Panel on What is Psychoanalysis?

Warren Holt

It seems clear that psychoanalysis has lost favor in the United States from the heydays of ego psychology and its alignment with medical psychiatry. Our cultural zeitgeist imbued with the hegemony of neoliberal capitalism has moved towards information-based technology, pharmacological remedies, and evidence-based treatments to address neurotic suffering. In general, psychoanalytic practice has reacted by moving away from the authoritarian stance of ego psychology and towards treatment modalities that aim to be both more mutual and symmetrical, regarding the clinical frame of treatment and the role of the analyst.

This general shift away from a “classical” ego psychological stance towards a more interpersonal engagement has raised many questions regarding psychoanalysis’ identity involving the role of the analyst, the analytic frame, how psychoanalysis heals, as well as how does psychoanalysis orient itself to the increasingly consumer-driven marketplace? Furthermore, what makes psychoanalysis distinct from other forms of talk therapy?

In my presentation, I would like to briefly speak to the features of psychoanalysis to which most clinicians of the various analytic modalities can agree. These features include but are not limited to: 1) the attention to transference and its involvement with repetitions, displacements and projections in the analytic situation, 2) the exploration of the patient’s personal history and its relation to repetition compulsivity 3) an investment in a belief that speaking about things in new ways can enable conscious and unconscious change.

While I believe most psychoanalysts can find common ground regarding these three characteristics of analysis, I would like to put forth several additional features I believe to be essential to psychoanalysis which distinguish it from other forms of talk therapies involving psychodynamic considerations: 1) psychoanalysis involving an interpretive focus, as in contrast to an emphasis on suggestive or identificatory processes, 2) psychoanalysis involving nachträglichkeit and the exploration of psychic pluritemporalities, and 3) the importance of an emphasis on free association and how the fundamental rule relates to the analytic frame.

I will articulate on how I believe that each of these features is important in distinguishing psychoanalysis from other modalities of clinical practice. Finally, I will make a case for how psychoanalysis, by emphasizing these distinguishing features, can better address 21st century pathologies which often involve maniacal consumerism, narcissistic disorders and digital screen addictions.