Lacan on Ego Psychology


Ego psychology was a psychoanalytic school popularized through Anna Freud’s study of defense mechanisms and Hartmann brought it to fame in America. Believing the focus of the ego be a central betrayal of the Freudian subject of the unconscious, Lacan never missed an opportunity to skewer this school for fundamentally misunderstanding Freud. It’s especially interesting that a focus on the ego is in many ways responsible for the ascendancy of cognitive-behavioral therapy in the States. CBT exclusively focuses on the way automatic thought patterns negatively impact a person’s engagement with the world. For example, to treat a depressive patient it’s of the utmost importance to correct the automatic thoughts patterns that only serve to reinforce the depressed person’s negativistic view of the world (while completely bracketing the study of the unconscious). In 1920, Freud introduced his structural model of the mind (id-ego-superego) in Beyond the Pleasure Principle. Here’s the quote from Lacan:

“What Freud introduced from 1920 on, are additional notions which were at that time necessary to maintain the principles of the decentering of the subject. But far from being understood as it should have been, there was a general rush, exactly like the kids getting out of school – Ah! Our nice little ego is back again! It all makes sense now! We’re now back on the well-beaten paths of general psychology. How could one fail to come back to it with elation, when this general psychology is not only stuff from school or mental commodity, but, what is more, is the psychology of everyman? There was satisfaction in being once again able to believe the ego to be central. (Seminar II, 11)

On a meta-level, this summer (along with continuing to read Barth’s CD) I plan on reading Seminar II, III, XVII, and XX with the hopes of producing a paper on Lacan and theology. So continue to expect more on Barth and Lacan.


4 Responses to “Lacan on Ego Psychology”

  1. Troy Polidori Says:

    I’d be very interested to hear how your thoughts coalesce over the summer in regard to Seminar XX and feminine sexuation avec Barth, especially in relation to ontological concerns.

  2. Jeremy Says:

    I plan on it. Although, I’m somewhat dreading having to read Barth’s thoughts on gender, so embarrassing.

  3. noen Says:

    I took some cognitive-behavioral therapy. Marsha Linehan’s DBT. I thought it was very helpful. Basically you are to view the techniques as a set of tools, a toolbox, that one can use to achieve your goal, “a life worth living”.

    “while completely bracketing the study of the unconscious”

    Well, there is a good reason for that. Patients resist others telling them their problems are due to Mother. What happens instead is that patients are motivated to try to change their behaviors because their life has fallen apart. So the therapist says “Here is something you can use to make things better”. We don’t typically have 15 years to set aside for analysis.

  4. Jeremy Says:

    When you say took do you mean a class or received CBT treatment in personal therapy?

    I’m not an idealist, and I recognize that CBT can be very effective and DBT as well especially for borderline and parasuicidal patients.

    How do you equate the study of the unconscious with telling a patient that their problems go back to their mother? That’s beyond absurd.

    Only idiotic pseudo-Freudians would make such a claim.

    The idea that psychoanalysts always brings a patient’s issues back to the Mother is patently untrue (not to mention it completely fails to recognize the diversity of theories under the heading of psychoanalysis: drive, ego, self, object relations, Lacanian, intersubjective) Furthermore, for someone who is functioning at lower-level, it’s of course very important to be supportive and help strengthen that patient by supplying them with practical skills. However, you fail to recognize that many psychotherapists informed by Freudian thought practice psychodynamic therapy, which while not as intensive as analysis in focusing on transference and the unconscious does discuss the unconscious representations of self and others, patterns of relationships, and defenses. There’s even a short-term psychodynamic therapy that has been proven to be very successful for a variety of notoriously stubborn problems (e.g. personality disorders).

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