Exploring psychoanalysis with Dr David Bell

This post was contributed by Ceren Yalcin, an intern at the Birkbeck Institute for Social Research.

Following his popular lecture series about psychoanalysis, Dr David Bell, Visiting Fellow in the Birkbeck Institute for Social Research (BISR) and the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities (BIH), answered questions at a special session for students and the wider public. The event was designed to address issues that might have remained unclear, and it generated a lively discussion with participants from various academic and professional backgrounds.

The following account does by no means provide an exhaustive summary of the event – it is rather a selection of questions and answers that I personally found most insightful.

Question 1: Did psychoanalysis retreat to the clinic?

Answer: It should be emphasised that psychoanalysis is a body of knowledge about the  mind and not “just” a form of treatment. Treatment is the application of psychoanalysis within a clinical context. The British Psychoanalytic Society, for example, has created an outreach committee in the last ten years. It is involved in the annual Psychoanalysis and Film programme. The Society also has an applied section with psychoanalysts, academics, and literary critics. Over the last ten years, the Society has put a lot of emphasis on showing that psychoanalytic thinking can be very relevant to understanding other spheres of social and cultural life.  (Those interested in this question, might find Stephen Frosh’s (2010) book “Psychoanalysis Outside the Clinic” useful).

Question 2: How does psychoanalysis understand the ‘the normal’ as opposed to ‘the abnormal’?

Answer: Psychoanalysis finds the normal in the abnormal. It sees abnormality as a perversion of normality, as revealing what is immanent inherent (is this right?)  in all of us. As Freud beautifully puts it, a breakdown is like a crystal smashing. If you drop a crystal it fragments but it does not fragment along random lines. It sheers along the lines of force that are already within the crystallized structure. In other words, the shattering shows inherent(?) immanent forces within the crystal like the breakdown.

Question 3: What is transference and why is it important in psychoanalytic treatment?

Answer: The concept of transference is not just relevant for the psychoanalytic setting (i.e. the consulting room). As Freud states, it occurs in classrooms when students develop feelings about their teachers or their peers who become like their siblings. The original metaphor Freud used to describe transference was that of a template.

We carry around templates and mould the objects around us to fit into templates. All of us have our particular tendencies. Some of us tend to idealise people, some of us tend to denigrate people, some of us tend to see things in people that other people do not see. We all invest significant people around us with powerful feelings that have their origin in our past.

These templates, called internal objects, exist within us and we project them on to other people. In the clinical setting the patient projects onto the analyst. The analyst tries to maintain neutrality without asking ‘why are you treating me like this?’. On the contrary, the analyst lets transference develop in order to understand the patient’s internal objects. Those interested in transference might want to read Freud’s papers “On Transference Love” and “The Dynamics of Transference”.


One thought on “Exploring psychoanalysis with Dr David Bell

  1. Thank you so much for this. I attended all sessions of the series but had to miss the last one. It was wonderful to have David Bell as visiting professor. Who is coming next?

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