POTENTIAL SPACE: LORRIE GOLDIN, LCSW
FROM FREUD TO WIKILEAKS
WikiLeaks' release of private, diplomatic correspondence illuminates a dilemma familiar to psychotherapists: how do we gain necessary access to the dark and secretive id in order to contain it while balancing legitimate needs for privacy and exposure?
Therapists, like diplomats, labor in obscurity, transforming a complex tumult into hopeful possibility. The work requires a high degree of tact and appropriateness. We provide a crucial service by absorbing difficult material and, in turn, need our own release to avoid burnout and retaliatory enactments. Unfortunately, the vital function of toxic discharge is often discouraged.
Disavowal abets lethality. Indeed, the danger of suicide is most acute precisely when therapists cannot allow themselves to hate their suicidal clients. Similarly, a self-sacrificing man who denies all emotions said he felt angry and wanted to,but didn't, hit his girlfriend. I took this as a clumsy though encouraging development, but not everyone did: the couple's therapist called to report him.
It's possible that I missed something vital. But in an era of real and imagined threats, we may inadvertently embrace the therapeutic equivalent of "preventive detention," mobilizing action in response to what simply may be an attempt by a patient to be understood. This creates potential for a psychological lockdown, designed to assure the therapist that things won't get out of hand, but which may limit a crucial exploration of id-related material.
Sometimes things do get out of hand, as the Tucson shootings demonstrate. Was right-wing hate speech to blame id gone viral, enacted by proxy? Those accused of incitement refused both responsibility and reflection. Guns and mental illness are key, but to deny the power of language in creating a toxic atmosphere is itself a dangerous disavowal.
This challenges therapists, faith in catharsis and working through. Cognitive research suggests that people who ventilate negative emotions often feel and act worse, which is the premise underlying positive psychology. Yet even behaviorists endorse the bedrock of analysis: free expression of negative emotion in a context of understanding leads not to dangerous unbounded escalation, but to reflection and insight.
Perhaps "Mind Over Mood" is not so different from Freud's observation, "Where id was, there shall ego be." But one must have access to the id (or the mood) before it can be converted. Otherwise, it remains dangerously split off. This is why many view as heroic WikiLeaks' exposure of actual id enactments like torture, policies cut off from debate and officially disavowed. The very process of bringing id into the open decreases lethality.
Free expression of unsanitized thoughts and feelings in a context of understanding and dialogue leads to integration and realistic appraisal. That's the essence of therapy and diplomacy. Whether it plays out on the international, intrapsychic or interpersonal stage, it's the best way we have of coping with civilization and its discontents.
Lorrie Goldin, LCSW
Impulse Staff Writer