Here's a book project that's gone on the "back burner" until I retire
I propose to write a book on Existential Psychoanalysis.
Existentialism and psychoanalysis are typically thought of as polar
opposites. Existentialist philosophy portrays us as radically free.
Psychoanalysis is usually thought of as wedded to a deterministic drive
theory. Existential therapy has been associated with a style of supportive
interaction between therapist and client; psychoanalysis has the caricature
of a cold and detached relationship between doctor and patient. In fact,
neither portrait holds up. However, existentialism can provide a defensible
philosophical basis for psychoanalytic theory and psychoanalytic technique.
A synthesis will enhance both philosophical scholarship and
psychotherapeutic practice, and it will complement a range of courses in the
fields of Philosophy and Human Services.
The project is timely. On the surface, we have moved into an era of
short-term cognitive and behavioral therapy overseen by HMOs, and yet the
increasing popularity of psychoanalytically oriented seminars and continuing
education for therapists suggests that the interest in insight-oriented work
(even within the restrictions of a managed care environment) is stronger
than ever. On another front, there is a growing interest in the idea of
philosopher practitioners. The state of New York has recently considered the
licensing of philosopher counselors. I believe I can make a contribution to
this discussion which will expand career opportunities for our students in
the humanities. At the same time I can, I believe, articulate foundations of
psychoanalytic theory and practice in a way that will make this realm far
more accessible to undergraduate and graduate students with career
aspirations in the helping professions.
This book will pull together ideas that I have been developing throughout my
professional career as a Professor of Philosophy, as a Professor of Human
Services, and as a practicing Research Psychoanalyst. Each chapter poses
fresh challenges for me, yet each will rework and expand on materials that
have been addressed extensively in classes I have taught, as well as in
publications and professional addresses. Let me comment on this with respect
to the chapters anticipated:
Chapter 1: Review of Literature. The paradigmatic existentialist Jean-Paul
Sartre presents his "existential psychoanalysis" as a rival to the classical
psychoanalysis of Freud. Charles Hanley, prefers Freud to Sartre. Betty
Cannon prefer Sartre to Freud. Irvin Yalom likes them both, but brings them
together in a style of psychotherapy that is not particularly
psychoanalytic. I shall present an overview of these perspectives and then
chart out my own sort of synthesis, which is more psychoanalytic in terms of
technique, and more existential in terms of theory.
Chapter 2: Sartre, Revisited. Here I shall expand my portrait of Sartre,
drawing from papers I have already published on "Sartre, Therapy, and
Expanding the Concept of Responsibility," "Sartre's Theory of Sexuality,"
and "Reflection and Self-deception," where I believe I shown something of a
knack for making Sartre comprehensible.
Chapter 3: Psychoanalytic Technique From An Existentialist Perspective.
There are very good reasons for the often misunderstood features of
psychoanalytic technique-the routine, the anonymity of the analyst, the
cultivation of a transference. I have over six cardboard boxes filled with
tapes of lectures I have given, many of which have pertained to this.
Chapter 4: Active Versus Passive. A key problem with psychoanalytic theory
is that it so routinely utilizes terminology which encourages us to think in
terms of causality and reifying of mental terminology, so that we treat
human actions as if they were the passive consequences of psychological
forces. Part of what I want to present here was also developed in my
"Desires Don't Cause Actions."
Chapter 5: Self-Deception Versus Mechanisms Of Defense. As a case in point,
the language of "repressing mental contents" into "the unconscious" with
various "defense mechanisms" can be better cast in terms of purposeful
self-deception. Here I want to update ideas I presented prior to training in
psychoanalysis, in my articles on on "Saying, Feeling and Self-Deception"
and "Psychotherapy and Quasi-Performative Speech."
Chapter 6: The Cartesian Trap: Mind-Body Dualism Versus Subject-Object
Dualism. The causal and mechanistic language of psychoanalysis gets tangled
with a host of ideas left over from Descartes. I addressed this in a rather
lengthy paper (which I have never sought to publish) on "The Self In
Contemporary Psychoanalysis." The key idea here, taken from Gilbert Ryle's
The Concept of Mind, is that what counts as "self" is "flexible" from one
linguistic context to another. This provides a central thesis of the book,
and a key to reconciling psychoanalytic theory with an existentialist
Chapter 7: The Causation Trap. This continues themes from Chapters 4 and 6
and develops a general criticism of the commitment of various social
sciences to a misplaced causal perspective.
Chapter 8: Classical Psychoanalysis. I explain classical psychoanalytic
technique in terms of existentialist theory, and I explain classical theory
in light of Freud's hidden commitment to the thesis of intentionality-the
idea that mental life is purposeful through and through. As with Sartre, I
think I have some flair for presenting Freud in a way people can hear. I can
draw from taped lectures, including several given as philosophy department
Chapter 9: The Existential Melanie Klein. Klein is a central figure leading
to contemporary "object relations theory" in psychoanalysis, and her
speculations on what she regards as the "phantasy" life of infants provides
me with a challenge both as an advocate of existentialism and as someone
trained in "ordinary language philosophy" (Wittgenstein). Again, I have a
very large collection of taped lectures to help me here.
Chapter 10: Perversion And Sex Roles. The existentialist perspective I take
on both "masculine" and "feminine perversions" is that these are spiteful
caricatures of sex roles encouraged in early childhood and rooted in the
"phantasy" life of infancy, a la Melanie Klein. Many of the themes of
earlier chapters lead me to expand on things I discussed in my article on
"Perversion, Eating Disorders, and Sex Roles."
Chapter 11: Contemporary Directions. This will develop a debate about the
nature of "narcissism" as understood by the followers of Otto Kernberg and
Heinz Kohut. I have given lectures on this, for example, "Psychoanalytic
Perspectives on Axis 2 of the DSM-IV" at the International Association of
Applied Psychology, Madrid, 1994.
Chapter 12: The Philosopher As Practitioner. If existentialism provides such
a good foundation for psychoanalysis, this raises the question of whether
the study of philosophy is an appropriate background for the helping
professions. I will be able, here, to make use of my recent publication on
"The Philosopher As A Personal Consultant," and a presentation I will give
this Fall on "Philosophical Counseling Is Not a Distinct Discipline."