Can psychoanalysis be called transpersonal?

Sigmund FreudIn classic Freudian therapy,  psychological ill health emerges when the balance between the id, ego and super ego is distorted. “Patients” will present for counselling in an egodystonic state – when thoughts and behaviours are in conflict, or dissonant, with the needs and goals of the ego, or, further, in conflict with a person’s ideal self-image or when defences have failed them.

Another way of looking at this would be when the mental defences do not achieve any secondary gain, but are experienced as wholly unpleasureable.

For Freud, in order for psychosexual development to be seamless, the superego should facilitate the successful resolution of the Oedipal crisis. Rivalry that is well managed by the parents can lead to the child’s sense of fairness and a pursuit of justice

Psychoanalysis has contributed some very useful tools to integrative counselling and psychotherapy such as working with the transference, free association, dream analysis, observing slips of the tongue, projective identification, projection and boundary (frame) management. The psychoanalytic approach can be seen in the thinking and practices of many counsellors and therapists who call themselves ‘integrative’. For example, there is a strong psychoanalytic interest in Transactional Analysis, and most Person-Centred counsellors and Existential Therapists not only embrace, but actively work with the idea of transference. Indeed, a major part of assessing a new client is to take a thorough inventory of early history and seek to build a narrative about the quality and robustness of early bonds.

Freud’s project was to demonstrate a quasi-scientific objectivity of the unconscious that could be replicated across cultures.  However, Freud was not privy to advances in neuroscientific research and insightful tools such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (FMRI) scanning which help us understand the workings of the brain. Dr Susan Greenfield has more recently claimed that the subconscious is a mere add-on to the debate about what constitutes consciousness as opposed to unconsciousness. For Greenfield, in science (and Freud was seeking a science of the mind), is to obtain impartial third person access to an event or a phenomenon – something that you can measure and it is very hard to measure an interaction.  Psychoanalysis involves an interaction between the practitioner and the patient, whereas what happens in science is completely impartial. Greenfield questions whether one psychoanalyst and another would yield exactly the same outcome.

So, can psychoanalysis be termed transpersonal? Ken Wilber says that to have an oedipal problem simply means that this transition has largely failed. It could also be argued that in the free floating attention required of the analyst in long term analysis, when the analyst engages in deep unconscious to unconscious relationship with the patient, there is a deep spiritual connection in the room.  Furthermore, neo Freudian Michael Eigen  could be viewed as exploring similar ground to transpersonal following his writings on mysticism. Whilst Eigen could not be called a transpersonal therapist, his analytical writings, nevertheless, demonstrate a degree of symmetry with transpersonal material when working with the unconscious and in using symbols. The primary orientation of his approach might not be the pursuit of a client’s soul journey but there is active engagement with visualisations, altered states of consciousness and symbolism.