Current Issues

Confusion in the field *

One encounters a considerable lack of clarity and an abundance of strongly-held unchecked assumptions when the question of “scientific or not?” is raised in the field. That it has no real science is a demonstrable fact, but the belief that the phenomena of the psychoanalytic “domain” cannot be researched by scientific means is incorrect. How and why has this situation developed, and why has it persisted for years? The answers at root level are not yet accessible, but there is much material that illustrates the problem, and much more that allows significant penetration into its cause.

One phenomenon that demonstrably stands out is a lack of knowledge of how a real science would be created (initially by the development of a scientific research method and design), and the features that would define it (and differentiate it from non-science) once established. And that is the absence of informed awareness of what is called “The Scientific Method”. Researches based on other methods in use have none of its capabilities.

The Scientific Method

In a normal, mutually friendly and respectful treatment atmosphere from start to finish, this consists of:

  1. An observational field – in the psychoanalytic domain, the clinical situation from first contact for consultation, to the consultation sessions and treatment sessions, to the completion of treatment
  2. Objective observations – in the psychoanalytic domain, behaviours, emotions, verbal contents
  3. Identification and definition of unexplained or unscientifically explained phenomena (i.e. that are not self-evident, ordinary simple, realistic – that are “symptomatic”, i.e. the surface indicators of deeper-layered material and processes, e.g. “I just ate a big meal, but I still want to go back to the fridge.”)
  4. Development of multiple, logical hypotheses to explain them
  5. Development of validation criteria for each hypothesis (i.e. subsequent, spontaneous, patient/client material that points to a causal connection)
  6. Tests for predictive capability of all hypotheses
  7. Repeated testing of a regularly validated hypothesis hundreds or more times
  8. Replications of the research by other researchers

Empirical Research

This is a much ill-understood research method that, to a large extent has become what psychoanalysis takes to be real science, especially by the young. It is commonly used in “Outcome Studies” where the results in large groups of analytically treated people are compared to those of similar large groups not treated.

What appears to be unknown is that the Empiricists were a sect of Ancient Roman physicians who sought to find treatments (for ills) that worked, and were not interested in causes. And that is what modern Outcome studies do. It is also not by coincidence that little is actually known about the root causes of the wide variety of moderate to serious and severe symptoms that are treated by the profession (as well as some the more serious types that could be treated if real scientific researches opened the door to their causal mysteries).

Quantitative Research

This concept (of which the Empirical Research above is an example) that involves large numbers of patients, is also regarded as real science and compared to “Qualitative Research” in which individual patients are studied.

It is not at all clear how this unfortunate state of affairs developed and eliminated the single, symptom-suffering patient as the source of insight into the cause of his symptoms. And in the absence of such, no root-specific, curative treatment for him and all others with similar symptoms is possible.

Theory by Consensus

The problem here is that: (a) given the assumption “no analysis is ever complete” including the analyst’s; (b) such a closure on future possibility is at odds with the history of discoveries in science; (c) the resistance to the creation of a science is partly responsible, then the emergence of a theory in an individual can be the unwitting product of a still-conflicted unconscious that, at its deepest (repressed) level, is a very frightening place.

There are many symptoms that the analytic profession does not yet understand, the roots and causes of which it has never reached and unravelled (e.g. dread of the terror associated with fragmentation states, the prospect “coming apart at the seams”). And, under such conditions a theory can emerge into consciousness, become preferred by the individual, attract others because it is a defense against scientific research and the creation of new theory that, by self analysis, would take one to those places.

No reference points of normality in the clinical situation *

How can one identify symptoms (i.e. surface indicators of internal conflict) in the material of analysands if one has no markers of material that does not contain such, against which they stand out? From the first moments of the first phone call from a new request from a prospective consultee, later analysand, symptoms are present, and one type of symptom that is of major importance is a transference.

It is an “operative transference”, meaning that the caller is not aware that his(her (always negative) perception of the consultant is mistaken. And if the analyst cannot identify it, then know if it is of a type requiring immediate, accurately-formulated input or only identification for further use, the false perception of the former kind is strengthened. Sometimes, as well, the person excuses himself on the phone or early in the consultation, thinking (but not revealing) that his (only partly-conscious) worst fears have been confirmed – a phenomenon that often become evident in a successful experience with a next consultant.

Premature closures, in and peripheral to the field *

The following unchecked assumptions created and retained in the field (that include the aforementioned, “No analysis is ever complete”), seal the fates of progressive possibility in the realm of real scientific clinical-research designs and tested, proven, standardizable theory at once.

 “In analysis, however, we have to do without the assistance afforded to research by experiment.” (Sigmund Freud, 1933, SE Vol.XXII, p.174).

But one does not hear any doubts he has about that (e.g. no “so far’s”). Nor is there reference to prior attempts to create scientific clinical research designs that failed. And no one else in his time contested the assumption either.

It is, however, incorrect.

“If you have read my writings, you will know that I believe metapsychology is of no use in the clinical situation.” (Merton Gill. Personal communication at a conference, 1979)

This, too, is incorrect, remarkably so.

“No analysis is ever complete, or ever can be”. (repeated like a mantra)

“We will always be searching for ourselves” And, of course, if Freud’s Metapsychology and subsequent theories can never be tested (with new ones filling in the gaps), and the longstanding resistance to real science in the profession and its critics remains, no single analyst will be able to carry out a self analysis that goes beyond Freud’s best, reaches bedrock depths, dismantles the roots of countertransferences, and lives to tell his tale

That is, no willing pioneer will ever have enough new theories, created by scientific means in the clinic, that allow him to begin a self analysis, that extends (or replaces) his training analysis, and releases new theory to the clinic for further researches, that double back to extend his self work. Then no one will be able to systematically move from identified surfaces, to successive layers, that will lead to (believed-to-be intolerable and inaccessible) depth states and the causes of symptoms, that inform and release new theories, that inspire replications, that lead to genuine scientific conventions.

“Freud is dead (implying all of his theories.” But, as none of his theories have ever been scientifically tested, such a statement becomes an illogical unchecked assumption that leaves the listener wondering about the mental processes that created and fostered it.

“Read Freud and see where you first heard of the concept you think you have discovered.” But if none of his theories, regardless of their potential (i.e. as yet unproved scientific truth) have ever been developed and tested by means of the Scientific method, and the new discoverer is a real scientist proceeding by such means, how could one entertain such an idea?

“The observational field of the analytic treatment situation is uniquely different from those of the scientists in other disciplines.” This idea would only last as long as the idea is assumed, and no details of the efforts (if any) to logically nullify the conclusion have been provided. And like many other assertions by and against the profession it becomes a useless and worse (i.e. misleading) “categorical imperative”.

Psychoanalytic theory is not scientific and can never become so.” A sometimes assertion made or implied by some critics of the field (who, if they were to speak, would non-sensibly add, “and who cares about why”).

“Contemporary” psychoanalytic theory.” The term tends to imply that the profession’s theoretical development has progressed and its theories are up-to-date, and some may accept the ideas if they are satisfied with conclusions developed by consensus. It is also used by some to dismiss new theories that have actually been developed and proven by real scientific means, including quite a number of Freud’s. But without scientific research methods and ultimate proofs, implications of the kind (that can mislead newcomers to the field) must remain speculative at best.

“Two Party” theories and “Modern” theories fall in the same category as the above.

“Use the countertransference to formulate the analysand’s transference.” But the idea is illogical. A countertransference in the analyst is a transference attached to the analysand, and thus a symptom of as-yet unsolved conflict in the former’s repressed depths. And if what is there is inaccessible without lengthy self work using as-yet non-existent theory that allows such, how can the derivatives that come to the analyst’s consciousness be logically considered informative of their stimuli in the analysand’s material?

Peer Review. When the profession and related fields (e.g. Psychotherapy, Academe) accept biases against real science and objective observational practises, and support the existence of several different “schools”, within which lie variations, within which lie personal preferences (all of which, it can be presumed, are capable of explaining the same clinical phenomena), how could genuine science be expected to squeeze past the keepers of journal contents to at least have a modest hearing?

Of course it can’t get a foot even near the door. And it is not difficult to illustrate what happens when it persists in the effort (in demonstrable concrete, objectively observable and factual terms).

Note: An example of this problem, including an analysis and suggestions for a solution, is provided in “On Peer Review”.