Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Psychoanalytical Apologetics

I happen to know a psychotherapist, Sabine Bösel, who works with the imago method. Recently, she had a public debate with local psychoanalyst Walter Hoffmann, which was printed in a national newspaper.

If you speak german, you can read the discussion here.

Mr Hoffmann, at one point, denounced the Imago method as "infantile parroting" and claimed that "all people lie in therapy". That doesn't come across as very friendly and philanthropic to me, and it's certainly not a good way to get positive PR, but anyway.

He also said that Imago can not work because "it contains no knowledge about the unconscious". He went on to say that Mrs Bösel "tends to the religious needs of the clients and their wishful thinking", and basically accused her of being a religious fraud. Again, not very friendly. No good mojo.

It is also somewhat ironic, coming from an Official of the Church of the Holy Trinity of Id, Ego, Superego, whose therapies last forever and cost all kinds of money.

But mostly, this is a severe case of religious apologetics.

See, there is no such thing as "the unconscious". If it were an actual physical entity, you'd be able to measure its diameter, and its related theory would be falsifiable. It isn't, and you're not.

"The unconscious" is really just a more-or-less useful metaphor, a chiffre for "things we don't quite understand, but need a short handy label for". The human mind is still a black-box to a large degree, and everything we say about it amounts to little more than a guessing game. Somewhat educated guesses, in the best case. In that regard, the unconscious behaves much like god, personality types, or qi.

And, also much like god or qi, this is perfectly okay in and of itself. We don't know everything, and sometimes it is useful to make assumptions. Everyone can check out a few of those theories for himorherself, gain a little experience here and there, find what suits them, and that's it.

Except it's not.

As I've probably already mentioned, and most assuredly will keep on repeating as long as apologists run wild on this planet, problems arise when people forget that their concepts are just concepts, and start treating them as actual things. People start investing emotions in those "things", and they get rather defensive when these concepts are challenged.

Such is the stuff that wars are made of. It's silly, and it's senseless, but that's how it is.

I'm currently reading a highly commendable book about medieval social history. Now, medieval doctors had no idea about germs and contagion. Instead, they assumed that illnesses were, among other things, the result of the four "bodily fluids" being out of balance. Of course, there was no empirical evidence for any of those fluids, and much less so for said balance being off. But they still went on treating people based on that wacky hypothesis. They didn't realize that it was just speculation. They took their own speculation for fact. And that's highly dangerous business. As in, people died of their cuppings and baths and other supposed remedies. Granted, at the time there was no useful alternative, so it didn't make that much difference anyway, but clinging less to those concepts might have sped up the process of finding one.

Now, Mr Hoffmann acted like a complete douchebag in that debate. That's deplorable, and I'm sure it is a reflection of his personal vulnerabilities and traumata - but it should not reflect negatively on psychoanalysis, just as Mrs Bösel's friendliness shouldn't reflect positively on imago therapy.

See, I'm not defending imago here. I have nothing invested in it. I've personally experienced it, and found it highly useful in a highly specific problem domain. But that doesn't mean that it's "true", or even that it's useful to just everyone. People may or may not respond to it. It is every bit as metaphysical as psychoanalysis, and I'm sure that therapists working with it are as much prone to falling for their own speculation. I'm sure there are advocates of imago who are every bit as apologetic and douchebaggy as Mr Hoffmann.

(In fact, they're probably not QUITE as much at risk, because analysis is much older and more established, and because it is firmly based on a much more intricate system of metaphysical concepts. Ever talked to an analyst? They seem to have an answer to, a name for everything, just like the Hare Krishnas, or Jehova's Witnesses. It's somewhat frightening, actually.)

So, instead of advocating one method over the other, I advocate taking your speculations for what they really are - more or less useful abbreviations for highly complex and mostly unexplained processes - and focusing much more on the practices of any method, than on its theory.

The other challenge, of course, is how potential clients are supposed to find out how metaphysically challenged their potential therapist is. And that, I admit, is an issue that I cannot answer. It would be interesting, at any rate, to get an answer to that question from the pros. Maybe Mr Hoffmann or Mrs Bösel is up to responding to that challenge?

1 comment:

  1. brent.mosher@yahoo.comAugust 14, 2012 at 4:21 AM

    I'll check out that book...I've always been interested in the middle ages and how they thought about things back then. We haven't come far in some ways. Yeah, how do you check out your therapist BEFORE you've spent a small fortune only to realize the guy's more out-to-lunch than you are. I won't see a Buddhist therapist again. The regular psychiatrists I saw were uniformly awful. Trying again in a couple of weeks with a new one. I asked her point blank in an email if she believed in god and said I didn't want to waste my time with someone more deluded than I was. She replied she was "very spiritual". Hmmmm...wonder what that means...I may point her to this article.