Sunday, October 23, 2011

Lacan and Gestalt

Before I started studying social work in New York, I spent a lot of my free time reading books on psychology. In grad school I had to read assigned reading (some of which was good / relevant to me, and some of which was not); between school work and my internships, I didn't have a lot of time to pursue my own interests. Then I graduated, got a job as a family therapist in Brooklyn, and became a parent. I didn't have the time or energy to focus on areas of therapy that didn't apply to my work, and besides, I wanted to do other reading in the free time that I had.

I learned a lot in my two years of work in family therapy and child protective services, but I think it made me lazy, too. We had a lot of mixed roles and there was not a huge incentive to grow, clinically, in my areas of interest. Meanwhile, the demands of working at an agency - getting enough contacts, doing case management, record keeping, etc. - distracted me from doing my best therapeutic work. There wasn't a lot of curiosity and energy.

Now that I'm unemployed and considering starting a private practice, I've been going back to the literature to figure out just what perspectives interest me, and what kind of a therapist I want to be.

Somewhat arbitrarily (or is it?) I've dipped into two very different areas that I have little background in: Gestalt and Lacanian Analysis.  Lacan and his followers use a complex jargon that can seem absurdly arcane. As I understand it, Lacan was writing for professionals, not for the layperson. I still have not decided whether it is worth making the investment in learning the language. Are there not others who say the same thing in a much simpler way? I don't know. 

On the other end of the spectrum is Fritz Perls, who wrote that "Any reasonable approach to psychology not hiding itself behind a professional jargon must be comprehensible to the intelligent layman, and must be grounded in the facts of human behavior." (The Gestalt Approach, 1).

I think both approaches - jargon and simplicity - have their benefits and drawback, and both perspectives probably attract different "types." In the end it is a question of how they are implemented and what the outcomes are.

All that said, and apropos of nothing except what I'm currently reading, here is an interesting excerpt on love, from an interview with 
Jacques-Alain Miller (a French Lacanian academic). It is interesting to think that love can and often does exist without regard to a response from the other. It is reciprocal not because it needs to be mutual, but because it intrinsically involves or 'implicates' the other:

H. W. – ‘Love is always reciprocal’ said Lacan. Is this still true in the current context? What does that mean?  
J.-A. M. – This sentence gets repeated over and over without being understood, or it gets understood the wrong way round. It doesn’t mean that it’s enough to love someone for him to love you back. That would be absurd. It means: ‘If I love you, it’s because you’re loveable. I’m the one that loves, but you’re also mixed up in this, because there’s something in you that makes me love you. It’s reciprocal because there’s a to and fro: the love I have for you is the return effect of the cause of love that you are for me. So, you’re implicated. My love for you isn’t just my affair, it’s yours too. My love says something about you that maybe you yourself don’t know.’ This doesn’t guarantee in the least that the love of one will be responded to by the love of the other: when that happens it’s always of the order of a miracle, it’s not calculable in advance.
But what makes an individual fall in love with that particular person? According to Miller it's all about the unconscious minutiae, that derive from our specific personal histories.
J.-A. M. – There’s what Freud called Liebesbedingung, the condition for love, the cause of desire. It’s a particular trait – or a set of traits – that have a decisive function in a person for the choice of the loved one. This totally escapes the neurosciences, because it’s unique to each person, it’s down to their singular, intimate history. Traits which are sometimes minute are at play. For instance, Freud singled out in one of his patients a cause of desire that was a shine on a woman’s nose! 
H. W. – It’s hard to believe in a love founded on these trifles! 
J.-A. M. – The reality of the unconscious outstrips fiction. You can’t imagine how much in human life is founded, especially where love is concerned, on little things, on pinheads, on ‘divine details’. It’s true that’s it’s above all in men that you find causes of desire like that, which are like fetishes whose presence is indispensable to spark off the love process...
Finally, on the impossibility of communication, i.e. the limitations on love in the real world:
J.-A. M. – Yes. What objects to the Aristotelian solution is the fact that dialogue from one sex to the other is impossible, as Lacan said with a sigh. People in love are in fact condemned to go on learning the other’s language indefinitely, groping around, seeking out the keys – keys that are always revocable. Love is a labyrinth of misunderstandings whose way out doesn’t exist. 

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