The history and progress of neuropsychoanalysis

Aikaterini Fotopoulou

in From the Couch to the Lab

Published on behalf of Oxford University Press

Published in print May 2012 | ISBN: 9780199600526
Published online February 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780191754753 | DOI:
The history and progress of neuropsychoanalysis

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The chapter reviews the origins and position of psychoanalysis between the humanities and science. It starts by focusing on the scientific background of psychoanalysis and particularly Freud's early, selective influences by the German, French and British neurological traditions of the time. Freud famously founded psychoanalysis on the basis of his disappointment with the contemporary medicine of his time. He believed that the hierarchical organisation of the mind and the dynamic, causative influence of certain mental forces, require a new field to be established. This new field should be independent of simplistic brain localisations and instead focus on careful clinical description of individual cases with the aim of elucidating subjective meanings and dynamic, psychological processes of causation. However, although Freud emphasized the need for an independent enquiry into psychodynamics, he also firmly believed that this necessary separation between psychodynamics and ‘neurodynamics’ was temporary. He believed that the mental forces and energies he was studying were in some unknown fashion equivalent to dynamic chemical and physical mechanisms and future research would one day be able to draw the links between the two. Unfortunately, however, as science and psychoanalysis progressed independently for many decades after Freud's death, interdisciplinary dialogue between them became regarded as irrelevant, if not impossible and damaging. From the 1950s to 1970s there were only some sole voices urging for rapprochement. These were progressively enhanced and formalised in the 1980s and 1990s and the year 2000 saw the formal establishment of a new interdisciplinary field, Neuropsychoanalysis. Since then, there has been a marked and prolific increase in exchange of ideas between neuroscientists and psychoanalysts, attesting to the popularity and success of the new field. However, despite the valuable insights gained by interdisciplinary studies and syntheses, not all of this work was built upon the careful epistemological foundations proposed by the founders of Neuropsychoanalysis. Moreover, within psychoanalysis, a number of passionate objections have been raised, including what is heuristically termed here as (1) ‘the mental, not the organic’ objection, and (2) ‘the personal, not the universal’ objection. The chapter addresses both of these objections, clarifying the underlying epistemology of Neuropsychoanalysis and emphasising the suitable common ground of both fields, namely metapsychology. It is argued that neuroscience can influence the universal metapsychological models that are put forward, discussed and debated within psychoanalysis and that only particular types of neuroscientific enquiry are suitable for neuropsychoanalytic dialogue. More generally, it is proposed that collaboration and dialogue between the fields may constrain and enhance each other's models, without incorporating or eliminating each other's unique scope and practice.

Chapter.  7767 words. 

Subjects: Psychiatry

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