The assumption that our
past determines/shapes our current situation is generally
accepted not only by layperson but also by many schools
of psychotherapy including classical psychoanalysis of Freud.
Yet during the development of psychoanalytic theory, there
has been an ongoing debate about the role of past in psychotherapy.
Two main questions can be identified regarding this debate:
1. Can "past" be seen as the cause of "present?”
2. Can "past" be a therapeutic tool in changing
patient's current situation?
Different answers (and answer combinations) to these two
questions reflect quite contrasting positions within psychoanalysis.
For the purposes of this article, hermeneutic psychoanalysis
is compared with classical psychoanalysis since the former
represents the most challenging position to the classical
theory by trying to stay within psychoanalysis. Freud's
classical theory answers both questions positively whereas
its hermeneutical contemporary revision says a strong "no"
to the first question and a different "yes" to
the second one. To classical psychoanalysis: 1) Past is
the direct cause of present. Unconsciously repressed memories
of actual past events (historical truth) are the direct
causes of current psychological problems. That is why, 2)
past by itself is a therapeutic tool in changing patient's
current situation, in the sense that recapturing these repressed
memories of past leads to self-understanding, and thus they
are curative. If the patient cannot recapture these repressed
memories, then, analyst has to, via historical interpretation,
construct patient's past. Yet, "our construction is
only effective because it recovers a fragment of lost experience"
(Freud, 1937, p.265). In short, to Freud, the concepts of
"historical truth" and "historical interpretation"
is not at all contradictory, but complementary. To hermeneutical
psychoanalysis, on the other hand: 1) Past is not the cause
of present. Instead it is a product of present. Yet, 2)
past is still a therapeutic tool in changing patient's current
situation, in a different sense that a narratively coherent
personal past that is reconstructed leads to a more meaningful
self-understanding. Contrary to classical psychoanalysis,
the concept of historical truth is rejected, and is replaced
by narrative truth. It is expected that historical interpretation,
in the sense of reconstruction of narrative past, will change
patient's present situation.
In this article, I first demonstrate the contrasting epistemological
positions of these two approaches, by highlighting unitarian
and dichotomist epistemologies. Showing and criticizing
how they substantiate their answers on epistemological and
clinical grounds, it is attempted to discuss the issues
of metapsychology vs. clinical theory, historical truth
vs. narrative truth, recovery vs. (re)construction of past,
and historical interpretation, and their places in both
approaches. Within this context, the underlying assumptions
on human memory of these two approaches are also inferred:
1) Passive vs. active registration, 2) Objective vs. subjective
representation, and 3) intact vs. reconstructed past. These
assumptions then are evaluated under the light of relevant
contemporary memory research of cognitive psychology. It
is concluded that research on autobiographical memory does
reject Freud’s assumptions on human memory while supporting
those of hermeneutical psychoanalysis.
There seems to be three main differences between classical
and hermeneutical psychoanalyses: 1) Grand theory vs. single
domain (clinical) theory, 2) Their underlying assumptions
on memory, 3) Their positions on the two crucial issues:
a. The causal effect of past on present, b. Past as a therapeutic
tool in changing patient's current situation. It is also
emphasized that, despite their contrasting positions and
having differing intentions, both approaches are past-oriented
and contend-focused, as opposed to being present-oriented
and process-focused. After examining strengths and weaknesses
of both approaches on these issues and relying on the commonalities
of three different sources (“style-personality”
of David Shapiro, “RIGs-self” of Daniel Stern,
and “self-schema” of cognitive psychology),
I attempt to propose a different answer combination to the
two main questions of this article: Past is just an indirect
cause of present. Since it is still a cause, it is important
to consider it in developmental studies/theories; yet since
it is indirect, it cannot be used as a therapeutic tool
in changing patient's current situation. A reasonable clinical
theory should be present- and process-oriented, because
personality functions in present tense. To put it differently,
a grand theory may be pluralistic in the sense of having
different epistemologies for its different subtheories.
Not Freud's mechanistic determinist model, but relatively
loose and multifactorial/complex deterministic models can
be tested in [empirical] developmental/longitudinal studies,
with being aware of that this kind of explanation does not
help us in changing adult patient's current situation, which
requires a phenomenological understanding.