Prominent Neuroscientist Sticks Up for Psychoanalysis

Interesting quote from Erik Kandel, who won the 2000 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his research on the physiological basis of memory storage in neurons. Jay Neuborgen reviews Elyn Saks’ The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness at the New York Review of Books, unfortunately a pay-only article. Kandel:

I believed then, and I believe more strongly now, that biology may be able to delineate the physical basis of several mental processes that lie at the heart of psychoanalysis–namely, unconscious mental processes, psychic determinism (the fact that no action or behavior, no slip of the tongue is entirely random or arbitrary), the role of the unconscious in psychopathology (that is, the linking of psychological events, even disparate ones, in the unconscious), and the therapeutic effect of psychoanalysis itself.

The quote is relevant to the review as Elyn Saks herself credited psychoanalysis with helping her to maintain her sanity in the course of her schizophrenia. Dr. Kandel’s third edition of his textbook Principles of Neural Science is to be published in January 2009. And his In Search of Memory: The Emergence of a New Science of Mind (2006) recounts his neurological discoveries.

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Kalea Chapman, Psy.D.


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Clinical Psychologist practicing in the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles, California.

4 thoughts on “Prominent Neuroscientist Sticks Up for Psychoanalysis”

  1. It’s interesting–like so many disciplines, biology seems focused (to this layperson) on the microscopic world. Hopefully more macroscopic insights will emerge over time. How can human biology not affect mental processes?


  2. The scientific paradigm is very micro focussed. The nice thing about psychoanalysis is it’s like the idea factory of psychology, particularly subjective experience. Science can, sometimes, sort out the claims of analysis, and reject what’s untenable.

    Human biology affects all mental processes! Every mental process is accompanied by a biological component, it’s just that looking at the biological component alone gives us next to zero insight into the nature of the accompanying subjective experience.


  3. I have read Elyn Sacks’ autobiography and she doesn’t credit psychoanalysis for her recovery from schizophrenia. Psychoanalysis only helped her deal with the anxiety caused by her delusions.


  4. Agreed. Psychoanalysis, alone, could not possibly account for her ability to cope with her schizophrenia. What it did was *help* her to deal with the tremendous anxiety (not to be underestimated) that goes along with the disease.

    Some quotes from the New York Review of Books (April 17 issue) article:

    “But the analysis, which she believed saved her life, has during her hospitalizations at Yale, accustomed her to express herself in ways that cause difficulties…. (p. 24)

    But central to her ability both the survive and to thrive, she believes, have been two things: medications and — rare in the chronicles of schizophrenia — psychoanalysis…. (p. 26)

    While medication had kept me alive,” she writes, “it had been psychoanalysis that had helped me find a life worth living.” (p. 26)


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