Overview of Psychoanalysis by Deborah Bryon and Mark Winborn

Psychoanalysis was conceived by the mind of one individual – Sigmund Freud.  The publication of Studies in Hysteria in 1895, in collaboration with Josef Breuer, ushered in a new perspective on the human condition, introduced a novel method of treating emotional disturbance, and added a significant element to the intellectual discourse of the world.  Freud’s seminal work initiated a new era in understanding the human psyche.  A flurry of original ideas emerged out of the ongoing theoretical discussions that were taking place among the pioneering psychoanalytic minds of the early twentieth century.  The passion for exploring unconscious material, arising out of the new field of psychoanalysis, carried over into the collective, feeding the creativity of the avant-garde and influencing prominent artists and writers of the time.

Unfortunately, the birth of this new field of inquiry was soon marked by an insistence on orthodoxy within the emerging discipline.  Loyal lieutenants were recruited, oaths of allegiance sworn, a secret committee formed, and rings of fidelity issued. Despite the efforts of Freud and his loyal supporters, the orthodoxy they so carefully protected began to fray just sixteen years after the public debut of psychoanalysis.  In 1911, Alfred Adler resigned as president of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society, followed shortly by Wilhelm Stekel.  Their departures were followed by Carl Jung’s resignation in 1914 and Otto Rank’s theoretical challenge to the orthodoxy in 1924.

Exile, whether forced or self-imposed, became commonplace for the individuals and ideas that ran counter to Freud’s rigorously held vision for psychoanalysis.  Even after Freud’s death in 1939, the tension between orthodoxy and innovation continued with the now famous debates, held in London from 1941 through 1945, between supporters of the orthodox Freudian position and the supporters of Melanie Klein.

Issues of orthodoxy again became central when Jacques Lacan and the Société Française de Psychanalyse were denied admission to the International Psychoanalytic Association in the 1950’s.  Similar tensions arose in the United States when Heinz Kohut began to introduce his ideas for a psychology of the self in the 1960’s.  Evolution, innovation, and differentiation have continued to this day within the field of psychoanalysis, along with the controversies and disagreements among the ever-expanding schools of thought associated with psychoanalysis.

We maintain the importance of identifying and embracing “the common ground of psychoanalysis” (Wallerstein, 1996), whereby we are reminded that all practitioners of psychoanalysis have much more in common with each other than we do differences.  After all, we are all Freud’s offspring – or at least close relations – who may have grown up in different houses but continue to share the same lineage. We largely agree on the existence and importance of unconscious experience, the need for a deep therapeutic alliance to facilitate change, and on the possibility of transformation via a combination of insight and embodied experience.  Ultimately, we come to psychoanalysis with a shared belief in “the talking cure” as a vehicle for deepening and enriching life.

As Robert Wallerstein (1996) and others have pointed out, it is most often in the discussion of clinical experience that we are likely to identify areas of common ground, where we can see and appreciate similarities with what we each do in our individual consulting rooms – even if the approach, wording, or style is somewhat different than we might choose.