be, and how he sets about satisfying them. It probes into problems of "self-evaluation" (such as insecurity, unassertiveness, and low self-esteem) toward the goal of helping the patient develop practical "self-management" skills. Working from the premise that the patient is disabled by bad experiences, the main thrust of neo-Freudian therapy is to provide what Franz Alexander termed a "corrective emotional experience." Here it is believed that positive experiences in therapy will undo tangles wrought by the bad ones. For example, because the patient "learns" in therapy that not all authority is strict and unyielding or indifferent, such new, good experiences will adjust his view of himself in the world and enable him to set about life with sensible, realistic attitudes and restored self-confidence.
The magical notion is that by working through the transference and aided by the corrective emotional experience, the person will change. Unfortunately, iIf chang e w ere as simple as a corrective good experience , then all neurotics who have loving partners as adults should stop being neurotic. Not the case.
After all, transference in Freudian terms means transferring emotional reactions in the past onto the present. It doesn't mean simply transferring onto a therapist. Whatever needs remain unfulfilled from child will be transferred onto anyone, including one's children. Thus the child becomes the act-out for old feelings and needs.
All of this is no more than saying that you cannot "love" neurosis away. That concept is an old liberal, democratic notion that love solves all.
Does it not make better sense to avoid analyzing the transference and go straight to the need, which is omnipresent? The transference will then no longer be possible. Besides, emotions are not there to be corrected; they are there to be felt. The emotional residue continues on until they are felt. If one hates one's father and is transferring that onto a therapist, a soon as the hate is felt in its entirety, over months and months, the transfer will disappear.
In modern analysis, the length of therapy tends to be much briefer than the protracted excavation of Freudian psychoanalysis. This seems to be the case 1) because immediately observable change in adjusting to the here-and-now is the objective of therapy, and 2) because the vast area of experience which lies behind the barrier of repression -- the past -- is largely removed from the picture, or if not removed entirely becomes a kind of after-thought of the therapy. Thus there are usually fewer sessions per week, with a reduced emphasis upon free association. The neo-Freudian therapist is generally more flexible and eclectic than his orthodox counterpart. He tends to play a more active role with his patient, intervening more readily to focus on patterns of attitude, behavior, and self-evaluation.
In the end, neo-Freudianism drifts towards behaviorism, bringing principles of learning and even conditioning to bear. By abandoning the more abstruse mysteries of Freudian thought, the neo-Freudians have allowed the vital importance of key concepts like repression and past causes to lapse. Because of the inadequacies in Freud's original techniques for dealing with the past, in their efforts to discard the inadequacies, the neo-Freudians have thrown out the past altogeth er, not unlike throwing out the baby with the bath water.
Shift to the Here and Now
Freud believed that current personal problems were founded upon the repressed experiences of childhood, the key to which were the stages of psychosexual development. Beyond that he was concerned with the clash between the murky remnants of man's primitive, instinctual life and the civilized being that he endeavors to be. Thus, neurosis resulted from the intrapsychic conflicts created by repression. For this Freud prescribed a lengthy mental probe into the unconscious to discover the root causes. This painstaking reconstruction of a person's history, when set against the backdrop of man's evolution and innate biological constitution, would lead to understanding of what was wrong and, in turn, provide the person with more conscious control over his life. The interpretations by the analyst and the patient's growing own insight would allow him to adjust to the prevailing realities of civilization.
The neo-Freudian analysts depart from this classical approach in several ways. The shift from emphasis upon discovering unconscious conflicts rooted in childhood to a focus upon current life situations has been gradual, as each generation of analysts has become dissatisfied with various methods of its predecessors. The first phase of rejection was instigated by Freud himself who, during the latter part of his life, had begun to lean towards making the ego rather than the id the concern of analysis. In a sense, it was not the personal past that was rejected but the innate, phylogenetic legacies of the species' primitive past that lost their central importance. Freud spoke of analysis necessarily fluctuating between the id and the ego. Modern analysts rarely bother with the id and its libidinal drives. They prefer to focus instead upon the ego and its defense mechanisms: the here-and-now aspect of consciousness. Those analysts tend to call in the individual's past only when it serves to throw light upon how the ego is conducting itself within the present environment.
Although modern analysts agree that neurosis may be the end product of repressed conflicts left over from childhood, they do not give these conflicts the same importance as did Freud, nor do they focus on the same conflicts. The patient, they would say, lives here and he lives now. Therefore the context demanding the most attention is the present one. Whatever its historical basis, the neurosis thrives at the moment and is clearly bolstered by the current environment in which the patient moves and has his being. This environment inevitably includes what are rather laboriously called interpersonal relationships. True, new-Freudians acknowledge, how the patient conducts himself within that environment may have a lot to do with how he grew up. But once he has become enlightened (which is the task of therapy) he will discard these anachronistic, self-defeating behaviors in favor of more suitable ones for the here and now.
The late Franz Alexander, a pioneering founder of psychoanalysis in the United States, enunciates the modern Freudian relationship to the past in this statement:
We could center the patient's attention on his real problems and should turn his attention to disturbing events in the past only for the purpose of throwing light upon the motives for irrational reactions in the present.
This declaration equate s only the present problems with "real" problems. It is presumptuous for the therapist to decide where the patient should focus his attention. Certainly the patient with his problems should be allowed the right to go where he must.
To refer to the past only to "throw light" upon motives is to miss the point on two counts. The past is not simply a record, a library of academic information; it is a living state which infuses, permeates, and in many ways determines the present. The neurotic does not live in the here-and-now. He is stuck in the past. His present is colored by the past. To use a modern colloquialism, "the past is happening." It is not a separate story written in the pages of some carefully preserved personal history book over which dust has fallen, but is alive in the cells, tissues, and chemistry of the brain and body. We are what we were, trying to get what doesn't exist; acting out a past we cannot feel. Yet we erroneously refer to the past as if it were an external place physically distant from us. To see someone racked by a repressed grief, to see man or woman dissolve into a hurt child, is to understand how the Painful past has lived on within us. To feel it oneself is to understand that much more clearly.
But the neo-Freudians have moved away from addressing that past and toward Behaviorism: stamp in good behavior, stamp out the bad/neurotic. This is not an improvement on Freud. Quite the opposite. They have moved toward a non-historical, non-dynamic approach when the opposite is called for. One can use behavior therapy, biofeedback, and other techniques to correct the blood pressure, but the tendency remains. Correcting the blood pressure through behavioral techniques tries to get the patient to live in the present. But it is only ephemeral.
Among the non-libido analysts, there was a move towards encouraging patients to show feeling. There was an increased recognition of non-verbal aspects of consciousness. However, these new directions were never taken quite far enough.
Karen Horney, a very well known analyst in the thirties and forties was one of the first to ask patients to report what they were feeling rather than just what they were thinking. It was a significant step. But to Horney the task of therapy was still interpretation of attitudes towards the self and interpretation of defenses. Although she paid attention to non-verbal signals in this endeavor, there is no indication that she saw beyond the underlying dynamics. While she accepted that a person could recall his past and reveal it verbally, she apparently did not recognize that emotional intrusions which often accompany these revelations are not simply caused by the memories entering awareness, but are in fact repressed memories themselves. They are not signals of ideas, attitudes, wishes, or other elements of the mental sphere but signals of the imminent eruption of intense Primal feelings. Freud and early post-Freudian theorists had a much better idea of the importance of not only uncovering "forgotten" memories but of allowing the affect or feeling bound up with the memories to surface simultaneously. His descendants would have done better to return to some of the original aspects of psychoanalysis. Although many modern analysts do pay lip service to the notion of allowing the feelings inherent in repressed memories to surface, what they do in practice often militates against such an experience.
The neo-Freudian equivocation toward actually feeling the past seems to have turned more recently into a headlong flight away from it.
_I am not including Carl Jung, Wilhelm Reich, Otto Rank, and Sandor Ferenczi. Although Freudian thought was their springboard for defection, they ventured beyond what is generally known today as neo-Freudianism.
Franz Alexander, Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy (New York: Ronald Co., 1946), p. 88.