Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Theodor Reik: "Listening With The Third Ear" Part 1

Photograph by G. Paul Bishop
Sigmund Freud's first generation of psychoanalysts, many of whom were European expatriates to the United States, are all but forgotten in American, undergraduate, psychology programs. A few names, mentioned exclusively in a theories of personality or history of psychology course are presented largely as historical figures. These early dynamic psychologists include Carl Jung, Karen Horney, Erich Fromm, Erik Erikson, and Anna Freud. As academic personality theory becomes increasingly dominated by quantitative trait theories, and experimentally focused psychologists choose to purge qualitative and non-experimental thought from their students' coursework, these psychoanalysts are becoming quickly forgotten. Even in undergraduate counseling programs, thoughts beyond the aforementioned theorists are rarely known beyond a footnote.

Amongst those psychodynamic psychologists who are becoming forgotten by the American college is the Austrian-American psychologist Dr. Theodor Reik.

Reik was born in Vienna in 1888 and is known as the first psychoanalyst to be trained as an academic rather than as a physician. His doctoral dissertation, defended at the University of Vienna in 1912, was the first to deal with psychoanalytic concepts. Although Reik was championed and even financially supported by his teacher, Sigmund Freud, he was not accepted into the medically dominated, American psychoanalytic community in New York. Many of the psychoanalysts, who avoided the horrors of mid-Twentieth Century Europe, made New York City their home in the 1930s and 1940s. At this time Greenwich Village became the geographical and intellectual center of psychoanalysis in America. Artists, academics, and intellectuals were enchanted by the new science which became the single most influential theory of art, literature, and life during the 20th Century.

Theodor Reik worked to fulfill Sigmund Freud's desire to separate psychoanalysis from medicine, making it a science, art, and profession on its own terms -distinct from medical psychiatry.  Reik, who trained in the academic rather than the medical tradition, made this his primary work. In 1948 Reik founded the National Psychological Association for Psychoanalysis in Greenwich Village, the oldest school for psychoanalysis in America. Some of Reik's most important contributions to psychoanalysis remains his work towards the expansion of non-medical psychoanalysis. Through Reik's work it became possible for doctors trained in the Ph.D. tradition to practice psychoanalysis, ending the half-century gatekeeping by medical doctors.

Listening With The Third Ear
I first became aware of Theodor Reik's work through David Shapiro,  with whom I studied psychopathology during my graduate work at The New School for Social Research. Listening With The Third Ear (1948) opened my eyes to a deeply intellectual psychoanalysis that did not lose sight of individual, human, practice. Listening With The Third Ear also served as a bridge to the work of French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, whom, as many scholars have noted, shared with Reik an interest in a feminist expansion of psychodynamic psychology.

Introduction & Chapter 1: How Does a Man Become Interested in Psychology?
"My book investigates the unconscious processes of the psychoanalyst himself; it shows the other side of the coin. It is an attempt -so far as I know, the first- to describe what an investigator into the unconscious mental processes of another person does and what he achieves." Reik is attempting to describe the psychoanalyst's unconscious processes in the act of psychoanalysis.

Reik begins by exploring the question of what psychology is. Experience is necessarily a participatory phenomenon. In this way, Reik points out that objective, quantitative research is not psychology. To be a psychology, Reik proposes, a theory must begin with the phenomenon of the self. "William James has described the puzzling phenomenon of self-observation in the words 'The I observes the me.' It is obvious that the precondition for such a phenomenon  -observation of one's own mental and emotional processes- must be a split within the ego. This split makes psychology possible." Reik continues, "your own psychical processes are inappropriate material for statistics, curves, graphs, tables, tests, and schedules."

The question of the birth of self (ego) is understood by Reik not as the moment of visual self-recognition in the Lacanian mirror phase, but rather as a moment when the child shifts from selfishness to self-consciousness. Reik proposes that self-consciousness is reflection from the thou; mother, father, and caretaker. "Stated otherwise, the I can observe the me because They -She or He- once observed the Me... Self observation thus originates in the awareness of being observed."

Reik insists that self-observation is not a primary function, but rather an acquired phenomenon through social interaction. Self-consciousness is a social phenomenon. Reik is struck by the lack of interest that most psychologists have in the phenomenon of the self. Reik might be the first psychoanalytic psychologist to confront the difficulties of integrating psychoanalysis with academic psychology.

For Reik the necessary moment of self-consciousness is not the reflection of a mirror, but rather the critical glance of contempt from an other.
"By primitive observation the child learns early in life to interpret the reactions of his parents or nurses as expressions of approval or disapproval, of pleasure or annoyance. Being observed and later on observing oneself will never lose its connection with this feeling this feeling of criticism. Psychology teaches again and again that self-observation leads to self-criticism, and we have all had opportunity to re-examine this experience. This self-criticism continues the critical attitude of the mother, father, or nurse. They are incorporated into the self -become introjected."
Introjection is the process by which the child's society (mother and father) are infused into the child's sense of self (self-consciousness). This places the conscious phenomenon of "me" not in the ego but rather in the superego, the integrated, often critical, aspect of the self that is an introjection of the mother and the father. "The ego is primarily an organ of perception directed toward the outside world. It is unable to observe the self. The superego is the first representative of the inner world."

In the first chapter of Listening With The Third Ear Reik offers a reconsideration of the experience of the self, a distinction between the psychic self that observes external object (ego) versus the self-conscious aspect of the psyche which is the superego. The superego is not merely the introjection of society into the self, but the seat of self-conscious, awareness of the me.

New School for Social Research "The Legacies of Theodor Reik" Seminar