On: Psychoanalysis and Contemporary Psychology/Reply To: On: Psychoanalysis and Contemporary Psychology

By Josephs, Lawrence; Wallerstein, Robert S. | International Journal of Psychoanalysis, December 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

On: Psychoanalysis and Contemporary Psychology/Reply To: On: Psychoanalysis and Contemporary Psychology


Josephs, Lawrence, Wallerstein, Robert S., International Journal of Psychoanalysis


Dear Editor,

Wallerstein (2012) provides an excellent portrayal of the history of psychoanalysis as it appears from the perspective of someone situated within American Psychiatry and the American Psychoanalytic Association. As a psychology professor, analytically trained outside of the American Psychoanalytic Association, I can provide a somewhat different perspective of the challenge that contemporary scientific psychology poses to psychoanalysis as a theory of mind and as a method of treatment.

Wallerstein (2012) provided this characterization of the two psychological paradigms with which psychoanalysis competes: "The first is the learningtheory and the stimulus-response model...and the behavior modification technologies derived from it" (p. 384-385) and "the so-called third force, the existential-phenomenological tradition" (p. 385). This characterization was certainly valid in the 1970s when I was an undergraduate psychology major. At that time, psychoanalysis was the only depth psychology that studied unconscious processes, emotional and personality development, childhood trauma, defense mechanisms, sexual fantasy life, etc. It was easy to characterize the competition as superficial, as behavioral psychology didn't address human subjectivity and existential-phenomenological approaches addressed human subjectivity but not unconscious processes. As a consequence, psychoanalysis could easily attract bright and introspective students, as the case study method seemed better suited to studying these "deeper" issues than paper and pencil self-report measures or conditioning experiments with rats and pigeons.

Times have changed and the emerging paradigm in scientific psychology is looking at the traditional sub-disciplines of academic psychology (i.e. cognitive, social, personality, & developmental psychology as well as motivation and emotion) from an evolutionary perspective that attempts to systematically establish the adaptive mental mechanisms that characterize the human mind (See Buss, 2011). Psychological topics that were once the exclusive province of psychoanalytic depth psychology have given rise to systematic programs of empirical research that study the adaptive unconscious, the evolution of sexual desire, the righteous mind, the dynamics of romantic love, and self-deception. Experimental techniques, like mindset priming, now exist for activating unconscious thoughts and emotions and seeing how such activation affects conscious attitudes as well as behavior so that systematic exploration of unconscious processes is no longer dependent on the case study method.

Doctoral training in clinical psychology may become increasingly integrative as systematic psychotherapy research begins to discover evidence-based therapeutic relationships like the working alliance, and evidence-based corrective experiences like fostering self-awareness and repairing ruptures to the therapeutic alliance (See Castongauy & Hill, 2012). Thus clinical psychologists may not have to choose between being a behavioral technician, who teaches skills, and a depth psychologist, who explores repudiated thoughts and feelings, as new approaches are developed that integrate psychodynamic and cognitive-behavioral methods. Students may feel that such integrative training best prepares them for the practice of open-ended, weekly psychotherapy with a diverse patient population - a population who appear to want answers, advice, love, and support, to make them feel better sooner rather than later, and who do not see that expectation as unreasonable. It is not clear to what extent clinical psychologists trained in evidence-based integrative approaches (i.e. that address transference, countertransference, resistance, and the therapeutic relationship, but also allow the therapist to be more interactive, self-disclosing, and advise-giving) will feel a need to seek postdoctoral psychoanalytic training.

In the 21st century, psychoanalysis will be competing with a research based evolutionary psychology as a competing theory of mind and with evidence based integrative approaches to psychotherapy as competing methods of treatment. …

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