Monday, October 17, 2011

An Examination of Psychoanalysis (Part 8/13)

Abandoning yourself to thought is a contradiction in terms. Patients need to abandon themselves to feeling. If they are unable to abandon their unreal defensive selves to find the real pained self, then they must indeed rely upon another's interpretation of their experience.
And therein lies the rub.
Defense against feeling is precisely what makes neurosis a matter of mystery and confusion. That the patient cannot be trusted to arrive at his own answers seems to be a self-fulfilled prophecy in the sense that he is prevented from feeling his long-repressed feelings -- the true source of elucidation. And since the therapist doesn't trust the patient to go where he must, the patient doesn't go there and the analyst assumes that the patient cannot be trusted.


Freud recognized that in allowing free association he was also inviting freedom of defense, or "resistance," as it was termed. This resistance had to be dissolved by the analyst's interpretations. Primarily, resistance is what "opposes and blocks the analytic work by causing failures in memory," although it also included the patient's criticism of his own associations. Freud believed that analyzing this resistance provided even more insight than the original associations :, as follows:

The associations which people wish to suppress in this way proves without exception to be the most important, to be decisive for the discovery of the unconscious thought. Resistances invariably confront us when we try to penetrate to the hidden unconscious thought from the substitute offered by the dream element."[1]

Freud needed to take this observation one step further. It is not an unconscious thought that the patient resists, but the threat of overwhelming Pain. Pain makes the thought intolerable; and it is the Pain that must be dealt with. The thought is only a cognitive abstraction, neutral in itself, until it is connected to the Pain that forged it.
What Freud did not perceive was that getting the patient to intellectually accept the analyst's interpretation of his resistance did not in fact remove the resistance; it merely changed its form. It is merely a substitution of thoughts, and no matter how accurate the newly supplied ones may be, disconnection is actually maintained.
Analyzing resistance is still a major part of the psychoanalytic method used today. The patient's resistance is worked on as a problem in itself. Freud believed that analyzing the resistance would eventually lead to the unconscious origin of the neurosis when in fact . analyzing the resistance is itself resistance. Analyzing the resistance keeps the person detached from the very feelings that could liberate him. It mobilizes the cortex in the service of repression, locking up the unconscious contents even tighter.
There is nothing to analyze about resisting Pain. Resistance is just one more mechanism of survival, a biological shutdown in the face of overwhelming danger. Ultimately, resistance is fear, and fear comes from threat, not thought. The system automatically resists more Pain than it can integrate. Resistance is normal and a survival function. To say to the patient, "You are resisting this or that" can make him feel guilty for acting normally. Resistance doesn't evaporate until the Pain does. Then there is nothing to be resist ant against .

Dream Analysis

In addition to free association , Freud used dream analysis to treat neurosis. In fact for Freud, the interpretation of dreams was "the via regia [royal road] to the unconscious." In his Interpretation of Dreams, published in 1899, he described how he came upon the similarity between dreams and neurotic symptoms:

If a pathological idea of this sort can he traced back to the elements in the patient's mental life from which it originated, it simultaneously crumbles away and the patient is freed from it...My patients were pledged to communicate to me every idea or thought that occurred to them in connection with some particular subject; amongst other things they told me their dreams and so taught me that a dream can be inserted into the psychical chain that has to be traced backwards in the memory from a pathological idea. It was then only a short step to treating the dream itself as a symptom and to applying to dreams the method of interpretation that had been worked out for symptoms.[2]

Freud applied his free association to interpreting dreams. In fact, he came to realize that dreams were often the best material for analysis. Since one is asleep (i.e., unconscious) while dreaming, there is little censorship from the ego so that the dream provides the purest possible presentation of the unconscious.
Freud's theory of dreams centered on one main concept: wish fulfillment. He believed that unconscious wishes from infancy and childhood animated all adult dreams. Since "dreams contain the psychology of the neuroses in a nutshell," unravelling their meaning via free association would also unravel the neurosis. Thus, the patient once again reclines on the couch in a relaxed, self-observant manner while producing associations to each part of the dream. Importantly, Freud believed it essential for the analyst to structure the dream for the patient:

If I say to a patient who is still a novice: "What occurs to you in connection with this dream?" as a rule his mental horizon becomes a blank. If, however, I put the dream before him cut up into pieces, he will give me a series of associations to each piece...[3]

These associations, when properly interpreted, would reveal the infantile wishes that actually motivated the dream material in the first place.
Freud broke important ground with his work on dreams, for dreams were generally regarded as nonsense by his contemporaries. Just recognizing that dreams were meaningful was a major breakthrough for psychology. The problem is that his views -- which were again a beginning -- have remained unexplored, unchanged, and unexpanded by his successors. Ernest Jones writes that the conclusions Freud made public in his Interpretation of Dreams "have experienced only a minimum of modification or addition in the half century since the book was published. Of very few important scientific works can this be said."[4] Jones viewed the lack of change as an indication of Freud's accuracy and thoroughness whereas others see it as an indication of his successors' rigidity and compliance.
Based on Freud’s theory, dream analysis is unfortunately another intellectual exercise that negates feeling. Dreams appear to contain images of something more profound. Until real causes are released from below the gates of consciousness/awareness , dream analysis remains intellectual guesswork. In precipitating real change, mind games are not helpful. What is helpful when using dreams in therapy is asking a patient to relive the dream in order to get to the feelings and imprints that gave rise to them. The symbols, images, and stories often reflect imprinted memory. Too often, intense dreams represent early non-verbal imprints remote from the dream itself. To understand an image and its theoretical underpinnings has nothing to do with cure. Only feelings can bridge the gap, and only Pain can lead to feelings. It is feeling that is the royal road to the unconscious; feelings are what is unconscious.

[1]Outline of Psychoanalysis, p. 122.
[2]Interpretation of Dreams, pp. 132-133.
[4]Life and Work of Sigmund Freud, p. 229.

1 comment:

  1. I think a lot of "therapy" is just engineering a different defence system on the cognitive level that allows, at best, the individual to better function in life. But of course, as you say, this does not even touch the neurosis in itself. Again it is just neurosis management. That's all Frued's stuff ever was.

    Andrew Atkin


Review of "Beyond Belief"

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“Belief can manifest itself in world-changing ways—and did, in some of history’s ugliest moments, from the rise of Adolf Hitler to the Jonestown mass suicide in 1979. Arthur Janov, a renowned psychologist who penned The Primal Scream, fearlessly tackles the subject of why and how strong believers willingly embrace even the most deranged leaders.
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Quotes for "Life Before Birth"

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Bailey Endowed Chair of Animal Well Being Science
Washington State University

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