Saturday, June 27, 2015

Modernizing Freud


The Machine & The Analyst: Schwartz writes: “Solms, whom I first met seven years ago  while working on a book about psychoanalysis and brain research, is a main proponent of ‘‘neuropsychoanalysis’’ — a term he coined for the attempt to bring the two disciplines of neuroscience and psychoanalysis together. In this pursuit, Solms emphasizes that Freud  envisioned a future in which brain science would one day be sophisticated enough to expand upon psycho­analytic ideas, like the power of the unconscious, the profound importance of early childhood experience and the significance of dreams. Solms argues that the day Freud awaited is now here.”
Image Credit: Jeff Riedel
Source: NYT

An article, by Casey Schwartz, in The New York Times Magazine looks at Sigmund Freud’s theory of psychoanalysis and how it can be used in a modern context by integrating it with what we know through the findings of advanced brain-scanning techniques like neuroimaging. Some call this new field neuropsychoanalysis

In “Tell It About Your Mother” (June 24, 2015), Schwartz writes that the idea of anyone using psychoanalysis alone sounds quaint if not counterproductive to finding answers, or more to the point, feeling better now (“the quicker the better”):
To invoke Freud and Dora today, though, is to run the risk of sounding instantly obsolete. The ideas of psychoanalysis, its very vocabulary — those familiar terms like ‘‘id, ego and superego,’’ ‘‘the Oedipus complex,’’ ‘‘penis envy,’’ ‘‘castration anxiety’’ — come across, for many, as quaint souvenirs pulled from a dusty attic. The very project of psychoanalysis — to cure through self-­awareness, through an exhaustive exploration of the patient’s unconscious mind — is increasingly at odds with what most people seem to want: to fix their problems as quickly and painlessly as possible. With millions of Americans now taking pills for depression, expecting to feel better in a matter of weeks, the concept of signing up for a psychological treatment that can stretch on for years no longer seems to make the kind of sense it used to.
Yet, talk therapy, as it is often called will not go away; it has its place in our modern society. Neither will Freud’s name and his ideas of the human mind be forgotten, no matter what modern scientists think about him and his discoveries more than a century ago. (Many are dismissive, but we do not remember their names.) The reason, I would argue, is that the human brain is different than the rest of our other organs; the brain is the seat of our thoughts, our emotions, our ideas, and as such we resist reducing it to a collection of circuitry, or neurons or neurotransmitters, or neurochemicals, etc.

It does not matter the language, or its precision, there will be resistance, at least today, to such thinking, which seems too simple to explain our complicated selves. This is not to say that the machine cannot be a tool of analysis—it can—and such tools as functional magnetic resonance imaging (f.M.R.I.)—can provide valuable information on any changes in the brain, (Technically speaking, it is a neuroimaging, or a brain mapping, technique that infers brain activity by measuring changes in blood flow.) The operative word here is changes—the so-called before and after pictures. The question to probe is what causes such changes, whether these are positive or negative, beneficial or deleterious.

For psychological problems, it is not a matter of repairing a part of the brain’s circuitry in the same way we do with other parts of our body with surgery or some other invasive therapy. Equally noteworthy, taking prescription drugs has limited effects, except for the most severest forms of depression. (I have posted a number of articles on the efficacy of anti-depressants; the results are mixed.) Psychotherapy also has better long-term results than medications like anti-depressants.

In the pursuit of understanding our human selves, science in the last few decades has entered many corridors that have essentially led to dead ends; it is embarrassing, even humbling to admit such. As is admitting that those obsolete ideas have some relevancy, some currency, if you will. We have come full circle; what is old has become new again, albeit with a different set of clothes. That, yes, there might be a place for psychoanalysis, since it does something important: it gets humans talking, which is what might be the pathway to cures in a world that is, for many. socially isolating and alienating. Depression claims the lives of too many, both young and old, and those in the middle.

I think that in 50 years, we will still be talking about Freud and his pioneering ideas of the human mind.

For more, go to [NYTMagazine]