Of course it is not in my intentions to offer an online course in psychoanalytic technique. Rather I am eager to show what sort of interventions a psychoanalyst can make, and how he or she can assess the accuracy, the effectiveness if you will, of those interventions.
After all we have seen that this is what most critics of psychoanalysis see as its Achilles’ heel –that it’s "impossible" to verify or falsify a hypothesis.
So I will try to show that such a claim is based on ignorance if not on bad faith.
The underlying principle is that the human mind operates in a vastly complex and yet rational way. If you think of something, this is because of a reason. We may not know the reason, but a reason is postulated to exist. In a similar vein, when you forget something that you usually know –for example the name of that very good old school-friend, or what you were just going to say now– this also has happened for a reason.
Again, we might not know it; but we postulate that a reason exists. Similarly there are reasons behind what you dreamt of last night, reasons why you possibly forgot what you dreamt of; and so on and so forth.
The only way to approach those “hidden” reasons is by allowing the subject to talk about whatever comes to their minds. The idea is that whatever comes to their minds is indeed related, and that the relation will be eventually revealed. Think of it as a huge fresco that we can only see through the keyhole and with the help of a spotlight. You need to look again and again before you can have the bigger picture.
Facilitating this task is the work of a psychoanalyst.
As they proceed, the patient speaks and the psychoanalyst forms hypotheses. The psychoanalyst might decide to put forward one of those hypotheses, stressing, for example a similarity between two seemingly unrelated memories or thoughts, or pointing out what might appear as a pattern in the patient's behaviour or reactions.
The patient then might choose to accept the hypothesis or refuse it, but what they will consciously do is irrelevant to the analyst. The patient might exclaim “Yes! Exactly what I was thinking”, or just say “That’s stupid”. The analyst will not take either reaction as a confirmation or refutation of his hypothesis.
What will serve as confirmation or refutation is the material that the patient will bring up after the intervention –something that they suddenly remembered or an insight that they unexpectedly had. Sometimes this confirmation or refutation will come in a later session, possibly days or weeks later. The job of the analyst is to remember, and constantly readjust his hypotheses by taking into account all material brought by the patient.
He might be using all his hypotheses to construct a “model” of what is happening in the mind of his patient, but he is always ready to abandon his model if it does not suit the observations.
Does this way of working remind you of something?
Well, it does not have controlled experiments or trials –that’s for sure. But it does rely on hypotheses and their confirmation or refutation based on observations.
Is it not in the same way that cosmologists readjust their models about the universe? They don’t conduct experiments; they do not compare this universe to that universe, either. What they do is collect further data and check their hypotheses against them.
Nobody would think seriously of calling the cosmologists unscientific and their theories mythological.
I don’t see why we have to put up with all those who insist on doing exactly that with psychoanalysis.
As I said before, if this is not bad faith, it’s ignorance.
Neither will do for me, sorry.