Psychoanalysis As Poetry


HenryFriedman

Below is a letter to the editor of the New York Times on June 11, 2016 by Henry J. Friedman about Adam Phillips’s article Unforbidden Pleasures in the New York Times on May 22, 2016.

To the Editor:

If, as Mark O’Connell claims in reviewing Adam Phillips’s “Unforbidden Pleasures” (May 22), Phillips is “the most widely read of living psychoanalysts,” psychoanalysis will gain little credibility in the public eye if people’s reading is restricted to Phillips’s entertaining and glib essays.

O’Connell acknowledges that Phillips “has always been a somewhat equivocal advocate for his profession,” but his review fails to be adequately critical of the way Phillips “plays” not only with the reader but with psychoanalysis.

Psychoanalysis is a serious endeavor for most, if not all, psychoanalysts that I know, and certainly for those patients seeking the help of psychoanalysts for their emotionally based difficulties. O’Connell quotes Phillips’s statement that “I read psychoanalysis as poetry, so I don’t have to worry about whether it is true or even useful, but only whether it is haunting or moving or intriguing or amusing.” Phillips thus defines himself as more of a dilettante than a psychoanalyst who insists on evaluating each patient, each case report and all articles in the psychoanalytic literature with a deep investment in finding a credible and true explanation of the distress and suffering that has been brought to the consulting room. Asking questions as Phillips does that are often “bewilderingly rhizomatic” and leaving them enigmatically unanswered can hardly provide patients or readers with a satisfactory experience.

HENRY J. FRIEDMAN

CAMBRIDGE, MASS.

The writer is an associate clinical professor of psychiatry, part time, at Harvard Medical School

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