Monday, May 6, 2013

Happy Birthday, Siggy

One hundred, fifty-seven years ago today, little ‘Siggy’ was born to a young, beautiful mother and an aging father. Sigmund Freud (b. May 6, 1856) would grow up to be the father of psychoanalysis. He would give us both a way of conceiving of the mind, by emphasizing the Unconscious, and a technique for accessing it, free association. It was from his self analysis, especially of his dreams, that he developed the latter, and wrote his magnum opus The Interpretation of Dreams (1900).

A lot in psychoanalysis has changed since fin de siècle Vienna. While Freud conceived of the mind as monadic, a closed energy system pressing for the discharge of the libidinal and aggressive drives, contemporary psychoanalysts now recognize that the mind develops within, and is continually influenced by, an interpersonal context. Freud in 1923 posited the structural theory of the mind and a dynamic unconscious where the id, ego, and superego were in constant conflict. Today, additional motivations, including intersubjectivity and attachment, are privileged. Dissociation seems as prevalent, or more so, than repression of conflictual material.

In Vienna, Freud advised abstinence, neutrality, and anonymity to avoid the pitfalls of the heightened psychological intimacy engendered in the therapeutic situation. Today we recognize the inevitability and usefulness of intimate (not physical) involvement with patients and how enactments, if reflected upon, aid the psychoanalytic process.  Freud conceived that relational patterns are ‘transferred’ from previous important relationship figures onto the analyst, and today we also make use of the real and unique components in the therapeutic relationship. Perhaps one of my favorite ideas of Freud’s is that patient’s and analyst’s unconscious speak to one another, something now confirmed by neuroscience research and elaborated in ideas about implicit relational knowing.

Freud catapulted us into a great adventure, and thus we are exploring a vast, unknown frontier. Psychoanalysts report high job satisfaction and an unparalleled professional longevity and for these we are grateful. So HAPPY BIRTHDAY, Siggy!

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