Let’s start with what psychoanalysis is not…
- It is not manipulative treatment like so many of today’s psychotherapies … rather, the psychoanalyst and the patient cooperate democratically in a profound adventure of inquiry and healing.
- It is not like a medical treatment in which the doctor does something to the patient … rather, with the assistance of a profound process that the psychoanalyst helps facilitate, the patient experiences greater freedom to understand his or her own life.
- It is not like a physical treatment that requires the patient to pop pills or undertake some sort of neuroscientific intervention … yet patients almost invariably experience significant changes in their body and mind, as they explore the many dimensions of their lived‑experience.
- It is not a process that assumes that patients will be “happier” if they adapt, adjust to or comply with, their role as “another brick in the wall,” a “cog in the machine,” or the hapless victim of their circumstances … rather, psychoanalysis not only addresses who we are, but also why we are, and what we are, which implies that it inquires not only about our inner life of fears and fantasies, but also our outer life as participants in a world that is characterized by injustice, exploitation and oppression.
- It is not a discipline that supports and reinforces the economic and sociocultural systems of sexism, racism, classism, nationalism, and so forth … rather, it empowers each individual patient to understand these systems and participate in more effective opposition to them.
listening, truthfulness and liberation
So what is psychoanalysis, in this understanding of its process? Here is the simplest definition (although we must recognize that the processes being defined are extraordinarily and enigmatically complex):
Psychoanalysis is the inherently experimental, ethical and existential praxis of free‑associative speaking and listening, undertaken by a patient but of necessity requiring the caring presence and participation of a qualified psychoanalyst. By this method, dimensions of human experience that have been repressed from the patient’s self‑consciousness are given voice, which has profoundly freeing effects on the patient (as well as the participating psychoanalyst) in terms of the holistic fullness of the lived‑experience of each individual’s bodymind.
Here is a slightly fuller definition:
Psychoanalysis is a unique method of listening to the living and lived‑experience of being human, the experience of our being‑in‑the‑world. As spiritual‑existential and sociopolitical praxis, it is a liberatory process that facilitates the freeing and the truthfulness of each individual via a dynamically deconstructive and negatively dialectical exploration of her/his psyche. The psychoanalytic method is that of a patient’s free‑associative speaking in a setting that offers the psychoanalyst and the patient optimal opportunities to engage in the workplay of listening together to the multidimensional meaningfulness of the various ‘voices’ that impact upon and reside within each of us, including the elusive, enigmatic, excessive, extraordinary, exuberant and unrepresentable voicing of desire that is repressed.
It is obvious that crucial to both these definitions are notions such as desire as the psychic energy that animates our thinking, feeling, wishing and fantasizing, as bodymind (which refers to the inseparability of our physical and our mental being‑in‑the‑world, or lived‑experience as existentially meaningful), and as the free‑associative method. The latter of these can be defined as follows:
Free-associative discourse is the complexly dynamic process in which the individual voices, aloud and without any censorship, her/his streaming of consciousness in the more‑or‑less silent presence of a well qualified psychoanalyst, who is compassionate, appreciative and graceful.
To understand these ways of thinking about the uniquely healing science of psychoanalysis, you are recommended to undertake the challenge of reading the “Rediscovering Psychoanalysis” trilogy: