What is Psychoanalysis: 100 Years after Freud's Secret Committee.
Because the answer would be self-evident, it is unlikely that anything other than an introductory text in another professional field would carry a title such as this. But, despite having occupied an institutional and ideological niche in Western society for over a century, the nature of psychoanalysis remains unsettled and unsettling. More than any other discourse and discipline, it attracts and demands ongoing critical examination. The title of Barnaby Barratt's book tells us both about the perpetually controversial subject of inquiry and the persistently interrogative stance of the inquirer. The subtitle refers to Freud's establishment of a trusted inner circle to defend psychoanalytic orthodoxy from heretical interpretations and practices. This inevitably failed and today the discipline is riven by dissenting factions, dogmatic ideologies, divergent models of human functioning and significantly differing clinical practices.
A prolific author and training analyst, now playing a key role in the newly formed South African Psychoanalytic Confederation, Barratt certainly has the requisite knowledge, experience and authority to interrogate the fundamentals of this peculiar discipline. He sets about his task rigorously, critically and with a blunt disregard for any offence occasioned by his vigorous assertions about what is or isn't psychoanalytic.
The recurrent chapter subheading, 'Mistaken Paths', identifies those deviations that have diluted, misrepresented, or misshapen the psychoanalytic enterprise. Beginning with Freud's own topographical model of mind, Barratt goes on to describe ego psychology as a 'cul-desac' and 'ideological dodge', Lacan's 'disembodied'reading of Freud as 'seriously mistaken', and self psychology as essentially antipsychodynamic, overlooking the inherently conflictual nature of psychic life. Kleinian, post-Kleinian and object relations proponents, especially the 'motley crew' of interpersonal, relational and instersubjective theorists, are targeted for failing to discriminate between the repressed and the descriptive unconscious. Barratt then goes on to state that there are psychoanalysts who have 'repressed the very discovery about consciousness that launched their discipline', and laments that there are versions of psychoanalysis 'that have very little in their theoretical structures to distinguish their conduct from a sophisticated version of the practices of counseling and coaching' (p. 38).
If this sounds tendentious and exclusionary, it is worth keeping in mind that Barratt's project is to differentiate what is quintessentially psychoanalytic from those derivative talking cures that partially and selectively accommodate more domesticated aspects of psychoanalytic theory. Here Barratt is clear: psychotherapy is not psychoanalysis, even if psychoanalytically oriented, and many schools of psychoanalysis are regrettable mutations that have betrayed the radical spirit of the psychoanalytic enterprise. Barratt's approach is to side-step specific psychoanalytic theories in order to redefine psychoanalysis in terms of Freud's most revolutionary discovery--a startlingly unique method (free association) for exploring the processes and consequences of repression. Contrary to how it is often used, Barratt insists that free association is not primarily a means of eliciting information in order to construct new and truthful formulations about the patient's relationships and internal world. Because it is an inherently deconstructive enterprise that defers and destabilizes any presumed understandings of self and other, the psychoanalytic method is not aimed at making unconscious meaning conscious. Insight itself inevitably involves and perpetuates subtler repression because the patient (or analyst) succumbs to a self-deceptive presumption that some newly conscious knowledge adequately answers the questions posed by the ubiquitous tension between awareness and repression. For this reason, psychoanalysis is not a form of insight-oriented therapy but rather 'a commitment to unknowing what appears to be known, rather than to arrive at new positions of apparent knowledge' (p. 171).
This may sound like Barratt channelling Bion, but readers may well ask what is healing about this relentless pursuit of unknowing and refusal of apparently new insights into oneself. Barratt's answer involves an idea of liberation that is an amalgam of the existential and spiritual: psychoanalytic practice
deconstructs the edifices of self-consciousness--including the constructions of belief--that stand in the way of the embodied experience of presence, awareness, and freedom. In this sense, the free-associative method--as the ongoing ethical process of expressing, listening, and opening to the promptings of our experiential embodiment --comprises a natural spirituality, because the libidinal energies of desire are that compassionate lifeforce that connects us with the universe (p. 179).
If this sounds more spiritualistic than psychoanalytic, it is worth noting that Barratt is a 'practicing meditator, who has learned much from several spiritual lineages' (p. 178) and that a number of his publications address broadly spiritual concerns. Is Barratt mining a natural confluence between Freud and Buddhism, or is he reading psychoanalysis through a Buddhist lens? I'll return to this question later. For the moment, however, we don't have to embrace Barratt's spiritual discourse to appreciate how the act of surrender to free associative expression, which necessarily involves experiencing and entertaining forbidden thoughts and feelings, may confront and soften repressive tendencies and fixations, restoring emotional mobility and fostering self-awareness and acceptance.
Following the claim that psychoanalysis is based on free association as the only method for investigating the process and products of repression, Barratt goes on to define three more defining 'coordinates' of psychoanalysis. The first of these concerns the manner in which personal history finds expression as repetition-compulsivity: 'the complex way in which the present realities that captivate us reflect and refract past experiences repetitiously' (p. 49). This does not mean that past childhood experience dictates present psychic reality in a linear fashion, or that psychoanalytic treatment involves remembering infantile traumas, thereby replacing symptomatic enactments with insightful reconstructions of childhood events. We cannot truly remember anything, since the meaning of the past is as much determined by present experience as the present is shaped by the past. And because the past is constantly being transformed in the process of current recall, it cannot be said to determine the present in any linear fashion. This is the substance of Barratt's rejection of 'developmentalist' psychoanalytic models, for example those representing the object relations tradition. Kleinians, he argues, tend to
assume that unconscious phantasies that surface in adulthood represent early experiences, sometimes as far back as infancy, as they actually happened and were experienced at that time. This renders the practice susceptible to the rebuke that everything psychological is progressively reduced to a reenactment of the infantile past, to the point where the individual's destiny is foretold in the first months of life ... (p. 63).
This discredits any claims that psychoanalysis fills in the amnesic blanks, supposedly occupied by symptoms, by linking past and present via transference interpretations of the patient-analyst relationship. Indeed, psychoanalysis does not involve the creation of any healing narratives that provide meaningful accounts of how patients have come to be the individuals they are, since these inevitably serve as defensive evasions of disturbing psychic realities.
The next psychoanalytic coordinate is libinality--the kinetic 'embodied experience that is not yet designable and that animates consciousness towards an expression that can never be fulfilled representationally' (p. 71). The churning desirousness of what Barratt calls the 'bodymind' can never be sated by a particular object or experience, nor understood in terms of any representation or fantasy--it is inherently pre-representational. Psychoanalytic models that focus on understanding and transforming the relational permutations of self- and object-representations thus either ignore or downgrade this energic realm of libidinality. The incest taboo, which underpins all inhibitions and prohibitions, creates the repression barrier that results in a perpetual self-estrangement--libinal experience and expression is constricted, censored and distorted. Barratt clearly takes Freud's supposedly obsolete economic model very seriously, regarding libidinal energy as non-metaphorical reality: 'We then suffer as our libidinality is no longer free-flowing and we become alienated from our capacity for erotic joy' (p. 82).
It is precisely libinality that gives free association--' the practice of listening to the voicing of embodied experience' (p. 86)--its healing import, and Barratt is leery of psychoanalytic approaches that either desexualize and disembody the human subject (self psychology, ego psychology, relational and Lacanian psychoanalysis), or replace libidinality with an emphasis on destructiveness (the Kleinian tradition).
The fourth and final defining coordinate of psychoanalysis concerns the influence of 'oedipal complexities'--the limits of human desire in relation to the ubiquitous traumata of the incest taboo and the ways in which the limits of desire delimit the possibility of our knowing and our being' (p. 88). The impermissible thus becomes the imperceptible and psychoanalysis is, consequently, less about knowing ourselves than about grasping our deep investment in blinding ourselves and avoiding knowledge of our emotional reality. Oedipal complexities involve our awareness of difference (generational, sexual), of loss and exclusion (triadic relationships), of limits (sexual, epistemological), of deficits (the loss of infantile omnipotence), and our experience of self-alienation coincident with the repression barrier. Given that oedipal complexities 'are the sine qua non of any psychoanalytic understanding of the human condition' (pp. 113-114), Barratt is dismissive of developmental models that focus exclusively on preoedipal experience, and has little time for the 'veritable infantophilic and rhapsodic vogue for studies of the Mother-Infant dyad with its journey of separation-individuation written as if there were little more that needs to be said about human emotionality and our interpersonal relations once the child has graduated to toddlerhood' (p. 113).
Having established the necessary and sufficient conditions (the four coordinates) for any healing modality to claim psychoanalytic legitimacy, Chapters Six and Seven are devoted to the distinction between psychoanalytic and therapeutic healing and the attitudinal and technical foundations of psychoanalytic practice, respectively. All forms of psychotherapy (including the psychodynamic therapies) are essentially anti-analytical in that, whatever else they achieve, they foster the emergence of more adaptive and coherent narratives about the self. These are ideologically saturated, imbued with normative standards of health and pathology and, furthermore, provide defensively consoling constructions (new self-understandings) in opposition to the deconstructive kinesis of the bodymind's desirousness. Psychotherapies thus all promote symptom alleviation at the expense of self-alienation, inadvertently sponsoring resistance as the solution, rather than the problem:
Therapy necessarily prioritizes construction over the perpetually deconstructive momentum of free-associative interrogation--a momentum that frees the subject from falsifying certainties--and thus therapy ultimately misses the kinesis that shows the truthfulness of self-consciousness as an incessant revealing and concealing of something otherwise than it takes itself to mean (p. 124).
Psychoanalysis, in contrast, involves 'an unlocking of the alienated structures of self-narration' (p. 125) by refusing to allow static constructions or representations to seduce us into the analgesic belief that we can be whole, coherent, integrated, or even that we can understand ourselves. The only knowledge that psychoanalysis provides us with, by virtue of the free associative method, is that we are constantly other than who and what we thought ourselves to be. Compassionate witnessing of this intrinsic and perpetual self-estrangement, rather than judging or attempting to master it, is the only proper 'aim' of psychoanalytic healing.
Chapter Six, 'Notes on psychoanalytic treatment', is not a consideration of technique as 'there is no technique to psychoanalytic practice ... employing a technique ... implies a manipulative procedure founded on instrumentalist or goal oriented reasoning ... an authoritarian ontology of domination, in which the technician performs an operation on his or her object ... to achieve a specified endpoint' (p. 131). Instead, the chapter comprises a discussion of the analytic attitude and the analyst's activities across the stages of the analytic 'journey'. Written with the trainee analyst in mind, it draws on Barratt's wealth of clinical experience and provides a helpful orientation to psychoanalytic practice. Barratt strenuously warns against the contamination of the analytic process by therapeutic strategies or aims, particularly when these involve 'narratological' interpretation, corrective emotional experience or healing identification with the analyst's functioning. Psychoanalytic healing, he avers, 'is not achieved by the patient coming to identify with any aspect of the psychoanalyst's functioning ... Identifications are positions of self-alienation and ... formation of new identifications is not--perhaps with some limited exceptions--a psychoanalytic process' (p. 159).
There is much to admire in Barratt's bold and uncompromising vision of psychoanalysis. Reading this text is to rediscover just how radical Freud's invention really was; that it cannot be construed as just another therapeutic modality. Barratt renews our appreciation of psychoanalysis as a 'somatic psychology', reminds us how psychically constitutive oedipal realities are, amply demonstrates how apparent insight and the interpretive focus on this may serve both resistance and the analyst's narcissism, and argues that the ethical status of psychoanalysis inheres in its function of ideology critique: it 'subverts the psychological mechanisms by which we routinely endorse all the moralizing codes of conduct, value systems, rules, and regulations that embed our sociocultural existence' (pp. 169-70). The polemical tone is buttressed by impressive scholarship and the author's unswerving conviction that psychoanalysis needs to recover its radical coordinates and assert these against the diluting and integrative interpersonal trend popular in contemporary psychoanalytic theory and practice.
Paradoxically, though, Barratt's purism may be as much a weakness as it is a strength. While insisting his text 'is not to be taken as representative of any particular tradition or school' (p. xvii), it is clear that this interpretation of psychoanalysis is a classically Freudian one, albeit the early Freud before his preoccupation with theoretical orthodoxy allegedly undermined his revolutionary spirit. This stark classicism gives the text a lucidity and precision, but perhaps constitutes its greatest limitation. For example, the insistence that free association is the only means of accessing the dynamic unconscious consigns the idea that countertransference--a topic not listed in the index--may serve as an investigative medium, to the waste bin of 'mistaken paths'. If the prevalent view of countertransference as a conduit for unconscious communication has little purchase in Barratt's psychoanalysis, nor, curiously, does the impact of the analyst's unconscious on the analytic process. While noting that the psychoanalyst is a 'passionate figure, experiencing the full range of emotions towards the patient' (p. 139), the unconscious interplay of transference and countertransference in this passionate partnership is elided here. The psychoanalyst neither acts on these passionate feelings nor reacts to suppress them (p. 139), 'desires nothing for or from the patient' but, instead, gets him- or herself 'out of the patient's way' (p. 162). This self-ablating portrayal leans toward a view of the analyst who, by dint of disciplined self-scrutiny, cultivates a purified equanimity and resists being snared by mutual unconscious influences, desires and enactments. As many have argued, this is perhaps both a questionable and impossible analytic ideal.
Here I wonder about the influence of Barratt's spirituality on his interpretation of the psychoanalytic process. Free association 'comprises a sort of natural spirituality, because the libidinal energies of desire are that compassionate lifeforce that connects us to the universe' (p. 179) and the analyst is presented as a 'spiritual warrior' who 'smiles at his own discomfort, even while in full awareness of it' (p. 139). The impression gained is that the analytic attitude is an extension of eastern meditative practice rather than merely something analogous, which has implications for how the personhood or subjectivity of the analyst is understood.
While frequently cautioning us against narcissistic hubris, Barratt's depiction of psychoanalysis as a 'sacred and sacrificial vocation' (p. 143) also risks courting a spiritually inflated and heroic picture of the analyst: 'Like a mythic figure', the analyst 'takes the 'poison' of the other ... into himself or herself, so as to neutralize it. Not reacting against it ... it is as if the psychoanalyst absorbs and metabolizes the patient's attacks such that they become harmless' (p. 140). Expressed more prosaically, this sounds like the analytical processing of projective identification, but the author does not entertain this concept or explain how the intersubjective process involved may contribute to psychoanalytic healing.
Indeed, by insisting that psychoanalysis heals only by free association and the patient's witnessing of the evanescent productions of his bodymind, most other psychoanalytic 'curative' theories and methods are excluded. This means that the restorative impact of more adaptive compromise formations, retrieval of lost parts of the self, internalization of the analyst's container function, affect management through improved mentalization, weakening persecutory superego structures through identification with the analyst, changing unconscious associational networks, and use of insight to disrupt habitual dysfunctional interpersonal patterns play no proper role in psychoanalytic healing. While free association is distinctive to psychoanalysis, it is now widely accepted that psychoanalytic treatment, whether explicitly or implicitly, involves multiple modes of therapeutic action. Free association is indispensable to psychoanalytic practice, but much of what is helpful to patients involves what Barratt dismisses as non-analytic (i.e. therapeutic), ideologically compromised, adaptive agents. What is possibly missed in the valorisation of one and dismissal of the other, is the inherent and interminable tension between the deconstructive and constructive moments of helpful analytic engagement.
The bigger picture in this regard is Barratt's claim that the variety of psychoanalytic orientations that have flourished over the decades have strayed too far from the four coordinates to qualify as being truly psychoanalytic. It will be interesting to see what rebuttals are mounted by representatives of these orientations. I was reminded of Susan Isaacs' response to Freudian criticism of her paper, 'The nature and function of phantasy', which played a pivotal role in the 1943 British 'Controversial Discussions' about whether or not Klein and her followers were practicing--and legitimately could practice psychoanalysis (Isaacs, as cited in King & Steiner, 1991):
Listening to the selective accounts of Freud's theories offered by some of the contributors to this discussion, and noting their dogmatic temper, I cannot help wondering what would have happened to the development of psychoanalytic thought, if for any reason Freud's work had not been continued after 1913, before his work On Narcissism and Mourning and Melancholia; or after 1919, before Beyond the Pleasure Principle and the Ego and the Id. Suppose some other adventurous thinker had arrived at these profound truths and dared to assert them! I fear that such a one would have been treated as a backslider from the strict path of psychoanalytic doctrine, a heretic whose ideas were incompatible with those of Freud, and therefore subversive of psychoanalysis (p. 454).
Barratt's exacting outline of psychoanalysis will sit uncomfortably with practitioners inclined to a more inclusive (or errant) view of the discipline, but his forceful argument for tightly delineating psychoanalysis in opposition to ersatz or watered down psychodynamic therapies deserves to be read and seriously debated. The fledgling South African Psychoanalytic Confederation will surely benefit from the presence of such a principled and rigorous training analyst.
Given Barratt's involvement in the formal establishment of psychoanalytic training in South Africa, local readers may wonder about how well psychoanalysis will fare in a country with such high levels of poverty, lack of basic mental health resources, and a black majority population that does not historically share the cultural assumptions on which psychoanalysis is based. In his preface, Barratt observes that psychoanalysis 'may have originated in a Eurocentric manner, and subsequently been dominated by the affluence of its North American adoption, but its universal potential as a healing modality is being explored in ways that are ... fascinating' (p. xii). This assertion of universalism is not substantiated anywhere in the text, and sceptical readers may be left in doubt about what psychoanalysis proper has to offer Africa. Psychodynamic therapy, in one form or another, has thrived in South Africa, at least partly because it has proved adaptive to its context and because practitioners have enthusiastically explored modified applications in African communities. Barratt's vision of psychoanalysis, however, eschews adaptation and brooks no modification.
In the final chapter, objecting to the criticism that psychoanalysis is confined to treating the 'wealthy well', Barratt states that 'if psychoanalytic treatment is undertaken authentically, it should untie the affluent from the grip of their ideological commitments, and hence contribute to the alleviation of their role in the perpetuation of oppression' (p. 172). Whether this is true, and whether it is sufficient, remains to be seen as psychoanalysis takes root in Africa.
King, P. & Steiner, R. (1991). The Freud-Klein controversies 1941-45. London and New York: Routledge.
University of the Witwatersrand
Gavin Ivey is currently Head of Psychology and Coordinator of Clinical Psychology training at Victoria University, Melbourne, Australia.