The Unconscious Exists
Perhaps the most important contribution, now sadly neglected, that psychodynamic thought has given to the world is that the unconscious mind exists, that much of what motivates and propels us throughout our lives is partially or completely unknown to us. This is in spite of the fact that the recognition that we are profoundly divided, that the relatively recent evolutionary development of conscious awareness is layered atop eons of unconscious processing, goes back to the Ancients.
Consciousness can be thought of as the beam of light from a flashlight in an otherwise dark room. The dark room is all that we are unaware of at any moment in time. Freud called this the “unconscious mind”, the storehouse of instinctual desires, needs, memories, and psychic actions that direct the thoughts and feelings of the individual from this darkened realm. Jung described the “shadow” which in Jungian terms, represents the darker side to our personality which we do not consciously display in public – although other people may recognize their shadow selves. What we cannot admit to ourselves we often find in others – it is the part of ourselves that we are ashamed of and will not admit to ourselves. Jung believed that there was a “collective unconscious” representing the deepest level of our minds and containing the accumulation of inherited experiences from all cultures, of all times. Lacan took a different spin on Freud and believed that the unconscious had a language of its own. Otto Rank, another early analyst, thought that many of the apparently unsolvable dilemmas that human beings recurrently find ourselves in, was related to "birth trauma", an almost universal experience, determined more by evolution and biology than psychology.
The theorists and practitioners of psychodynamic ideas saw whole new patterns emerge from an understanding of unconscious dynamics in individuals and groups. There is much in our lives that we wish not to be aware of and we find ways of keeping information out of consciousness, usually things that are distressing and laden with conflicts about the basis of life, or the basis of our reality. The point of defense mechanisms – individually and in groups – is to provide us with the illusion of certainty and safety and that protects us from being overwhelmed by anxiety, terror and helplessness.
The study of traumatic experience has emphasized and brought to the fore an understanding of the ways in which people become even more divided under the impact of overwhelming stress. It is important to recognize that in looking at organizations as living systems and not as machines, we are required to understand that human beings and human organizations of all sizes have a dual existence at all times - conscious and unconscious realities - and that quite frequently they are in conflict with each other. Meanwhile, neuroscience has shown that very clearly, there are thousands, even millions of unconscious processes and that though we can become conscious of some of them, our consciousness or awareness occurs after the unconscious processes occur. And the early analysts recognized the often deeply unconscious roles we play in each other's lives and articulated that in the study of "transference and countertransference".
Jung and the Collective Unconscious
Carl Jung was a contemporary of Freud, who challenged some of Freud’s principles and who expanded his own thinking into many other realms of thought. He wrote extensively about the idea of the “collective unconscious, term introduced representing a form of the unconscious mind common to mankind as a whole and originating in the inherited structure of the brain. It is distinct from the personal unconscious, which arises from the experience of the individual. According to Jung, the collective unconscious contains archetypes, or universal primordial images and ideas. Later, people like Joseph Campbell delved into Jung’s ideas to explain repetitive mythological themes that span time and territory.
Psychodynamics and Society
Group theorists have recognized that when people come together and form a group, there are conscious and unconscious components to group life as well. Although Freud was fully aware that the development of human personality must be seen in terms of the influence of the prevailing social standards and values to which the person is subjected , other psychiatric workers focused more on the interpersonal dimensions of human experience that is at the root of the Sanctuary Model. William Alanson White, an influential early twentieth century psychiatrist observed, “Society, while it is composed of individuals, reflects its degree of development in each individual psyche, so that man and society occupy relations of mutual interdependence, each profoundly affecting the other.” .
Trigant Burrow was analyzed by Jung and then helped found the American Psychoanalytic Association in 1911 and became its president in 1926. His work has been largely ignored because he took a radical turn away from individual psychoanalysis and toward a study of the group. In his papers and books from 1914 on, he developed the idea that the neurotic elements that Freud had identified in individual patients were embodied in the entire society. He gathered around him a group of colleagues, family members, and patients and they formed the nucleus of a group of investigators that remained together in an experimental community for more than thirty years.
In this group setting, called the Lifwynn Foundation as of 1927, they spent their time observing interrelational processes through their own interactions, using themselves as the laboratory agents. Burrow regarded conflict, alienation, crime and war as major public health problems that could be solved through science . “Man is not an individual,” he said. “His mentation is not individualistic. He is part of a societal continuum that is the outgrowth of a primary or racial continuum” . Later he warned “My researches clearly indicate to me ... that with the enhancement of individualism the balance in favor of group survival has been placed in serious jeopardy. Today the very existence of the species is threatened because the antagonisms characterizing man have been largely divorced from his biological needs and actualities” .
Early in his career Alfred Adler worked with underprivileged laborers and was struck by the deplorable conditions under which they worked and how these conditions contributed to their physical and mental problems. At least in part as a result of these experiences he had a well-developed social consciousness. In his later writings, he stressed that mental health could be judged by the degree to which a person could direct himself to his work, love his fellow man, and fulfill his social and communal obligations. In his book Social Interest, he stated, “The growing irresistible evolutionary advance of social feeling warrants us in assuming that the existence of humanity is inseparably bound up with ‘goodness’” .
Adolph Meyer had a vital impact on American psychiatry. He was influenced early in his career by Clifford Beers , a reformer who had himself received horrendous treatment in mental hospitals and devoted his life to reforming them. He was also influenced by his wife, Mary Brooks Meyer. Around 1904, Mrs. Meyer began visiting the families of her husband’s patients to learn more about their background and in doing so she became the “first American social worker.” He said of these visits, “We thus obtained help in a broader social understanding of our problem and a reaching out to the sources of sickness, the family and the community.” Meyer believed that the individual must be understood as a complete whole, a unique entity, and could best be understood by searching for all forces that react upon him and that affect his interaction with the social milieu .
Harry Stack Sullivan considered mental illness as related to disturbed relationships between people, seeing the basic conflict as located between the individual and his interpersonal environment. During the years between World War I and World War II, he played a key role in altering the traditional focus of psychiatry from the individual to the interpersonal. “Personality,” he wrote in 1938, “is made manifest in interpersonal situations, and not otherwise.“ His work paved the way for the socially oriented therapies that were to dominate post-war psychiatry . Karen Horney ’s theories placed human development firmly in a cultural context, and she believed the neurotic person was one who had experienced injurious cultural influences in childhood .
Developing his ideas in the first half of this century, Moreno, the originator of psychodrama, said, “Mankind is a social and organic unity” . He termed his area of interest "sociatry" and saw its aim as the healing of normal society. “Sociatry treats the pathological syndromes of normal society, of interrelated individuals and of interrelated groups. It is based upon two hypotheses: 1) The whole of human society develops in accord with definite laws; 2) A truly therapeutic procedure cannot have less an objective than the whole of mankind.” .