A Nietzschean Critique of Psychoanalysis


“Man, as the animal that is most courageous, most accustomed to suffering, does not negate suffering as such: he wants it, even seeks it out, provided one shows him some meaning in it, some wherefore of suffering” (On the Genealogy of Morals, 136).

Nietzsche was right: man is hungry for meaning. Man will go to the furthest extremes to deny the meaninglessness of life. I think here we can begin to offer a critique of a certain way of conducting psychoanalysis. I read a paper the other day by a psychoanalyst who apparently cured a psychotic person suffering from schizophrenia without the aid of neuroleptics. According to the analyst, it is imperative that analysts attend closely to the babble of the psychotic individual in search of meaning. From his perspective, the psychotic anticipates that the analyst will not discern the meaning amidst the garbled signifiers, which will only serve to confirm the psychotic’s previous experience with parents and professionals who did not and could not understand his speech. The psychotic person intentionally distorts their speech believing that the meaning behind the nonsense will in fact be missed. Here is where I take issue. According to the analyst, psychoanalysis posits that beneath the chaos lies meaning. But perhaps psychoanalysis is the culprit here. Perhaps, psychoanalysis cannot deal with the meaninglessness of the psychotic’s speech and embrace the sheer contingency of biological determinism. In the company of the psychotic, the analyst herself feels anxiety about losing her mind. The analyst knows that psychosis is something, which seems to be heavily determined by genetics (50% heritability rate in identical twins). Ultimately, the analyst guards against her own anxiety about losing control by positing meaning amidst the chaos of nonsense. She cannot ever imagine being totally isolated by herself cut off from the Symbolic order.

Nietzsche knew man would die to believe in meaning. Sometimes, psychoanalysis seems willing to die to confirm its own biases. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve read works by analysts and been simply shocked by their utter laziness and lack of creativity. Some analysts seem absolutely stricken with the illness of reductionism. Given any situation they can bring it back to a couple of trite metaphors. Another problem exists when someone offers a psychoanalysis of X (let X = religion, politics, sociology). So many times we have the same boring results offered to us without the least bit of insight. Recycled metaphors and boring symbols continue to dominate. In the end, it might just be anxiety. They’d rather believe that these cute ideas and theories could completely explain the universe, rather than embrace that some things lie beyond the scope of psychoanalysis. Fortunately, I believe there does exist a psychoanalysis that does not chain the unconscious down and control its movement. The unconscious is wild and fluid constantly manifesting itself in a multiplicity of ways. It refuses to play by the same old rules.


2 Responses to “A Nietzschean Critique of Psychoanalysis”

  1. hot4jeremy Says:

    In this instance, psychoanalysis is just another opiate for the masses, providing a rigid structure to defend against the terror of uncertainty. Strikes me as ironic, given that rigidity is viewed as anathema by psychoanalysts when it presents in individual patients.

  2. Psychotherapy, Medication, and Severe Mental Illness « JRidenour Says:

    […] 4) Also, some people are suffering from an illusion that everything can be explained. They think there’s some red thread that if unraveled by a talented psychotherapist will alleviate the individual’s symptomatology. However, people suffering from delusions all share remarkably similar delusions. Why is that? I don’t think there’s always a reason why symptoms take the FORM they do, or perhaps, the idiosyncratic reason will not magically cure someone. Schizophrenia impacts the brain, drastically. This is a fact. Read more about a this here […]

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