They were sitting together in the Queensland bush staring into the camp fire.  Mick ‘Crocodile’ Dundee was whittling on a stick.  Sue Charlton, the reporter sent to the outback to interview him, had relaxed and was talking about her life in New York. 


‘Oh and on Friday night, I go and see my analyst.’ 


‘Your analyst, Geez, who’s that?’


‘He’s somebody I go to with my problems.  He helps me understand what they mean.’ 


‘Oh I know what you’re talkin about, we have the same here.  When I’ve got somethin on me moind, I go into town and find Wally.  I buy him a beer or two, he tells me whats wrong and I feel dinkum again.’



So what is psychoanalysis?   How can we communicate this to the general public without using terms, like the unconscious, transference, projection or inner world, that make it seem inaccessible, abstract and complex.  This was one of the challenges facing the open forum conference, entitled with typical obscurity, Caesura, Section or Rebirth and  organised by the Council for Psychoanalysis and Jungian Analysis earlier this year.   Government regulation is threatening psychoanalysis in the UK and therapists who practice psychoanalytically are anxious to justify their status and clarify their method.       


Psychoanalysis is about stories.  Analysts listen carefully to their clients life stories,  not just about what might be troubling them now, but their childhood, adolescence, sexual experience, marriage and work.  They help them understand the feelings, ideas and attitudes that the problems they may be having with relationships, in the context of their previous experience. The original reasons for these feelings may have been forgotten, often because they are too disturbing to remember, but they have not disappeared.  They form templates of thought and feeling that are transferred onto other relationships and situations, creating the dysfunctional attitude that appears to lie at the root of a person’s difficulties.


Analysts work with their patients stories, enabling them to gain access to their mine of  experience, the hidden source of meaning in their lives, so that they may understand what might be troubling them and deal with it more easily.   So perhaps Wally was a kind of analyst, a traditional story teller and healer, like the sangoma in southern Africa, the north American medicine men and shamans of northern europe. 


The events that befall a person, the situations they find themselves in, never occur in isolation, they always involve other people or at least thoughts of other people. They carry meaning and that meaning is transferred into every other relationship, every situation and every choice that they make.


George Groddeck, author of The Book of the It (Das Buch von Es) and a correspondent of Freud, captured this well when he wrote:  ‘Whoever sees in illness a vital expression of the organism will no longer see it as an enemy.  In the moment  I realise that the disease is a creation of the patient, it becomes the same sort of thing to me as his manner of walking, his mode of speech, his facial expression, the house he has built, the business he has settled or the way that his thoughts go – a significant symbol of the powers that rule him.’ 


So if we have had an experience that affected us deeply, like being ignored and abandoned by our mother early in life, that experience will condition the way we engage with other relationships.  If we do not understand that and make adjustments,  we can encounter the same kind of difficulties again and again throughout our lives.  This can cause us great unhappiness.   


Analysts appreciate how people can block what they don’t want to see and how they can project aspects of their own personality, they do not want to own, onto others. Thus if they can enable their clients to understand why they are like they are, they equip them to change their attitudes and reactions to situations and become more attuned and content within society.        


Therapists, who work psychoanalytically, help their clients understand how early relationships with parents, experience of sexuality, of love and hate, loss and death, are worked over and lived out through patterns of feeling and meaning every day of their lives.  This insight can help their clients make sense of what happens and deal more healthily and effectively with it. 


This offers more than cognitive behavioural therapy which seeks to adjust dysfunctional emotions, symptoms and behaviours in the here and now by making adjustments in how a person thinks about them.  So a cognitive behavioural therapist may challenge negative perceptions and unrealistic anxieties without going into the reason for them,  will desensitise phobias,  will encourage people to see their unexplained symptoms not as indicators of serious illness but anxious thoughts.  It is a short term, medical model of therapy with clearly defined goals that can be measured, but since its aim is not to enable insight into the illness, it does not equip patients to make fundamental changes in the way they relate with others and deal with the situations that upset them.  It can treat the illness without affecting a person’s tendency to get ill again.  Psychoanalytical therapies offer a preventive dimension.         


It is a mistake, however, to believe that psychoanalysis can change a person in a fundamental sense. Certain situations will probably continue to cause anxiety, but by understanding what upsets them and drives them, clients can learn to avoid the situations that cause problems, cease to respond in destructive ways and use their self knowledge to harness the emotional tension to develop the confidence and potential to grow.   


It is probably futile and even undesirable to relinquish a certain neurotic drive, but the insights derived from psychoanalysis may help people turn their neurosis to advantage.  So many of our most fulfilled and successful members of society had damaging experience in early life.