Infant Mental Life and the Dream APsaA meeting – Austin, TX
Back in the day, when I was just beginning in the field people seemed to be forever asking me, “What’s your orientation?” There were so many, as there are today still. My colleagues and I quickly settled into answering the question with a single word that required no further explanation or defense. We said we were eclectic.
At this conference we have Freudians, Kleinians, Bionians, Lacanians, just to name a few of the major theorists from the last century. People may celebrate this as diversity, but what it really means is that psychoanalysis still does not have a correct theory that can account for the cause of human suffering and the mechanism by which it is engendered. Without that, we do not have the solid foundation necessary to conduct efficacious treatment.
I believe many analysts intuit the shortcomings of existing theory and don’t adhere to any of them strictly. Rather, I think most analysts employ the old eclectic approach I employed for many years, taking a bit of this and a bit of that to try to piece together something workable. In other words, they do not have a cohesive theory of mind that allows them to feel the security of a solid foundation for their work. I think this must trouble analysts more than perhaps they realize, just as it did me for 20 years.
And if we can’t even agree on what causes the problems with which our patients present, or how they can best be treated, is it any wonder that the public doesn’t take psychoanalysis, Freud’s great discovery, seriously any longer? Since its heyday at mid-century, the popularity and esteem of psychoanalysis has deteriorated in the mass culture to being a punch line in a Woody Allen joke.
They say that psychoanalysis is not scientific. And they are right. All the theorists I mentioned above have based their ideas primarily on intellectual fantasy and their results cannot be replicated.
I believe that if psychoanalysis is to have a renaissance, it must find a compelling and replicable theory, a scientific theory not based on intellectual fantasy. A new paradigm.
One of the most remarkable and revolutionary aspects of Dr. Bail’s work is the introduction of a new paradigm for psychoanalysis: the Feminine Paradigm. His theory of the imprint puts the mother at the center of our emotional universe where she belongs and makes clear her impact on the baby she conceives, gestates, and gives birth to. Up until this point, the ruling paradigm in psychoanalysis has been masculine and intellectual, what we might call the Freudian Paradigm.
Freud proposed the theory that the cause of psychopathology was centered in the relationship to the father and the Oedipal complex was the event that must be analyzed to produce a successful therapeutic outcome. But we now know that much has already affected the child by the age of five. Focusing on this period of life as the beginning is like trying to construct a building by starting on the fifth floor. And that is why the Freudian paradigm has crumpled. It cannot be saved because it is an incorrect theory.
Melanie Klein knew intuitively that Freud was not digging for answers in the right place and, being a mother, she focused her search on infancy. One of her first case studies was of her own baby, her last child Erich, conceived and born during one of her bouts with severe depression. What she observed in him formed the basis of her theory, not realizing that what she saw was a reflection of her own terrible feelings and deficits in mothering. Her theory suggests that psychopathology arises from the innate badness of the baby, an hypothesis that defies commonsense. Her fantasy of greedy, envious, devouring babies stretches the imagination and denies the pivotal role of the mother. Babies are different in temperament because they have different mothers.
And don’t we all know intuitively that the mother is the most powerful emotional force in the family? We talk about Mother Nature, the Motherland, the Mothership. And who do we wave hello to or thank on television if not Mom? We live inside her body; her emotional chemistry is ours too. Nine months is a long time and our in utero experience represents the ultimate intimate connection, the like of which we have trouble even imagining. These obvious facts are why Dr. Bail’s work focuses on pre and perinatal life as the beginning of human emotional life and where we must look to ascertain what has gone wrong.
What the unconscious has revealed to Dr. Bail, and will reveal to anyone who follows Dr. Bail’s method, is that humanity’s problems arise from our earliest experience in the womb which we recreate unerringly over the course of our lives. He calls this an imprint because it is an emotional state etched into us at our core. You will hear an illustration of this in Dr. Weiner’s case presentation today.
Now I want to be very clear that this theory is not mother bashing. No mother sets out consciously to harm her child but the tragedy is that she can’t help but pass on what is inside her and especially so because it is unconscious. These terrible feelings were passed to her from her mother so that root cause of the disorders we treat is this multi-generational imprint. It is the legacy of the mistreatment, oppression and diminution of women that has plagued the Masculine Paradigm. This is what the church was getting at with the concept of original sin but they didn’t understand its origin. The imprint is universal but has nothing to do with a child’s true nature. It is an artifact of the world we have, in our ignorance, created. As rates of mental illness indicate, it is not getting any better despite a century of psychoanalysis, it is getting worse.
The good news is that because this early trauma is buried deeply in our unconscious mind, it can only be accessed through psychoanalysis and the dream. If psychoanalysts can heed the call to a new paradigm, a Feminine Paradigm which recognizes the power of the mother in shaping our lives, they already possess the only method capable of discovering and removing the Imprint their patients carry, Freud’s brilliant method of free association for understanding the latent content of a dream. A theory that can explain the mechanism of emotional disturbance will be our field’s equivalent of the theories of Gravity, Evolution, Relativity. Combining this with a powerful method like dream interpretation will allow psychoanalysis to finally deliver on the promise of its beginnings and begin to transform the suffering of the world.