Neuropsychoanalysis Conference: The Conscious Id Meets the Talking Cure
In a two-day conference in March sponsored by the Institute, Mark Solms, a renowned neuropsychologist, explained to a spellbound audience how neuroscience helps us rethink and update our understanding of psychoanalysis and how to apply these ideas to clinical practice. Institute President Erka Schmidt offered this recap.
Sigmund Freud recognized the extent to which our minds are governed by thoughts, wishes and fantasies out of our awareness; that is, they are unconscious. He named this portion of the mind the “Id,” which he at times described as a “cauldron.”
Mark Solms, professor of neuropsychology, psychoanalyst, a founder of the field of neuropsychoanalysis, translator from the German of Freud’s writings in the soon-to-be-published Revised Standard Edition, and vintner in his native South Africa, told an audience of 140 mental health professionals in a two-day conference sponsored by the Chicago Psychoanalytic Institute that Freud was wrong about the Id being unconscious. What we now know from the field of neuroscience and the mapping of brain functions is that the Id is conscious.
Within the Id are our instincts, the basic emotional needs that all human beings share. They are registered through the affective experience of our feelings, which are conscious and recognizable as, for example, seeking, lust, fear, and so on. The tools of neuroscience allow Solms to explain in scientific terms what therapists and analysts do and why it works, with its focus on the way people suffer from their feelings. The conscious Id is registered in the upper brain stem, whereas short-term therapies focus on the kind of thinking that occurs in the frontal cortex.
In a masterfully clear elucidation of the implications of these findings for psychotherapy and psychoanalysis, Solms described Jaak Panksepp’s taxonomy of basic emotional needs. Panksepp expands the universe of human motivational systems, or what we can think of as life’s problems, to seven: Seeking, Lust, Rage, Fear Anxiety, Panic Anxiety, Nurturant Care, and Play. Again, this revises Freud’s original contribution. Freud famously identified two basic motivations for human experience: sexuality (broadly defined) and aggression.
Solms demonstrated the usability of this approach by applying it to two clinical presentations of analytic work by Wendy Selene and Alexandra Hedberg. They described two very different analyses, but each with the “beating heart,” as Solms said, of the richness of the analytic unfolding. He pinpointed the emotional system in which each person’s difficulties originated and that gave rise to the problems in living that they could not solve. This understanding provided an orientation to the analyst as a way to understand the inevitable repetitions of the problem within the analysis and a guide to interpretation. In this way, the conscious Id meets the talking cure.