What is Psychoanalysis?
Robert Enoch, 2001
Psychotherapy is a belief system, not unlike religion. And it could even constitute a substitution for religion. Like religion psychotherapy prescribes to a parallel reality, supplant Consciousness for mortal life and the Unconscious for Heaven and Hell. Before the advent of psychoanalysis and its idiom, people looked to God and devils to locate hope and apportion blame. Now psychoanalysis searches into one’s ‘psyche’, or rather one’s memory and thought processes. This makes it a retrospective practice – the Past becomes the instigator of the future. Following on from this causative view of life’s experiences, is the inference that all is governed by the logic of causality. Psychoanalysts sought to give reason to peoples’ behaviour. Indeed, they soon broke out of the consulting room and began to make presumptuous statements about the very nature of mankind. For Freud, our desire for sex was at the bottom of all of our motives.
Psychotherapy and psychoanalysis have evolved from the subjective intuitions of people who analysed the statements made by their patients about their lives and their problems. Through a process of grouping several intuitions together, theories emerged about the ‘unconscious’ nature of man, about the origin of fantasies and dreams, about the causes of ‘neuroses’, i.e. mental illnesses. For example, the central concept of repression is ‘the process by which an unacceptable impulse is driven into the unconscious’1 and furthermore, ‘ideas which have been driven underground can keep breaking back into the conscious mind’2 as slips of the tongue, dreams, fantasies or neuroses. Psychotherapists may wish to be able to help those suffering from mental and emotional anguish but perhaps they can offer no more than to listen without judgement and by doing so help their patients to air their problems?
My personal experience of therapy is that it has little power to change one’s life, however the patient’s motive to seek therapy itself is an acknowledgement of the problem and a positive attempt to change or challenge the situation. I have recently finished two years of group therapy and I am disappointed. My depression, so terrible for being present in the face of my attempts at a better life, remains with me. So why do we go on believing in psychoanalysis? Is it the only hope out there?
Our culture is permeated with science and consumerism – the very notion that ills can be cured and desires can be satisfied. In this sense we intuitively believe in psychotherapy with its promise of solutions, its history and authority of famous names. Today we even consider our life troubles in the language of psychoanalysis: ‘depression’, ‘compulsion’, ‘neurotic’, ‘psychotic’ etc are all well used terms. But ultimately we blame our minds because there is nothing else to blame. In a world where religion and spiritual experience seem hard to comprehend from the mundane perspective of everyday existence we seek solace and enlightenment from the promised infinite complexity of the mind.
After many years of psychotherapy, the one thing I am left with is the notion of the Unconscious – a force beneath one’s actions. But it could be understood as anything from basic instincts and repressed desires to God and the development towards a higher psychic order. Freud said that one of the goals of psychoanalysis is to make the unconscious conscious – to reveal one’s repressed and hidden fears, desires and impulses. The contents of the unconscious appear to be the Holy Grail of psychoanalysis and there’s nothing like the whiff of psychic emancipation to get you going. The goal is happiness of a kind beyond comprehension and liberation from every psychological torment – who wouldn’t wish for this?
Dreams, artistic creation, automatic writing, jokes and word association are all supposed to contain elements of the Unconscious. During group therapy I began to take photographs of forgotten and undeveloped places where wild long grass was growing as well as football pitches. I had no conscious reason or aesthetic interest to photograph these places or collect other images except that they seemed ‘salient’ in some vague way. I have pursued these mysterious inclinations for two years now and this is a book of the images.
Psychoanalysts have a vested interest in believing in the ‘truth’ of its theories, not only because it is their work but because as caring persons they wish to find reasons for peoples’ problems. They are therefore, apt to believe in and find theories and concepts that attempt to explain these difficulties in the logo-centric framework of science. But all the explanations in the world do not signify a cure, which in therapy must be the sole aim. Understanding one’s problems can be regarded as an accomplishment in psychoanalysis, but I have a contention with this because understanding oneself in the context of one particular belief system is highly contextual and one can perceive oneself from the perspective of any metaphysical belief system. Understanding is not ‘knowing’ and does not necessarily precipitate change or solution.
Psychoanalysis is made up of many satisfying ideas that seem ‘right’ or appear to hold ground because they offer reason where before there was unreasonable darkness. As with aesthetics in art, it does not follow that there is anything meaningful to good-looking ideas other than the susceptibility to believe in them. Nor does it follow that such ideas can help make unhappy people happy.
The ruminations of psychoanalysis are merely the reframing of one’s identity and one’s problems in psychoanalytic terms. And why should this be helpful? Metaphysical systems can do the same thing. Human beings crave reason when powerful feelings overwhelm them or threaten their homeostasis, but why resist the fall into the ‘irrational’ when the psyche is clearly in the driving seat? In a world where Reason is a totalitarian presence and even God has been subdued by it, we are bound to call things ‘irrational’ when we don’t and can’t understand them, simply from the result of our upbringing. The most valuable thing psychotherapy offers is the alternative reality of the Unconscious. And through this confrontation it could be possible to find real psychic health (because that is the motivating factor), not in a prescribed way by talking to an analyst but in the dynamic way of searching in life experience. “Hooks and Buoys” could represent a map of unconscious symbols and an attempt at psychic integration. I make no secret of my ‘existential angst’, my ‘crisis of meaning’ or whatever other term might be used.
1 ‘Essential Psychology’ 1994 David Cohen p.192
2 Ibid. p.192