EssaysImaginal PoliticsPsyche

Talking about Gaza in Psychoanalysis

Politics is usually absent from explicit discourse in psychoanalysis. I say explicit, because obviously we all live in socio-political contexts that signify and structure our roles in any setting. There is a long history to the retreat of politics and political thought from the psychoanalytic clinic. But suffice it to say that, especially since psychoanalysis became a Central European refugee in the post WWII anti-socialist US, everyone has been careful. The allusion of scientism and the ideology of neutrality have been a good defense.

But days like these complicate the picture. Being a New York based Jewish-Israeli therapist with a sizable cohort of Jewish-Israeli patients, nowadays there is no avoiding discussing current events. …

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EssaysPsycheReligion

McMindfulness

The marketing of well-being

“McMindfulness.” I came across this term for the first time today. I wish I had coined it. It would be nice to be able to make a claim to originality. But coming across the term is almost good enough. It provides a name for a phenomenon that I didn’t even know needed one, and it makes it real. I don’t think anyone knows who coined this term. It’s kind of like “neoliberalism.” Suddenly there is a name for something you know is a problem — an important problem that can be difficult to put your finger on.

Mindfulness practice is a meditative discipline, originating in Buddhism, that involves the cultivation of a type of present-centered, nonjudgmental awareness of the ongoing flow of one’s emerging experience. While mindfulness enjoyed some popularity in the 1960’s as a countercultural phenomenon …

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EssaysPsyche

Physics Envy

The troubles in psychiatry and psychology

These are troubling times for the mental health field in the United States. A variety of historical developments have paved the road to the current predicament. Following World War II, the federal government and growing mental health lobby began an unprecedented expansion of mental heath services. This expansion in may respects continued over the next 30 years. It was not until the 1970s that American psychiatry underwent its first major crisis in the post war era. This crisis was precipitated by a number of factors including: the growing evidence of the lack of reliability of psychiatric diagnosis, the anti-psychiatry movement that was in keeping with the counter-cultural ethos of the 1960s, and a growing crisis of confidence regarding psychiatry’s status as a genuine medical specialty. …

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EssaysPsyche

Don’t Worry… Be Happy!

The dark underside of positive psychology

Over the last decade the field of positive psychology has become a burgeoning area of research within academic psychology. Well known figures in positive psychology include Martin Seligman (developer of the well known learned helplessness model of depression and past president of the American Psychological Association), Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (creator of the construct of flow), and Daniel Gilbert (author of the widely acclaimed Stumbling on Happiness). The field of positive psychology focuses on developing a scientific understanding of positive human experiences and virtues. Important research areas include happiness, optimism, fulfillment, compassion, and gratitude. The field positions itself in contrast to traditional approaches to mental health, which focus on psychopathology and treating mental illness. The roots of positive psychology can be traced to the field of humanistic psychology, which peaked in popularity during the 1960s. Well known pioneers of humanistic psychology included Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers, and Fritz Perls. …

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EssaysPsyche

It’s All in the Mind – Or is It?

The power of the placebo

A recent New York Times article reports that a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that patients receiving one of the most commonly performed forms of knee surgery (arthroscopic surgery to repair a torn meniscus) did no better than those receiving a placebo treatment. In the study, patients with meniscus tears were randomly assigned either to the standard surgical procedure, or a sham surgical procedure, which involved making an incision without touching the meniscus. One year following treatment, the majority of patients in both genuine surgical and placebo conditions reported feeling better. Moreover, the majority of patients in both conditions said that they would undergo the same treatment again. The authors of the study conclude that their findings (taken together similar findings from previous studies) raise important questions regarding best practice standards of care for the treatment of knee problems.

From my perspective, the finding that the majority of patients in the placebo condition experienced the procedure as helpful, is just as important and perhaps more conceptually intriguing. …

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Arts & DesignEssaysPsycheSex & Gender

“All My Life I Have Been a Woman” and Other Excerpts

About language, our society, madness…

Leslie Kaplan read the following excerpts from her plays after she gave the eighth William Phillips lecture on November 6, 2013 at Theresa Lang Student and Community Center/Arnhold Hall of The New School.

all my life I’ve been a woman

a woman

all my life

does that sentence seem

odd to me

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Arts & DesignEssaysPsyche

Writing Moves the Sky

“To write is to jump outside the line of the assassins.” - Franz Kafka

First of all I would like to thank the New School, and Edith Kurzweil who invited me to this eighth William Phillips lecture and gave me the opportunity to come to the prestigious New School.

My father Harold Kaplan was a great friend of William Phillips, who published his first short story, The Mohammedans, in Partisan Review, in 1943, and later his Paris Letters, and many other pieces, and I always heard about Partisan review and William Phillips at home.

I was born in Brooklyn, in 1943, but brought up in Paris. Before the war, my father was studying French literature at the University of Chicago where he had a scholarship. He started working for the radio in 1942, in The Voice of America (La voix de l’Amérique), with André Breton and Pierre Lazareff, and afterwards was sent to Algiers, where he was when I was born…

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EssaysIn DepthPsyche

Who’s Afraid of Sigmund Freud?

The rise, fall, and possible resurrection of psychoanalysis in the United States

For decades psychoanalysis dominated professional approaches to mental health in the United States and had an influential impact on our culture. Starting in the late 1960s, however, psychoanalysis has become increasingly marginalized. Here, I will argue that psychoanalysis has always contained both subversive and conservative threads. As the historian Nathan Hale argued, Americans modified psychoanalysis to solve a conflict between the more radical implications of Freud’s views and the conformist pulls of American culture. This process of domestication enabled Americans to enthusiastically embrace psychoanalysis for a period of time. But they did so at the cost of transforming psychoanalysis in ways that ultimately contributed to its decline. Yet, ironically, the current marginalizaton of psychoanalysis may contain the seeds of a more radical psychoanalysis that serve as a healthy and constructive counter-cultural force moving forward…

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EssaysIn DepthPsyche

The Attack on Empathy

I feel for Jeremy Rifkin. In 2010, Rifkin, a public intellectual and best-selling author, published a remarkable book titled The Empathic Civilization. In it, Rifkin argues (1) that humans are soft-wired for empathic feelings toward others and that (2) this potential has to be fostered if we are to survive, as a species, on our precious little planet. The book is a tour-de-force, in which ideas, data from various disciplines and anecdotes are built upon to make a case for empathy. Rifkin is not always very precise, or even correct in reporting scientific findings, but by and large his thesis holds. Empathy is good for you, and for others, and as a society we should do our best to foster it. Yet, Rifkin’s ideas have been the target of a rather intense attack by several eminent scholars, notably psychologists Paul Bloom and Steven Pinker, and philosopher Jesse Prinz. What’s not to agree with in Pinker’s ideas?

Bloom, Pinker and Prinz, echoed by New York Times’ columnist David Brooks, do not think that we should rely on empathy to build a better world. Let’s review some of their ideas.

A good start is Brooks’ article. The article elicited a host of reactions among readers and, not surprisingly, among scholars who formally study empathy. These scholars saw decades of research findings dismissed in an 800-word piece destined to a reading public of hundreds of thousands. Brooks builds his argument “against” empathy from Steven Pinker’s last book (The Better Angels of Our Nature) and a chapter by Jesse Prinz, titled “Is Empathy Necessary for Morality.” The latter is a concise piece, which can be easily read over a 6 oz cup of coffee. Pinker’s is an 800-pages book, which deals with much more than this specific question, and requires a several gallons of coffee, and a great deal of determination, to be conquered.

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