Wednesday July 8, 2015
Casey Schwartz article in NY Times Magazine "Tell it About Your Mother: Can brain-scanning help save Freudian psychoanalysis?"
Over the past 5-7 years, I've regularly attended conferences of the American Psychoanalytical Association, and at nearly every meeting one of the principal speakers bemoans the diminishing influence of psychoanalysis (PA), both in numbers of people training to become analysts and numbers of patients. One of the reasons given for this is the lack of interest among psychoanalysts in providing a better scientific basis both for psychoanalytic theories and PA's clinical value. While some psychoanalysts still maintain that since PA is a highly subjective process it can't apply a science-based approach to these issues, in recent years more analysts are working to bridge the gap.
In the interesting article, referenced above, Casey Schwartz attempts to lay out some of the issues involved. She points out that within the last decade two psychoanalysts, Andrew Gerber and Bradley Peterson, have been working together to combine PA with brain research by using functional magnetic resonance imaging to observe neural activity in order "to map the process of transference in the brain." (Transference generally is a Freudian concept involving the transferring of unconscious and earlier conflicts onto present people and situations.) These two analysts are among a growing number who believe that PA must employ more scientific practices to survive.
Although Freud initially was an experimental scientist, he came to realize that the state of scientific research about the brain was not advanced enough to help him answer the psychological issues he was confronting with his patients. Thus, he abandoned pure, so-called, scientific research and created psychoanalysis.
Some of the leading voices advocating closer relationships between PA and neuroscience are Mark Solms, an analyst, neuropsychologist and translator of Freud's works; Otto Kernberg, a highly influential analyst; and Eric Kandel, a neuroscientist who won a Nobel Prize in 2000 for his work on memory. Despite his scientific background, Kandel believes that PA is still crucial to gaining a deeper understanding of human behavior and that neuroscience is not equipped for that.