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Frie, R., Ph.D., Psy.D., R.Psych. (2019). Overcoming Ambivalence: Psychoanalysis and the Humanities. Psychoanal. Self. Cxt., 14(1):1-2.

(2019). Psychoanalysis, Self, and Context, 14(1):1-2


Overcoming Ambivalence: Psychoanalysis and the Humanities

Roger Frie, Ph.D., Psy.D., R.Psych.

Psychoanalysis and the humanities exist in a tenuous relationship, despite their many affinities. Freud’s original project of psychoanalysis was steeped in the humanities. But following Freud, psychoanalysis was more likely to be defined in terms of the reigning medical model. Freud’s emphasis on creating a science of the mind while engaging with the classics, art, and history created an ambivalence that can still be felt today. For many psychoanalysts, the promise of a stronger connection with the neurosciences outweighs the appeal of the humanities. This tension inevitably raises questions about professional identity and identification. Who are we as psychoanalysts? How do we hope to define ourselves or our profession? Ironically, in the broader public arena, psychoanalysis and the humanities have both been marginalized and have had to struggle to overcome perceptions of being “outmoded.”

The constraints that shaped mainstream psychoanalysis during much of the twentieth century have waned, opening up new opportunities for cross-disciplinary dialogue and understanding. Contemporary psychoanalysts, particularly from the relational and self psychological schools, increasingly look to the humanities in order to develop new insights into human experience. They are drawn not only to art, literature, history, and philosophy but also to the contemporary study of gender, race, postcolonialism, and narrative. Despite the obstacles that remain, psychoanalysis and the humanities clearly have much to learn from one another.

The relationship between psychoanalysis and the humanities has always held a special interest for me. I trained as an academic historian and philosopher before becoming a psychoanalyst and psychologist. When I moved from a career of teaching in the humanities to working as a psychoanalyst and psychologist, I encountered a relationship between the different fields that was in equal parts fascinating and dispiriting. Many of my colleagues in the humanities were conversant in psychoanalysis, and some actively drew on psychoanalysis in their writing and teaching.

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