I have a new therapist, a social worker. Already I see problems. I happened to say casually, “I’ve been reading Freud since I was a teenager.” She winced at that, as if in pain. Imagine the way someone would look at you if you confessed: “I stick my head in the toilet every morning before I flush.” Seriously, that’s the way she looked at me. Later in the session she kind of confirmed what I suspected. She told me her views of psychoanalysis: she seemed to imply that analysis was not simply a waste of time and money, but that it was exploitive. She talked about how “analysts force a patient to lay on a couch” and show no compassion for the patient’s misery. It’s as if she projected on to the analyst the image of a cold and cruel father — a father who had no sympathy for the struggles of his suffering child. I was reminded of Dr. Shengold’s quote from Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams: “Father, don’t you see I’m burning?” which Dr. Shengold uses to express our intermittent oppression by the intensity of our instinctual drives. According to Dr. Shengold, these needs and their frustration create a lifelong burden of rage, in large part directed at the parents on whom we are initially dependent and who are the first to deprive us. Ultimately we must learn to settle for less and less of the everything we continue to desire. However, our awareness of the nothingness of death also serves to promote a sense of the value of life.
I yearn for a therapist who can see the duality of instinctual drives as well as the salience of environmental stressors. Time and time again, the therapists I see want to focus exclusively on one issue or the other: either the inner world of instinctual wishes or the outer world of relationships and stressors. I feel like the Countess in Strauss’s opera Capriccio, who is in love with two suitors. “Why can’t I marry both?” she muses.
I said to the therapist, “When I was little my father used to beat me.” Her response? “He shouldn’t have done that. That was inappropriate. You were just a child. Children act out, children are attention seekers.” Of what psychological value was that statement? How was my reaction to my father a mix of trauma and instinctual aggression? How did these two factors mesh with each other?
Be that as it may.
I was recently thinking about something tangentially related to my problems with therapists. I get the idea from many of them that they think: “He reads some Freud and now he wants to apply Freud’s ideas to himself. He needs to disabuse himself of these psychoanalytical ideas he reads and immerse himself in the work of therapy.”
That’s simplistic. I did not develop an interest in Freud when I was a teenager the way a teenage girl might suddenly obsess on the joys of baseball because her new-found boyfriend happens to be the star pitcher on the high school baseball team.
I’ve worked out something in my mind. Freud developed psychoanalysis on his own. He did not adopt somebody else’s ideas or psychological orientation to the world. His work and theories grew out of his personality and his psychological predilections. When Freud was a teenager, he was just a teenage kid with his own personality and psychological disposition. In fact, I read that at one point Freud thought about becoming a lawyer like his ten year older brother, Alexander. If he had become a lawyer, he would have had the same personality. It would have been Sigmund Freud attorney instead of Sigmund Freud medical doctor. But it would be the same Freud. The same person. The same personality.
What I see is that Freud probably had certain personality traits that disposed him to a particular orientation to the world. I speculate that if another person has traits similar to Freud’s he just might be drawn to psychoanalytic thinking. It’s these core psychological traits that are important. It’s the psychological traits that need to be considered as important determinants in my interest in psychoanalysis, not simple hero worship. It may be these core psychological traits that determine my orientation to therapy and the way I relate to therapists.
What are the traits that disposed Freud to psychoanalytic thinking. Do I have similar traits?
The teenage Freud may have had a high need for cognition. The need for cognition (NFC), in psychology, is a personality variable reflecting the extent to which individuals are inclined towards effortful cognitive activities. Need for cognition has been variously defined as “a need to structure relevant situations in meaningful, integrated ways” and “a need to understand and make reasonable the experiential world”. Higher NFC is associated with increased appreciation of debate, idea evaluation, and problem solving. Those with a high need for cognition may be inclined towards high elaboration. Those with a lower need for cognition may display opposite tendencies, and may process information more heuristically, often through low elaboration.
The teenage Freud may have had a high level of psychological mindedness. Psychological mindedness refers to a person’s capacity for self-examination, self-reflection, introspection and personal insight. It includes an ability to recognize meanings that underlie overt words and actions, to appreciate emotional nuance and complexity, to recognize the links between past and present, and insight into one’s own and others’ motives and intentions. Psychologically minded people have above average insight into mental life.
The teenage Freud may have had a high level of “openness to experience.” Openness to experience involves six facets, or dimensions, including active imagination (fantasy), aesthetic sensitivity, attentiveness to inner feelings, preference for variety, and intellectual curiosity. People high in openness are motivated to seek new experiences and to engage in self-examination. Structurally, they have a fluid style of consciousness that allows them to make novel associations between remotely connected ideas. Openness has been linked to both artistic and scientific creativity as professional artists and scientists have been found to score higher in openness compared to members of the general population. People high in openness may be more motivated to engage in intellectual pursuits that increase their knowledge. Openness to experience, especially the Ideas facet, is related to need for cognition, a motivational tendency to think about ideas, scrutinize information, and enjoy solving puzzles, and to typical intellectual engagement (a similar construct to need for cognition).
The teenage Freud may have been able to extend effort in idea production, an aspect of creativity according to Sidney Parnes.
The teenage Freud may have been a person who defied conventions, was independent in judgment and thinking; he may have been discontented, attracted to unconventional thinking, a fault finder, and stubborn and temperamental: all aspects of the creative personality according to Torrance.
The teenage Freud may have shown a desire for discovery, and a striving for general principles: aspects of creativity according to Taylor.
The teenage Freud may have been complex psychodynamically with a high level of psychological scope; he may have been assertive and dominant: aspects of creativity according to Barron.
The teenage Freud may have been adept at mental pattern recognition, an ability to see meaning in behaviors, ideas and emotions that present as a seeming maze of indiscriminate personal facts: mental pattern recognition is a cognitive ability associated with creativity.
The teenage Freud may have been independent in his cognitive abilities and have valued these abilities very much; he may have been a person who was able to hold many ideas in his mind at once; he may have seen a more complex universe than many people: aspects of creativity according to Barron.
The teenage Freud may have been a person who became aware of unconscious motives and fantasy life, an important feature of the creative thinker, according to Barron.
The point is that Freud would have had these traits regardless of whether he became a lawyer or a conventional medical doctor or a psychoanalyst. Before he became a psychoanalyst Freud was simply an ordinary person with a cluster of certain personality traits.
The important question is whether these traits are relevant or irrelevant to the way a therapy patient does therapy. Will a creative patient respond to the therapist the same way a noncreative patient will respond?
If Freud were 18 years old and in therapy, what kind of patient would he be?