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Mindbrain, Psychoanalytical Institutions and psychoanalysts

Volume chapter author (s): Imbasciati A.

In this book (www.imbasciati.it) I have collected and tried to summarize the ideas I have developed by integrating different sciences of the mind during my long experience as a psychoanalyst, a researcher, then a professor, a trainer as well as a director of a university school. Throughout my professional life I aimed at systematizing, integrating and possibly unifying the diverse theories on the origins and functioning of the mind. In psychoanalysis these theories – although they were formulated over a century ago – are still mixed and confused in a state of inadequacy both in terms of epistemology and general culture. In my life, psychoanalysis has been the field where I have, most passionately, found implicit scientific limits in the institutions which have as their explicit goal the development of the science that Freud founded one-hundred years ago. But this is the case everywhere: Institution, as Elliott Jacques said, works against Organization.

As I am approaching the end of my professional life, in this book I have allowed myself for freer critical expression about what, I believe, restricts the development of research in psychoanalysis, not so much in the excellent craftsmanlike clinical practice, but rather in terms of theorization and integration in the current general scientific scenario. In their traditional associations psychoanalysts have remained isolated from the progress of the other sciences of the mind and lately have been suspicious vis-à-vis neurosciences.

Today the latter address the issues of unconscious affect – a traditional hunting ground for psychoanalysis – but through different means (biotechnologies) and a different language. Given this framework, I carry out a critical exploration of Freud’s Energy-Drive Theory, which is seen as the mythical figure in the religiosity underlying the nature of psychoanalytic Institutions. This nature is accompanied by confusion among different psychoanalytic theories that often cannot be compared with one another: suffice it to think about the contradictionbetween Freud’s view of the mind – led by endogenous forces clashing with external reality – and the relational theories (from Melanie Klein to Winnicott, Bion and many other more recent authors) that describe the functioning of the mind as it gets constructed within and by the relationships. This theoretical confusion and haughty withdrawal in one single assumed orthodoxy are, in my view, the reasons why a bad social image of psychoanalysis has spread among other scientists and therefore in the general public.

Currently, psychoanalysis appears to undergo a serious crisis: in terms of its therapeutic application it does not seem to meet the changed social needs of the patients and their requests any longer, whereas at the theoretical level it does not correspond any longer to sufficient criteria for qualifying scientificity. Otto Kernberg, former IPA president, predicted the suicide of psychoanalytic Institutions[1].

I have gradually addressed the current theoretical and epistemological chaos throughout my life and have carried out an integrative work between Psychoanalysis, Experimental Psychology, Developmental Psychology, Cognitive Science, Attachment Theory and, now, Neurosciences. In this framework I have elaborated a new metapsychology, different from the one conceived by Freud one-hundred years ago in his seminal workMetapsychology (1915), where he formulated the explanation of the functioning of the human mind in terms of drive theory. This “explanation”, though criticized in the last fifty years, is still part of the institutional competence of psychoanalysts, even though it is in sharp contrast with the development of the psychoanalytic clinical practice itself.

In underlying the great gap between the clinical progress of psychoanalysis and its theoretical backwardness, vagueness and confusion, in the 1990s I started to outline my “Theory of the Protomental” and, more recently, a new metapsychology that can be consistent with neurosciences. These innovations, along with other ones by other authors, do not seem to be easily assimilable by the Institution and are put in the shade, whereas Freud’s explanations are still viewed as sacred icons to be kept and venerated. The “Mindbrain”, a name I use in this book, seems to be foreign to the mainstream that the Institution supports or even seems to prescribe. The latter seems to be interested only in clinical practice, case studies, treatment! Yet Freud (1922) stated that psychoanalysis was much more than that, and the therapeutic outcome was to be considered as being secondary. Therefore, I believe in the importance of studying how the human mind works, along with its therapeutic application. Freud’s genius needs to be developed and not be kept as a sacred icon.

So, in this last book I outline a theory on the origins and functioning of the mind in new psychological terms that, at the same time, are in line with what we currently know from Neurosciences, with particular reference to what Neurosciences are studying about unconscious emotions, subjectivity, intersubjectivity. A new, different notion of the unconscious is formulated: an unconscious of neural mnestic structures. The mnestic trace, i.e. the engramme, is the notion I put forward instead of the drive: implicit memory, memory of ways of functioning, memory that cannot be verbalized and undermines the clinical practice of the talking cure. In this framework I discuss the issue of mind-brain relation.

I also emphasize the need for a new training for psychoanalysts, who have been trained in the talking cure so far, so as to develop a future competence in non-verbal communication and to carry out a scientific study focused not directly on the unconscious but rather on competencies that are gained or can be gained from consciousness, first and foremost the consciousness of psychoanalysts who aim to understand the unconscious. Such a new training can both renew psychoanalysis, in an integration with the other sciences for the progress of research on the human mind, and find new therapeutic strategies that are more consistent with the patients’ requests in the current changed social climate.

I wish that this book will spur all my colleagues who, from different vertices, study how the human mind functions, first of all my fellow psychoanalysts who are often held back by the fear to obscure the genius and the work of the Master. Against this backdrop the multiplicity of clinical practices and techniques aiming at the treatment of mental pain can be clarified  with a sufficient knowledge of the psychophysiology of the mind preceding any therapeutic intervention and implicitely guiding it without distorting the humanity of each intersubjectivity.