So, here goes my first post. Perhaps it is best to begin by describing just what it is that I am “up to” here. This is a blog about any and all things psychotherapeutic, an intentionally unsystematic wandering through whatever aspect of what Freud called “the work” tickles my fancy at the moment. I am not writing primarily to entertain a hypothetical audience. Good writing is usually an inner dialogue that has been opened up to the public for inspection. So, truth is, I am really facilitating a discussion between different aspects of myself. You will get to listen in to this inner dialogue and, perhaps, in the process of doing so, you will find something provocative, intriguing and/or relevant to your life.
Since age nineteen I have been obsessively interested in psychoanalysis. Over the next ten years of schooling I slowly turned my private obsession into a public career…and so here I am, now in my mid-fifties, having practiced the craft for about twenty five years. It is through the Freudian and Neo-Freudian psychoanalytic theoretical windows that I will most often view my topics. If these theories are not familiar to you, well…relax. All will be explained in time. For now, suffice it to say that the Freudian school posits the existence of an unconscious dimension of the mind as the source of all beauty and torment in our inner lives. Analysis of the unconscious is believed to untangle inner conflicts and alleviate neurotic suffering, so that the individual may struggle more realistically with the everyday unhappiness that is life.
All that said, I am no unquestioning devotee or “true believer” when it comes to psychoanalysis, or any theory. Hence, I will freely draw on other theoretical perspectives, to the degree that I feel that I can talk about them intelligently. If I seem narrowly focused on a psychoanalytic view of things, it is not necessarily because I think that this is unquestionably the “best” view; it may simply be that I am ignorant of other ways of looking at the problem. This is where the role of the interested reader is most important: a reader who posts a comment offering another idea as to how else to fathom the topic at hand restores balance and harmony to the universe once more! Of course, if someone posts a description of theoretical understanding of an issue when I do happen to feel that a psychoanalytic “take” is really superior, then this is an opportunity for a respectful and lively debate, one from which both parties may evolve intellectually, and, who knows, perhaps even emotionally.
While good writing is fundamentally the public transcript of an author’s inner dialogue, as noted above, this should not be taken to mean that it is utterly self-involved. The private and the public are understood as intertwined in the act of writing; otherwise, the act of writing would have no relevance, and one would be content to mull things over in isolation. The writer muses, then turns his or her musings over to the public realm for a response of some kind. I share my private ponderings about psychotherapy in this public forum called a “blog” because I seek such a response, and also because I believe that others may benefit from reading them. I intend this blog to be an accessible, reader-friendly resource for all persons who are interested in the theory or practice of psychotherapy, or what is often simply called “therapy”. This means that I am consciously attempting to write in a manner that is non-technical, hence accessible to anyone and everyone who thinks about the role of therapy in the modern world, for whatever reason.
Psychoanalysis is often seen as anything but accessible to the general public, who find Freudian concepts to be dense or simply bizarre. Further complicating things is the fact that Freud is a cultural icon, and is often viewed with a certain awe by people both inside and outside of the psychotherapy community. Hence, some readers may find a Freudian “take” on psychotherapy to be a bit intimidating, in that it seems to be addressing its topic from atop some arid intellectual height open only to old men in tweed jackets and the occasional jumbo jet.
I get it. But, before you throw in the towel about this perspective, let me formulate a therapy vignette that may convince you that psychoanalysis is eminently “practical”, despite the fact that it also addresses rather hefty philosophical and social issues about human nature, society, and human destiny. Let’s take the example of a father who comes to me seeking techniques for helping his son to be less distracted at school. The boy is failing, and he and the son are embroiled in ever-more-severe conflicts about the son’s schoolwork and performance. However, through the course of our dialogue across several weeks, the father starts to consider that it is actually his unconscious anxiety about his own success that is being conveyed to the boy, and which is fueling the youngster’s distractibility. Let’s say, hypothetically, that the father let slip that he himself struggled academically when he was a child, and that his own father would regularly call him “lazy” and “stupid” as a result. In this case, the boy embodies the father’s disavowed, “split off” dread of failure, provoking the father to forcefully pressure the youngster to succeed, and at all costs. Of course, no one likes to be pressured in this way, and a child exposed to such a demand will unconsciously and instinctively rebel…though the rebellion may be disguised in the form of a symptomatic inability to comply with the parental injunction. If the father can understand and integrate the foregoing into his understanding of their relationship, a potentially damaging interpersonal impasse between the two may be turned into an opportunity for increased objective love for one another. For the father, this represents a real shot at resolving a longstanding source of self-loathing of which he was only dimly, if at all, aware.
In light of the above, I hardly need to ask what the Freudian perspective has to do with actual human needs and problems. The answer is obvious, I think…only everything. Psychoanalysis may deal in some rather abstract speculations about human nature, it is true, but these ideas are also easily and naturally applied to common human personal and interpersonal dilemmas. Freud’s notions challenge our “common sense” bias that we know ourselves and our motives. You might say that his theory replaces “common sense” with “uncommon sense”, one that is eminently pragmatic. Parenthetically, I should add that Americans seem to believe that “practicality” means that one only acts based on the most self-evident and superficial aspects of a presenting problem. As you have probably inferred by now, Freud’s theories do not have much respect for the “self-evident”; psychoanalysis thinks that “common sense” usually misunderstands what drives humans to act as they do. The best evidence for the “practical” nature of psychoanalysis is found in the fact that when the therapist draws upon Freud’s admittedly grand and abstract speculations about human nature, the result is often that he or she relieves a certain amount of the daily pain and suffering of real people.
That’s all I got. See you later.