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Psychoanalysis, psychology and clinical psychology

Today is election’s day for the Government Board of the College of Psychologists of Catalonia and hoping  the new board will meet the expectations of  plurality we all have already manifested, I think is high time to renew the debate between psychology and psychoanalysis, without the tensions inherent to previous political confrontations.

Some psychoanalysts do not want to be deemed as psychologists, and academic psychology rejects psychoanalysis as lacking scientific basis. I’m not going now to speak of what the academic psychology thinks of psychoanalysis, but rather deal with what happens to us, psychoanalysts, with psychology.

Dilthey used to say that psychology, like the god Janus, was a science with two faces, one looking towards nature and one looking at the spirit. Roughly speaking, scientific psychology wants to deal with the natural face, the only one that can be treated scientifically, understanding science as the academy does, of course, that is populations and samples of psyches, general truths, laws of “how the mind works” (Pinker), everything large and  universalized, as it must be in science.

And what do we deal with? We deal with the symptom, that enigmatic suffering, that mysterious discomfort, with old solutions that have now become problems, on experiences turned up into obsessions by unknown reasons, with the returning of forgotten words and voices…  I could go on and on, any of us might write down a much longer list, but all of us analysts are at any rate talking of someone, not of a population, and we’re not saying that an explanation must be universalized to be a good one.

Psychology deals with the general, psychoanalysis with this case.

Now, I’m not stating we don’t apply general laws to operate. Theories are all about the general, but the most singular case we can imagine will home in on the intersection of a few laws and surely a qualitatively different residue will be left remaining as something unique, that what makes a human being be just him-self. This remainder is not scientific, there’s no need to and we needn’t argue it over with anybody.

Often, when I hear an analyst trying to sidestep from psychology, I usually think that when he says “psychology” he is thinking of “behaviourism” or “behaviour modification” or something alike. But psychology is much more, there are many psychologies and cognitive science, namely the cognitive revolution, which began on the fifties, unfairly much reviled among us, is a real source of inspiration as a scientific theory (general, universal, etc..), a rich set of theories and experiments very interesting and instructive to the psychologist who enjoys psychological knowledge, and who needs not to be also a clinician. A book I’ve read several times, and always with that thrill of discovery is Objetos con Mente (Objects with Mind, not published in English), by Angel Rivière (not too friendly with psychoanalysis)  where he puts out the scientific drama posed by the scientific study (laws, etc.) of a teleological system (not only intentional but intensional) as is the human mind. However, in my opinion, the full value of cognitivism as a scientific theory on the functioning of the mind is missed when we bring it back to the clinical work. As far as I know, for most evidence they claim they don’t go beyond the tiresome application of protocols that destroy the living experience of the patient. If cognitive therapies are to succeed in the public practice, that success  will end up benefiting the  private one, as happened with the massive use of psychiatric medicines.

Briefly, what I mean is that analysts can learn a lot from academic psychology without fearing to end up confuse and mislead and keeping our theoretical and clinical agenda.

At this very time, just writing this post,  an email pops up, coming from the forum Amigos de Xoroi,, conveying attached Berrios’s paper “Sobre la medicina basada en la evidencia” (On evidence-based medicine). Simply great, I hope so authoritative a voice may be heard in the Catalan Health Institute, and by de way in the College of Psychologists. But it’s up to us to make them listen up.

The field of intersection between psychology and psychoanalysis is called clinical psychology. There we can all find an accommodation, analysts from every inspiration, cognitivist, systemic, gestaltic, neurolinguistic programmers, emdereist and others. At least everyone I know agree on one point, in the obstinacy with which we hold that a case can’t be reduced to generalities.

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