It is time to clear up a few misconceptions about psychoanalysis. Culture, popular or otherwise, has changed. Once, in the film and literature of the mid-20th Century, psychotherapeutic treatment was depicted in largely psychoanalytic terms. A protagonist would speak of themselves in an intimate way, with a figure they trusted. The popular imagination has shifted since then, and consulting a psychologist is now marketed as a didactic experience, an implementation of technique, with little or no subjective element to the process.
The purveyors of these more contemporary treatments speak of psychoanalysis only to besmirch it. In my undergraduate training as a psychologist, it was commonplace for senior academics to speak dismissively of psychoanalysis and of Freud, without having read a word of the latter’s work. Indeed, the dominant paradigm of today – the cognitive therapies – arose in part because Aaron Beck could not grasp elementary psychoanalytic concepts. (Perhaps this is not surprising, as contemporary Anglophone psychology gives primacy to numeracy over literacy, to the point of becoming close to illiterate. Psychological papers are frequently reducible to an abstract and a table or two. But I digress).
Psychoanalysts once had positions in hospitals and community centres, and thus had a voice in the field known as ‘mental health’. Today, there are still analysts aplenty, but they have often chosen the autonomy of private practice over a medical domain which is growing more corporate and cynical. This grants them unprecedented freedom to practice as they see fit, but similarly renders them silent and invisible in an increasingly hostile ideological milieu.
Yet now, more than ever, psychoanalysis needs to find its voice. The dominant parties in determining ‘mental health’ care – academics, regulators, corporate entities and bureaucrats – are, with few exceptions, avowed enemies of subjectivity, and confirmed partisans of biopolitics, social hygiene, and the mathematisation of everyday life. Viewed dialectically, however, these noxious elements tend to produce their own opposite, namely, subjects who wish to speak outside the matrix of social conformist discipline and surveillance. It is essential, then, that when these subjects are suffering, they have a place to turn beyond corporate and bureaucratic paradigms, and outside of narcissistic mysticism and quackery. Psychoanalysis is the only such place at this time, and it should not be left to its ignorant detractors to characterise it.