Everyone should go and read this surprisingly great article about psychoanalysis in Dissent.
Major themes of this blog are hating on ABA and telling people they don’t love their children properly, but there are actually things I’m in favor of. Psychoanalysis is one of those things.
This is the passage that made me realize I wanted to comment on the article:
Similarly, analysts are no longer claiming that their form of therapy is the be-all and end-all of mental health care. They work in community settings and often collaborate with other professionals, including teachers, psychopharmacologists, and cognitive and body-oriented therapists. In my own practice, I’m currently working with a behaviorist who is helping a child patient with her phobias while the youngster and I look for underlying causes. I’m also collaborating with a speech and language therapist who is helping an adult with auditory processing problems, while the patient and I explore his childhood shame and anxiety at being unable to follow instructions in class, along with his current trouble keeping up with his wife’s banter.
Yes! Support like that should be more widely available to autistic people. “Sensory processing issues” affect relationships. We need the acknowledgement that there are deeper psychological aspects of autism.
The most persuasive accounts of the effects of the recent separation of children from parents at the U.S.-Mexican border have emerged from analytic theory and research, as do the best strategies for helping them. Child psychoanalysts and developmental researchers led the way in describing the devastating effects of disrupting children’s ties to their caregivers. These include anger, despair, and the even more crippling detachment that looks like “playing dead” in the face of overwhelming distress. Therapists have documented the enduring effects of such disruptions into adulthood, including problems regulating emotions, poor judgment, and chronic mistrust of oneself and one’s relationships. They have long argued for rapid attention to these crises, including timely reunions with caregivers whenever possible and appropriate, and the provision of sensitive care in the interval.
Attachment theory is a really good tool for understanding people.
I made weekly visits for almost two years to the home of an African-American couple (Karen and James) who lived in a rough housing project in San Francisco. Their two young daughters (ages two and five) had been removed from their care after one of them suffered severe burns from scalding bath water. The girls had recently been returned to their family home after it was discovered that a neighbor had been responsible for this abuse.
Before we could consider whether I could help them deal with their daughters’ (and their own) feelings about the twin traumas of the burns and separations, it was essential to talk about their anger. They were not just angry about what had happened. They were incensed that Child Protective Services had required them to meet with me, a white professional, in their own home, to administer this reunion. We spoke extensively about whether I could be trusted as I was coming from a bureaucracy dominated by people of my ethnic and class background. Only later, as Karen followed her younger daughter’s lead in a crayon scribbling game, could we talk, amid her tears, about how no one had ever played with her when she was little. This is not to say that the matters of race and power just fell away. But discussing them in the open gave us room to have a more honest and beneficial conversation than ignoring that power dynamic would have allowed.
Those are the conversations I wouldn’t trust CBT people to have.
Some writers, for example, are pursuing the idea of “radioactive identifications”—unprocessed fragments of historical trauma that make their way across generations. After several years of therapy with an Israeli-born analyst, a German immigrant returned to her homeland to tell her family about her pregnancy. Learning that her grandfather had been a Gestapo agent, she became suicidally depressed when she returned to the United States. She and her analyst now talked, for the first time, about her analyst being Jewish, and an array of feelings emerged that helped her find a way out of that depression. Similarly, a number of analytic writers have implored their colleagues to examine their own whiteness and that of their profession.
Efforts to extend such theoretical developments into everyday clinical practice are also taking hold. At a recent symposium of the American Psychoanalytic Association, I heard how, on the day after Trump’s election, a light-skinned black analyst struggled with his complex reactions to hearing his darker-skinned patients deride the distress of white Democrats who were just catching up to what African Americans had felt all along. Another symposium considered how an Australian-American analyst with an aristocratic background and her socialist patient managed to overlook their own class differences and shared privilege as white women, even as they were talking about how the very same issues played out beyond the consulting room.
Again, yes! I worked on my mulatto problems in therapy.
Psychoanalysis has always prized authenticity, introspection, and deep contact. It insists that emotional cruelty and trauma are as real as physical pain, that the truth matters, and that the deeper truths matter the most. It offers a serious but imaginative method that values curiosity and a historical sensibility, pushing against the forces that keep us from seeing what is hidden in plain sight. In a retrograde moment like ours, the analytic ethic provides a strong source of resistance.
It is indeed the opposite of what’s going wrong with our society. Ironically, our society took this direction because corporations applied psychoanalysis to their own ends and created modern marketing. Stigmatizing psychoanalysis directly makes it harder to for people to understand how society works.
I did a year of analytic therapy, a year with someone who was mainly ACT but knew of narrative therapy, and THEN started the Gestalt therapy that led to the autism diagnosis. It was like painfully hacking my way down to the underlying neurology.