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From Classical to Contemporary PsychoanalysisReview - From Classical to Contemporary Psychoanalysis
A Critique and Integration
by Morris N. Eagle
Routledge, 2010
Review by Kerrin A. Jacobs, Ph.D.
Jul 31st 2012 (Volume 16, Issue 31)

Morris Eagle's book From Classical to Contemporary Psychoanalysis gives an excellent overview of the development of basic concepts in psychoanalytic theory. It is a rich source of information about the essentials of classical analytic thinking in Freudian terms, which the author presents in the same remarkably lucid and comprehensive way as he introduces and critically discusses the current conceptualizations of key-notions in psychoanalysis. Eagle also reassesses how contemporary theories converge with and diverge from classical accounts. He does not only introduce carefully basic concepts of Freudian theory, but also provides the reader with an adequate contextual understanding of the concepts according to contemporary views, which get finally assessed for their potential of integration. Although the state of the art of contemporary psychoanalytic theory might not be seen as fully covered by the theories Eagle predominantly refers to, he convincingly outlines that especially these approaches present themselves as most challenging to classical psychoanalytic theory.          

The book is divided into three parts and well-organized around four fundamental topics of psychoanalytic theory and practice, namely the conceptions of (1) the mind, (2) object relations, (3) psychopathology, and (4) treatment. Part I stringently examines in five chapters how these issues are addressed in Freudian theory, while the main aim of Part II is to clarify and critically discuss how contemporary psychoanalytic theories deal with these basic concepts, in order to illustrate the trajectory from classical to current views. The analysis does imply careful considerations of the consequences of a rejection of drive theory in contemporary approaches. It entails a critical reflection on how processes of the unconscious and (counter-)transference are conceptualized or rather 'mis-conceptualized'. Additionally, it reflects a critical stance towards some tendencies of de-emphasizing self-knowledge and insight, inner conflict, and implications of the changes in the analytic stance, given the development that has characterized the psychoanalytic discipline during the last decades. Part III is devoted to the attempt to delineate areas of divergence and convergence among different psychoanalytical theories, embedded in a discussion of the cultural and philosophical contexts that form the background for an explanation of more specific differences between classical and contemporary psychoanalytic theory.

In order to give an idea of how the author elegantly develops and reconnects the lines of argument, one might exemplarily refer to the examination of crucial aspects of the psychoanalytic concept of mind. Starting with the roots of a Freudian theory of mind (I /chap. 2) the idea of the mental “apparatus” as discharging excitation is introduced. This basic function of the mental apparatus is explained in relation to the constancy principle, pleasure principle and (later) drive theory in line with the classical perspective. The hanger for Eagle's critique of contemporary theories is their rejection of the conception of mind as an apparatus of discharge, and the associated rejection of classic drive theory and constancy principle. With Eagle one can “equally say that the essence of contemporary psychoanalytic theories of mind lies in the idea that the main function of the mind is to establish, to maintain, and preserve ties to others” (Eagle 2011, 107). These divergent conceptualizations illustrate that Eagle's analysis has to cover a wide spectrum of ideas in order to account for the initiating impulses that have lead to the divergences/convergences within psychoanalytic conceptualizations of the mind. The author examines different models of the concept of mind against the backdrop of contemporary critique of the Freudian concept of the dynamic unconscious and the concept of repression, which entails a critical assessment of alternative views on unconscious processes and defenses. Prominent points of departure for reflecting about unconscious processes and contents include on one hand the approach that addresses them in terms of unformulated experiences and failure to spell out, and on the other those attempts that conceptualize them in terms of self, object, and interactional representations.

Basically, contemporary psychoanalysis shares with cognitive psychology and recent philosophical literature the rejection of the idea of the unconscious as a “storehouse of fully formed mental contents that, when uncovered, appear in consciousness, unchanged in their original form”       (Eagle 2011, 112), and, moreover, tends to conceptualize unconscious processes as implicit processes (e.g. H. Fingarette 1963, The Self in Transformation; D.B Stern 2003, Unformulated Experience). The latter implies to understand operational processes of repression and other defenses predominantly in terms of avoiding to become explicitly conscious of the real motifs of one´s particular engagements with the world, and in return, avoid to become aware of that very process of avoidance. This points to alternative ideas of the “not spelled out” (H. Fingarette 1969, Self-deception, 46ff) according to which these dynamics are construed in terms of a policy motivated by the desire to avoid unpleasant states, or to such approaches like G.S. Klein's (1976) specification of repression in terms of a failure to make connections among the personal import of mental contents. This places more emphasis on the meaning of certain mental contents, which prevent -- when staying out of awareness -- one's understanding of what might predetermine one's being engaged with the world.

Concerned with the fine points of alternative conceptualizations of unconscious processes as central to the psychoanalytic theory of mind, Eagle's re-assessment of Stern's (1989; 2003) conceptualization of  unconscious as unformulated experience and of indeterminate content may count as paradigmatically illustrative of the debate. Eagle's critique is supported by an examination of the role of attention as determining the degree according to which, and also in which specific form, a mental content can occupy consciousness and, additionally, gets well connected to considerations of experiential degrees on personal ownership. Freud's conception of cathexis (Freud 1990, Interpretation of Dreams) does not allow for such a gradual perspective on attention, simply because a mental content receives it or not, and correspondingly, either becomes conscious or remains/becomes unconscious. In line with this, Eagle tackles such prominent conceptual problems like that of the paradox of unconscious defense (Eagle 2011, 118ff): One might wonder, how defense can count as eliciting a failure to formulate (as e.g. Stern's account claims), given the hypothesis that in order to react defensively to some content, there must have been former experience of some sort of determining content, respectively. While classical theory refers to ego censorship -- an idea widely criticized for relying on the notion of ego as a 'homunculus-like' entity -- other theories offer explanations in terms of the selective attention of self-systems (Sullivan 1956, Clinical Studies in Psychiatry). Eagle discusses the value of determinate content required for defense in terms of experiential cues, for instance, of fleeting cues, which trigger a kind of “do not further encode/attend-response”, according to which, e.g. anxiety dissolves and defense responses get reinforced. In relying on such accounts like the partial cue hypothesis (e.g., Eagle 1959, The effects of subliminal stimuli of aggressive content upon conscious cognition), according to which the relevant stimuli do not have to become fully encoded, but partial cues are rather seen as sufficient to elicit defense response, one can at least avoid to introduce a kind of sub-personal perceiver 'from within'. One might also claim that formulating the unformulated is often a matter of reflection, of articulation, and explication of the meaning of fleeting non-verbalized experiences, which cannot or need not be formulated any further. This requires interpretation of the meaning contained in such experiences, especially with respect to regard one's attitudes and feelings (Eagle 2011, 115). Thus having access to unformulated experiences, however, does not necessarily imply to ignore the immediacy and directness of unformulated experiences as authentic expressions. These very characteristics provide a path for exploring how one really feels and what really is of personal importance. The characteristic authenticity of the unformulated stems -- according to Eagle's analysis -- partly from the frequent confluence between the unformulated and the spontaneous behaviors, which are not under one's conscious control. They reveal, if attended and reflected, those aspects of an individual's inner state that simply cannot be expressed fully by volitional responses and/or responses with a known meaning.  Consequently, the general claim that much of the important work in treatment lies in transforming the sub-symbolic into symbolic coding, and respectively transforming the unformulated into the formulated via verbalization, is challenged by stressing the therapeutic value of grasping the significance of experiences in order to reveal one's own feelings, desires, fears, etc., an endeavor which implies more than just finding words to describe them.

A second way to address the nature of unconscious processes and contents in contemporary psychoanalysis is to conceptualize them in terms of representations of early interactions, found for instance in O. Kernberg's (1976) object, self, and affect unity; in D. N. Stern's (1985) Representations of Interactions Generalized (RIGs), in what Beebe and colleagues refer to as interactional structures (B. Beebe et al. 1997, Mother infant interaction structures and presymbolic self- and object representations), and in Mitchell's relational configurations (S. A. Mitchell 1988, Relational Concepts in Psychoanalysis). These representations of interactions or interactional structures are seen as non-verbally acquired -- thus often unconscious -- structural patterns of and for self- and world-disclosure. They influence one's expectations and the representation of one's self and others, while it is also assumed that these structures precede the 'self-other-differentiation'. In pointing to the unconscious nature of these structures as being rather implicit than repressed in the dynamic sense, they are attributed to the dimension of procedural knowledge (in the context of relationships), and clearly have an embodied dimension due to being incorporated structures, that constantly shape the realm of individual possibilities and actual individual behavior. In order to explain the unconscious as consisting of representations, one might claim that these representational structures cannot get uncovered in terms of direct experience, i.e. are not to be uncovered in treatment the very same way as for instance repressed wishes or memories. From the perspective of treatment, the repetitive patterns in transference -- the 'here-and-now-scenario' of therapeutic interaction -- rather seem to provide access to the client's representational structures in terms of direct experience. Eagle speculates that this emphasis on representations might have lead to a fundamental neglect of the idea of the recovery of repressed memories in treatment (Eagle 2011, 191ff).  The significance of contemporary therapeutic approaches is rather based on the idea that certain memories have initiated particular kinds of experiences, which, in turn, are seen as constitutive for the representational structures of individuals. These are seen as the roots of the symptoms which cause one to seek treatment. Moreover, the shift from the unconscious of wishes to the unconscious of representations entails a rejection of the hypothesis of persistence of infantile wishes as a maintaining factor for psychopathology. Psychopathology is explained alternatively by the idea of persistent representations that may have been helpful once, but have turned out to be maladaptive for one's actual situation. This appears as a reasonable answer by contemporary accounts to classical accounts, which are often considered to have over-emphasized the continued pursuit of infantile wishes and their lacking gratification under given reality constrains. There is a tendency to replace this view and to perceive pathological conditions and states rather as products of self- and-other-representations that cause negative affect and arise from early experiences which complicate self- and world-relations of someone's adult life, too.

Finally, Eagle concentrates more on the 'social nature-hypothesis' of mind in contemporary psychoanalysis, which is most commonly described in two ways: one way to express the idea of a rather inherent social (or object-seeking) nature of mind -- as such fundamentally opposing the classical views of a derivative social nature -- is to construe it in terms of the theories of object relations. The other is provided by the idea of the mind as socially constructed, while these particular theories normally not share the basic idea of innate (biologically based) social (or object-seeking) tendencies, because they are seen as somehow constructed by social influences. Morris Eagle outlines in a very transparent way the development of the social-constructionist-hypothesis. His analysis covers both: the views that recognize social interactions as a basis for the emergence of mind and as shaping the form in which it emerges, and the extended hypothesis that suggests that (also) the adult mind is shaped constantly by ongoing social interaction. The conceptualization of mind in terms of fluid and shifting responses that has its unity rather in some form of interactional representation, thus often replaces the idea of the mind as conceptualized in terms of relatively stable inner structures, or of having its basic unit in impulse or wish. Respectively, mental content and processes are no longer seen as consisting of “intrapsychic vicissitudes of drive-related wishes” (Eagle 2011, 132; see also: S. Freud 1915, Instincts and their Vicissitudes), but as interactional representations that influence concerns and operations of mind. Subsequently, Eagle reminds the reader of the prominent theories that presuppose the social-interactional theory of mind, especially Mitchell's relational configurations (S. A. Mitchell 1988, Relational concepts in psychoanalysis) and Stolorow's intersubjective theory (e.g. R.D. Stolorow et al. 2002, Worlds of Experience), as well as Fairbain's theory of internalization (W. R.D. Fairbain 1952, Psychoanalytic studies of the Personality), and finally Kernberg's basic ideas on self and object representations (O. Kernberg 1976, Object Relational Theory and Clinical Psychoanalysis).

Summarizing the basic points of divergence, one might share Eagle's observation that the general divergence between classical and contemporary conceptions of mind is deeply rooted in the diminished interest of contemporary accounts for a systematic formulation of the origin and conception of the mind. This is according to the author something we find in classical theory (including the tradition of ego-psychology) as deeply influenced by the aim of developing a relatively complete theory of psychological functioning. Although the critique might hit most of the contemporary conceptions of the mind Eagle critically refers to, it likely is not a claim that can be generalized for all contemporary psychoanalysis.  This is particularly true for current research in the field of neuropsychoanalysis that definitely shares the ambition to develop such a comprehensive theory of (the origins of) mind (e.g., G. Northoff 2011, Neuropsychoanalysis in Practice; K. Kaplan-Solms & M. Solms 2000, Clinical Studies in Neuro-Psychoanalysis; R. Bilder & F. Frank LeFever (eds.) 1998, Neuroscience of the Mind on the Centennial of Freud´s Project for a Scientific Psychology).

Specific divergence can be found in the rejection of drive theory and the constancy principle in contemporary accounts. According to Freud, the mind is characterized from the early beginning as seeking for immediate gratification through hallucinatory wish fulfillment, which normally gets modulated by an increasing knowledge about means-ends-relations, and by dealing with real objects as that what is required for receiving gratification. If these classical ideas of the development of thinking and object-relation alike, as something conceptualized as being clearly “contingent upon the fact that hallucinatory wish fulfillment does not succeed in achieving gratification” (Eagle, 2011, 252), are rejected all too enthusiastically, the contemporary accounts at least should offer alternative systematic accounts, which are able to explain the respective developmental processes of reality testing. The idea of reality testing as an innate capacity rather than something forced by drive demands might however provide an adequate alternative explanation.

The most obvious form of divergence between classical and contemporary (especially relational) conceptions of mind is their conceptualization of unconscious processes (including defense). It is also rooted in the rejection of the classical notion of repression in contemporary accounts. Most remarkable is the tendency of contemporary accounts to replace the classical dichotomy of unconscious and conscious by a quasi 'neo-Jamesian' approach (W. James 1890, The Principles of Psychology) in terms of an unconscious-conscious-continuum, which resembles the differentiation between unconscious and preconscious, but might be criticized for its lack of any corresponding category for the system Ucs. While the Freudian theorem of specific and determinate unconscious mental contents defines them as not being essentially different from conscious contents, alternative approaches like D.B. Stern's (2003) conceptualization of unconscious mental contents sees them as indeterminate unformulated experiences. If formulated, the content of these experiences is determined by social interaction. Consequently, defense is not longer been perceived as keeping determinate unacceptable contents from conscious experience, but is conceptualized as a failure (in terms of an incapacity or simply as an unwillingness) to formulate the unformulated.

The idea of the mind as a socially constructed product of interaction further substantiates the idea of the indeterminate mind. It opposes the Freudian conceptualization of a pre-organized mind, and of unconscious contents as more or less stable structures. Inasmuch as especially relational approaches can put stronger emphasis on these internal structures as derived from the space of interaction and interpersonal sphere, this might point towards aspects of convergence, because a conception of mind is suggested, which apparently presupposes some sort of pre-organized and stable structures, as it is for instance characteristic for Mitchell's approach to the mind.           

The main convergences in psychoanalytic conceptions of mind are given by the fact that also contemporary theories (e.g. object-relation theory; relational psychoanalysis, neo-Kleinian theory) put  some emphasize on inner conflict -- recognizing the mind as inherently conflictual -- albeit diverging in their opinion on what kind of conflicts are regarded the most relevant. Eagle highlights the convergent aspects in their relevance for the overall shared goal of conflict resolution in different treatment approaches. Besides the divergences concerning the specific nature of defense, and what exactly is defended from, some sort of integrative potential is disclosed by the fact of regarding the basic function of defenses in keeping unpleasant content from fully conscious experience. Finally, Eagle illuminates a further point of convergence of classical and contemporary approaches as Freud's theory of danger situation (especially loss of the object and object's love; Freud 1925/26, Inhibitions, Symptoms and Anxiety), essentially shares a conceptual aspect with contemporary accounts: They both refer to the idea of certain mental contents as potentially producing anxiety or guilt, and thus as initiating the activation of defense, as such fundamentally influencing what mental contents can actually become conscious. This is conceptually substantiated in classical as well as in contemporary approaches by the idea that certain mental contents with anxiety-evoking potential can be associated with early negative experience with parental figures.         

Eagle analysis reveals the crucial points of conceptual development of psychoanalytic theory, which is illustrated by his examination of classic and contemporary conceptions of the mind. The author reminds one of those aspects that may remain challenging for contemporary psychoanalytic research on the mind, and the reader may be inspired to critically reflect on some of Eagle's arguments also in lights of current neuropsychoanalytic theory of mind. The author provides one with excellent micro-analyses of the four fundamental topics and his analysis also illustrates how they should get addressed for a (re-)assessment of their potential for conceptual integration. This characterizes the book as highly recommendable to both, professionals and beginners in the realm of psychoanalytic theory and practice. It is characteristic for Eagle's work that he carefully prepares the grounds for critique, which reflects a true devotion to intra- and inter-disciplinary dialogue. Given the presented critique on contemporary theories of mind, one might have been delighted to learn more about the author's opinion about the integrative potential of contemporary conceptualizations of the mind in neuropsychoanalysis. Some of the hypotheses provided by the neuropsychoanalytic discipline as continuing Freud's Project for a Scientific Psychology may have been further grain to Eagle's mills of critically re-assessing contemporary psychoanalytic theories of mind. It is especially by pointing to the import of (re-)gaining conceptual clarity from an intra-disciplinary perspective that Morris Eagle's book provides a solid basis for conceptual integration and inspires interdisciplinary dialogue.

 

© 2012 Kerrin A. Jacobs

 

Kerrin A. Jacobs (contact: www.kerrin-jacobs.de)


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