Psychoanalysis as Spirituality

Patrick Lee Miller in The Immanent Frame:

Psychoanalysis strives, first of all, to reveal the meaning of symptoms (not to mention dreams, slips, free-associations, transferences, and anything else mysterious in someone’s mental life and behavior). But this meaning is none other than the apparent but illusory good sought by the analysand. He may inquire, for instance: “What is the meaning of my coming late to sessions every day?” The hard-won answer will be something of this form: “I want my analyst to feel as though I don’t need him; I want him to feel worthless, to snub him, so that he will know how he makes me feel.” When such an apparent good comes to light, it reveals itself as illusory: “My analyst doesn’t make me feel unworthy, he’s waiting there patiently for me everyday; I think the person I really want to snub is my father; he’s the one who made me feel worthless.” When the analysand exposes such illusion himself, he grows in wisdom, not least by the acknowledgment that he unconsciously chose that illusory good and has clung to it all the while. He grows further in wisdom when he recognizes that his boss, and no doubt many others besides, have been victims of his illusion, since he has sought its apparent good from other relationships as well. His character changes, finally, when he can relate differently to these others, seeing them not as ghosts of his father—or his mother, or his siblings, or whomever—but instead as the unique individuals they really are.

To avoid the objection of suggestion raised above, a proviso becomes essential at this point: the growth in wisdom will not be the content of these statements, or others of the same form, since he could have accepted them from a suggestive analyst without really understanding their significance for him. No, his growth in wisdom will be the way his character changes as a result of these recognitions. Psychoanalytic healing comes not from accepting as true certain interpretations of our lives, but rather from seeing our unconscious choices at work ubiquitously in our lives, distorting our perceptions of reality and thus our relationships with others. One result of a successful analysis, then, is the analysand’s recognition that he has chosen much of his life, especially the frustrating repetitions that have formerly appeared to him as inevitable. By bringing unconscious choices into consciousness, in the end, the analysand can now choose otherwise. Far from neglecting freedom, and thereby reducing human dignity, as Taylor argues, psychoanalysis augments it.