Those of us who work in analytic therapy owe a great deal to Sigmund Freud, whose ideas brought grounding and energy to the discipline of modern psychology. Although many critics have rightly taken issue with some elements of Freud’s theories which no longer comport with enlightened gender politics, the balance of his foundational ideas remains as useful as ever. Now a new book has been published that explores this story in full: “Becoming Freud,” by Adam Phillips. This excellent NYT review uses the publication as a touchstone for a ranging conversation about the nature of mind. Our favorite quote follows. It’s long, but worth it:
The discovery of and exploration of the unconscious was the central drama of Freud’s life, the one thing he kept passionate faith with throughout private and professional vicissitudes. It was through attention to the unconscious that he made his major discoveries, the most important being that from birth to death we are, every last one of us, divided against ourselves. We both want to grow up and don’t want to grow up; hunger for sexual pleasure, dread sexual pleasure; hate our own aggressions — our anger, our cruelty, our humiliations — yet these are derived from the grievances we are least willing to part with. The hope of achieving an integrated self is a vain one as we are equally divided about our own suffering; we do in fact love it and want — nay, intend — never to relinquish it. What Freud found most difficult to cure in his patients, Phillips tells us, “was their (mostly unconscious) wish not to be cured.” There’s not an analysand in the world who will not recognize the bitter if profound truth of these words. As a historian of analysis once said, the best one can hope for in analysis is reconciliation, not cure. But oh! that reconciliation. What a gift it is.
Reconciliation and discovery remain hallmarks of psychotherapy, and we are proud to continue building on some of the most effective breakthroughs in our understanding of ourselves.