Sunday, 28 August 2016

The Benefit Of Psychoanalysis

Ever since I was quite a young man, I've always been fascinated by psychoanalysis; the idea that people's emotional problems could be fixed by raking over their subconscious thoughts and feelings. The fact the conscious mind often denies or obstructs the access to the subconscious required to fix the problems is also an interesting component part to psychoanalysis.

I should make very clear, I am not a qualified Psychoanalysist so therefore I will definitely not be attempting to psychoanalyse anyone. If people feel that analysis could help them, they should seek a fully qualified doctor.

However, I have done some private study on the subject of psychoanalysis, so at least I can introduce the topic and encourage people to think about it being something that could benefit them.

Of course, Psychoanalysis was originally 'created' by Sigmund Freud, who by my judgement got some of it right, but Freud's more weird and wonderful ideas should be quietly dropped. In the years since it has been refined and has long since been a legitimate and accepted part of psychiatry.

Anyway, I'm now going to talk about some of my own amateur psychoanalytic observations and what I think they might mean. My observations could be wrong so please don't take them too seriously, but that said I think it's worthwhile to throw them out there.

It seems to me that much neurotic illness is caused by the unhealthy side of pride. It's not just me saying this, psychoanalysis talks often, for example in the work of Karen Horney or Dr Terry D Cooper about the concept of neurotic pride - the Bible describes a similar phenomenon as 'original sin'. As of course Satan fell from grace as he wanted to be 'greater than' God for no good reasons. It goes without saying there are other negative emotions that analysists have to deal with, like say jealousy or unforgiveness.

I've noticed that Christians can be very dismissive of psychoanalysis, but I think their scepticism is in error as the two schools of thought are much more closely linked than they think. Psychoanalysis describes men and women in a way that is surprisingly similar to the Biblical explanation of human's personalities, it's just that Psychoanalysis does not mention the God word.

I should spell out, for the avoidance of doubt, there is certainly a very desirable and normal side to pride which should be  encouraged, i.e what people call healthy pride. Olympic athletes pride driving them on to win Gold medals, people working hard to get that promotion at work, which has more money. Taking a healthy pride in one's appearance, or property; or being involved in a healthy competitive rivalry for something. The admirable pride associated with taking part and having a go, even if you come last. This healthy side of pride is good news and helps us achieve good things.

But let's think of a fictitious example of a neurotic person and speculate how Psychoanalysis could help them:

Patient A:

As a young person, patient A had felt like he was very successful in his local community, he had drawn his self esteem from his unofficial ranking in the pecking order of his social group, young people in their late teens and twenties. Capable and charming, patient A had managed to get a relatively good job kind of early. Patient A had thrown his spare money into designer clothes and fast cars, things were good, he refined his comedy so he was even more liked and the ladies were attracted to him. At this point, patient A was at the top of his social group, emotionally he felt content and relaxed.

It's right to pursue success of course, but despite Patient A's early success, later it emerges he had made a strategic mistake in his long term plan. Ideally he should have strived for goals that would have caused him to be successful for a larger part of his life. Of course, there's nothing wrong with the way Patient A enjoyed the fast cars and designer clothes, that's his choice, but ideally if he had wanted to be successful for longer, he should have invested in a house, or maybe started a family.

Time passes for Patient A, and he sees that many of his friends from his original social group, who maybe originally were lower down than him in the early ranking, are now overtaking him in the unofficial pecking order. These friends now have houses, families, better qualifications, perhaps more income. His early social group, which he used as his measure of his success, has matured, this group now put less value on the fast cars and clothes as a measure of success, but more value on the houses, family, income etc.

Patient A now can't keep up and feels himself fall down the ranking of his early group fast and emotionally he starts to panic. By the way, why does he panic? Because it's so very important to humans to be successful, the mixture of healthy and unhealthy pride that drives us all. Patient A's subconscious is now in turmoil, for both good and bad reasons Patient A wants to return to the top of his social group, he might be able to do this eventually, but in the short to medium term he is destined to remain lower down. His subconscious cannot cope with having to be lower down however, so working in secret unison with his consciousness, his subconscious constructs an elaborate system of falsities to paper over the cracks of his failure in the social group. His subconscious is attempting to hide from himself and more importantly from the rest of the community that he is lower down these days.

So what neurotic symptoms does Patient A develop? and how can they be rectified?

When in the company of the same social group of friends, Patient A has become argumentative, if another group friend says plan B is a good way forward, Patient A deploys all his intelligence and sophistry to argue bossily that in fact NO, Plan C is in fact the right way.

However if the same friend had said that Plan C is the correct way forward, Patient A would have automatically and of course neurotically supported plan B with all his might. To Patient A's neurosis, it's not important which plan, B or C is factually correct, what's important to Patient A is winning the argument for it's own sake publically and therefore, in his mind, starting to inch back up the pecking order.

Patient A, may win the public debate on the surface, but quietly other group members note to themselves that in order to do win, he used false evidence, or became red faced and verbally intimidating. Patient A may have temporarily won the argument about plan B or C, but because of the cheap tricks the neurotic mind used to 'win', ironically Patient A slips further down the unofficial rankings in his social groups mind.

Patient A's neurotic illness may have other symptoms of course, as his subconscious is in turmoil, his blood pressure is higher, so he uses alcohol or drugs to 'self medicate'. He may develop clever and entertaining explanations about why the things that the social group now value success on, are in fact not worthwhile measures after all.

When Patient A hears about another person who is successful, or that group members admire for say their intelligence, he quickly reacts by strongly criticising the successful person. Also when hearing about successful people, Patient A may look away/change the subject etc. These things happen because it's painful for Patient A to hear of other's success, due to having such troubled feelings about his own perceived or real lack of success; so Patient A seeks to block out/reject the reports about the other successful person to protect from hurt.

Patient A's conscious mind starts to realise, he is having some symptoms of neurotic illness, but his subconscious, neurotic mind has a cunning plan to explain the symptoms away - 'it's just a problem with 'brain chemistry' a physical thing he was born with, unavoidable and not his fault'

In terms of the subconscious perpetuating the cover up that is the neurotic illness, this idea of brain chemistry being the cause of the illness is very clever. After all, the ego of the patient is striving to be a great success, so the ego finds it hard to accept it may have psychiatric problems, something that the ego perceives as failure, so the ego says 'hey I'm fine, it's just brain chemistry and you can't help how you were made'.

Also, this 'brain chemistry/not me' explanation of the neurotic symptoms causes further trouble as it blocks the patient getting treatment and therefore getting better, i.e if it's brain chemistry, as opposed to psychological, psychoanalysis type 'psychobabble' won't be able to help thank you very much. It's like the brain chemistry argument is in fact the neurosis protecting itself from being exposed, as it would hurt the patient's ego badly to have the feelings of failure that the neurosis is based on revealed to the conscious mind. So hence this elaborate ruse of brain chemistry - (I accept some psychiatric illness could be caused by brain chemistry, but not in the case of our example)  - Psychoanalysis calls this issue 'the patient's resistances' by the way.

But enough of the symptoms, how could Patient A be cured?

From what I've read Psychoanalysis can take a long time, because of the patients resistances, which of course are part of the neurotic illness itself. Apparently the analyst often very quickly works out what is troubling the patient, in the case of our Patient A, anxiety about a perceived drop in success; but the analysis mostly takes much longer because if you are not extremely careful, you can wreck the analysis by offending the patient, or more accurately by offending/threatening the existence of the neurosis. This is understandable, as after all the human being has created the elaborate + clever neurosis to protect himself or herself from pain.

So the psychoanalyst's job is to skillfully, slowly and carefully, guide the patient to realise he has the neurosis and what it's based on. This is tough as the neurosis can fly in the face of logic and reason. The analyst could encourage Patient A to more consciously come to terms with his reduction in ranking in his social group, 'is it really such a bad thing to be lower down in the social group?' the analyst could suggest. The analyst could talk about how the unhealthy side of pride can be a destructive force in people's lives and get the patient to think all this over.

From a Christian perspective (if appropriate), the analyst could remind the patient that God does not measure men and women on material success or failure. But that God values all people highly, regardless of how large or small their earthly achievements. You can see how knowing this could further help defuse the neurosis.

Over a period of time, Patient A may start to accept - in his heart and mind so to speak - 'no actually my reduction in the social group isn't such a bad thing', or at least come to terms with it more. In truth, Patient A might genuinely not have wanted a family, it's just that he felt he should have and the analyst could help the patient realise this. Once the patient comes to terms in a more healthy way emotionally with his drop in success, the neurotic symptoms quickly start to vanish, the neurosis disappears as there is now no purpose for it, his blood pressure reduces again so therefore the self medication of drugs and alcohol is no longer required.

He stops picking neurotically fueled rows with his friends, as he has comes to terms with things more, relationships with the group improve, his complexion improves as he's now healthier and happier and things just start going better for Patient A, his analysis has been a successful one.

People often find the idea of psychoanalysis confrontational and annoying, for some of the reasons explained; but paradoxically and in  truth, psychoanalysis often really helps people and sets them free.

James Bickle