Friday, January 27, 2012

A Grievance with Non-Psychoanalysts

In a book by Harvard psychologist Richard J. McNally titled Remembering Trauma, the author disputes the value of analyzing the dreams of patients in psychotherapy.  He argues that in order to analyze a dream, the psychologist needs to know a lot about a patient, and if the psychologist already knows a lot about the patient, analyzing his dreams will only be redundant.  Apparently, if I read him correctly, Professor McNally does not believe that dreams provide novel insights about a patient.

That argument does not sit well with me, though I can't think of a way to dispute it logically.  But I did think of the following, which, I believe, serves as a useful analogy.

There are already many fine and exhaustive biographies of Abraham Lincoln.  Let us say that someone discovers a cache of hitherto unknown letters written by Lincoln while he was President.  Would it make sense to say to a historian who contemplates writing a book about the letters: "So much is already known about Lincoln.  Won't a book about President Lincoln's newly-discovered letters simply be redundant?"   In all probability, only a non-historian would ask such a question. 

Does professor McNally's dismissal of the value of dream analysis say anything about the ultimate value of dream analysis -- or does his observation simply stamp him as a non-psychoanalyst?

Though in defense of Professor McNally I will quote the preface of E. James Lieberman's biography of the analyst Otto Rank.  Dr. Lieberman is a retired Washington, DC psychoanalyst/psychiatrist.  Dr. Lieberman opens the preface to his book as follows: "As a reader who feels burdened by a surfeit of books, I must justify the production of yet another.  Otto Rank gave up writing for a time, saying, 'There is already too much truth in the world--an overproduction which apparently cannot be consumed.' I agree."  Dr. Lieberman goes on to justify his writing a biography of Rank titled: Acts of Will: The Life and Work of Otto Rank!


Gary Freedman said...

Richard J. McNally:

Professor and Director of Clinical Training, Doctoral Clinical Psychology Program, Harvard University

Richard J. McNally joined the Department of Psychology at Harvard University in 1991. He has more than 320 publications, most concerning anxiety disorders (e.g., posttraumatic stress disorder, panic disorder, phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder), including the books Panic Disorder: A Critical Analysis (Guilford Press, 1994), Remembering Trauma (Belknap Press/Harvard University Press, 2003), and What is Mental Illness? (Belknap Press/Harvard University Press, in press).

He has conducted laboratory studies concerning cognitive functioning in adults reporting histories of childhood sexual abuse, including those reporting recovered memories of abuse. His research has been supported by the National Institute of Mental Health. He served on the American Psychiatric Association's DSM-IV PTSD and specific phobia committees, and he is an advisor to the DSM-V Anxiety Disorders Sub-Workgroup.

Professor McNally is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist, a Fellow of the Association for Psychological Science, winner of the 2005 Distinguished Scientist Award from the Society for the Science of Clinical Psychology, winner of the 2010 Outstanding Mentor Award from the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies, and he is on the Institute for Scientific Information's "Highly Cited" list for psychology and psychiatry.

Gary Freedman said...

Letter from E. James Lieberman, M.D. to Gary Freedman: