New Directions in Psychotherapy

I very much enjoyed attending a full day of the International Association for Relational Psychoanalysis & Psychotherapy conference on “Expanding the Relational Context” which was recently held right here in San Francisco. It is very exciting to see where the field of psychoanalysis and psychoanalytic psychotherapy is heading. Two such areas of growth include how therapists are paying more attention to the body and expanding the concepts of psychotherapy beyond the consulting room and into the greater, political world.

“The talking cure,” as Freud termed it, is of course founded on the act of two people talking: the client and therapist using their minds together to reveal unconscious truths and allow the client greater choice about how he or she lives. Often this process can get pretty heady. During such times, I like the point that out to my clients and for us to tune more into the body – the client’s and sometimes mine – for information about what is happening. In this way we recognize the body holds great wisdom: sometimes access to deep pains, sometimes memories stored in the body. This direction in psychotherapy turns out to be a return to the origins. In a seminar I attended, the presenter sketched a brief history of psychotherapy, beginning, of course, with Freud. It turns out that in the late 1800s, Freud was interested in how the body holds and reveals psychological truths. However, around the turn of the century he turned his attention away from a focus on the body and towards more mental (dreams, fantasies) processes. So the current trend in psychoanalysis to incorporate an awareness of the body as a way to gain greater psychological insight and healing is actually a step backwards.

Another growing development in the field is taking psychoanalytic thinking and extending it outside of the office and in particular to areas of the world and social systems where oppression exists. At the conference I heard from a woman who has lived in Chile and has worked to help heal deep wounds caused by many years of dictatorship in that country. I also heard from an American psychoanalyst who has been active in doing reparation work between Israelis and Palestinians, as well as between previously warring factions in Ireland. These analysts, and others, are drawing on the principal of witnessing intrinsic to the process of psychotherapy, and they are extending that act to a wider, social context. Just as the act of being recognized in the therapeutic encounter helps the client heal old wounds, so too is social recognition essential in helping to heal abuse suffered in a social context (such as through various forms of oppression, including abuse and torture).

It was very thrilling for me to not only see the directions that the field is going in, but to see that the field itself is a living organism, subject to change and growth. We have come a long way in the hundred plus years since Freud began his search for psychological meaning. As with any growth, some of that advancement involves going back to the beginning.

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