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To put it another way, a principle is the origin of what we know. In the context of psychoanalysis, principles and technique are necessarily interdependent because the one relies on the other for the development and articulation of each. A hundred years ago Freud’s experience as a clinician gave rise to principles of technique from which his theoretical formulations were derived. Yet there is no necessary relationship between the theories Freud formulated and the principles upon which they are founded. This is what is both maddening and unique about psychoanalysis: it does not particularly lend itself to theory because it pertains to experiences (both those of analysts and patients) that are unpredictable, unrepeatable, and where the unconscious is concerned, unfathomable. Freud had no theories when he started and was tinkering with and rethinking them to the day he died. What he never wavered from, however, were the principles upon which his clinical work and the theories he derived from them were based. These principles have wavered little in the century that has followed since their conception. The history of psychoanalysis may be characterized as a Babel of tongues (theories) that have endeavored (to a considerable degree, unsuccessfully) to make sense of what experience tells us. What are these principles and what is the source of their power?

I neither assume nor follow a necessary or clearly articulated theoretical orientation. Instead, I abide by the fundamental principles upon which psychoanalytic practice is based, beginning with the fundamental rule of psychoanalysis: the pledge to be honest as articulated by Freud and, with modifications, remains so today. My method is to examine these technical principles and their tributaries phenomenologically, which is to say, from the analyst’s lived experience, by exploring their internal consistency as they emerge from a clinical context. This is the basis of my conception of an existentially based psychoanalysis. Let me explain what I take phenomenology to mean and how I employ the term in my work.

Whereas the term, phenomenology, is invoked in a common sense sort of way with increasing frequency in the psychoanalytic literature, the way I conceive it is rooted in the philosophical discipline that was initiated by Edmund Husserl and subsequently modified by Martin Heidegger. Typically taken to mean that which pertains to the person’s experience, phenomenology is a discipline that arose around the same time Freud was formulating his treatment philosophy. Its method is devoted to subverting the over-conceptualization of human existence with which the modern era is identified by bracketing theoretical explanations and returning us, in our naiveté, to the ground of our native experience. According to Edie (1962),

Phenomenology is neither a science of objects nor a science of the subject; it is a science of experience. It does not concentrate exclusively on either the objects of experience or on the subject of experience, but on the point of contact where being and consciousness meet. It is, therefore, a study of consciousness as intentional, as directed towards objects, as living in an intentionally constituted world [i.e., one founded on intersubjectivity]. (p. 19)

Phenomenological inquiry differs from conventional scientific investigation in that science is not concerned with nor is it able to study experience; its manner of investigation is directed instead to objects of perception, the nature of which is said to exist independently of the subject who conducts the investigation and whose reality is presumed to exist independently of the investigator. This is why science is unable to account for the experience of the subject who engages in research because the subject’s experience is (alleged to be) separated from and, consequently, inaccessible to the object of scientific investigation, no matter what the object may be, whether material, conceptual, imaginary, or interpersonal.


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