Students of clinical psychology often unconsciously conceptualize human beings as acting “from inside out”; they learn that humans are determined by drives and wishes and when they defend against these it comes to a return of the pressed – what was defended against shows up disguised or disfigured.
However, this is only one side of the coin.
If a baby is born it is equipped with three abilities: to imitate (tongue protrusion), to focus eyes sharply at a distance of appr. 26 cm and babies have most interests in watching human faces, observed most of the time. Infants have to manage a huge amount of information, but more: they have to organize a kind of organizational schema to get their impressions right. And structured. For this purpose, Daniel Stern once wrote, they “study” their human and social environment. They build and acquire cognitive complexity. They are not passively “imprinted” or “shaped”, they behave competent, much more competent than was thought a long time. They are and they must be: social beings right from the start. Because they would not survive otherwise. In their environment they find caregivers with much devotion for them, who have a deep understanding for this immense task: not only to learn, but to learn learning, not only to understand something, but to understand what it means to understand. In this process many things can go wrong or awry.
In order to build up an architecture of cognitive complexity (a process running unconsciously) babies use a principle of recursion, which emerged during evolution: you can again and again do the same and out of this repetition an infinity of new experience emerges. This principle of recursion is related to repetition compulsion (as it is termed in psychoanalysis), but it extends the Freudean idea. There is more than repetition, there is the creation of novelty, of singularity and the experience of creating. Recursion can be described in genetics, in interaction, in acts and, of course, in speaking.
I want students to understand this principle right from the start in very many variants, understand it, learn do describe it and to analyse it even with some mathematical tools.
In learning to understand what is going on in learning and to understand talk-in-interaction one is attempted to speak of a theory which has two eyes of a needle:
Humans very selectively take up what’s going on in their social-communicative environment; it is interpreted according to unconsciously acquired Schemata of understanding and interpretation- Everything that happens in talk must pass the eye-of-the-needle of subjective interpretation to achieve mental meaningfulness.
Conversely, all that happens mentally or psychically must past the eye-of-the-needle of communication, if it shall gain relevance in social life.
Here not only verbal or intellectual communication is addressed. More, every form of social message, announcement, statement, memo or information. This begins with how you are dressed and it does not end with your jargon used.
So, two further principles should be added:
The principle of selective power of cultural discourse. Cultural discourses co-determine what is heard or what is left out, what counts as „inside you“ or not, what is to be taken for granted or, what counts as sacred or profane (think of Winnicott, psychoanalyst, who considered the “true self” as “holy”, but as incommunicado; or think of Goffman, social theorist, who named it the “sacred self”). Cultural discourses determine the basic distinctions of a culture and they are hardly observable from inside these discourses. Cultural discourses, I want to point out, are not only the “big ones” as, e.g. that between civilization and nature (which was an important distinction); we have small ones as e.g. the cultures of academia or school or a symphonic orchestra or of a psychiatric clinic, between adolescents and elder people, between male, female and other sexes etc.
The last principle to be included is that of embodiment which extends far beyond the biological body into “embodied schemata” which determine what we can perceive, how we perceive it and what must be left out as cultural “waste” – and often is taken up and revalued by participants from other cultures.
I abbreviate these four principles as “2NCE” (two needles, culture and embodiment). The “2NCE”-principles permeate and determine all my lectures and seminars.
In my lecture students shall gain a broad overview about academic social psychology, some of the most prominent theories and paradigmatic experiments on the one hand. On the other hand I try to give a broad overview about the traditions of psychoanalytic social psychology and I want to explore the explanatory power of these concepts in order to convey a kind of tool for my students to find their way in a modern and very complex and complicated world. My hope is that students can feel what still needs to be worked out and that one is not entitled to rest on the services of former generations. The definition of “what psychoanalysis is” must be negotiated in every generation anew – and this task has not become easier.
In my master course everything turns around the fact that the clinical engagement for trauma has another side, which is founded in the social psychology of interaction, of failed intersubjectivity (even in some forms of hidden hostility in clinical contexts) and, finally, in violence. Violence is a multi-faceted phenomenon in modern life, very often met and very often ignored or denied. Violence exists in small interactive formats, in verbal forms of ignorance, contempt and “shit storms”, in institutionalized ceremonies of degradation and, finally, in and between states. Violence makes more than 60 million children suffer, who grow up in poverty and misery, who are refrained from education and training, who are misused as working people, are endangered as soldiers or are enslaved for sex. My deep impression is that in many international helping organizations psychoanalytic competencies for these children could be useful and meaningful. The working place of psychoanalysts must not be limited to the place behind the couch.
Prof. Langer has coined the idea to understand social psychology at IPU as a peace psychology. To train full knowledge, a multifaceted spectre of methods centered around human interaction and conversation seems valuable, in my view.
My research Projects since 2013
2013-2015“Conversational Aspects of the Unconscious”, granted by International Psychoanalytic Association (IPA)
2014-2015 „Dancing Insight“, in cooperation with Prof. Dr. Uli Reich (FU-Berlin)
2016 „Typical Problematic Situations“ (executed without a special grant)
2014-2018 Research Project: „Balance – Rhythm – Resonance“, incooperation with Prof. Dr. Gabriele Brandstetter (FU-Berlin), Prof. Dr. Andreas Hamburger (IPU), Prof. Dr. Uli Reich (FU-Berlin) and Prof. Dr. Christoph Wulf (FU-Berlin)
2014-2017Research project CEMPP („Conversation Analysis of Empathy in Psychotherapy Process“), granted by Köhler-Stiftung
2018-now: “Bio-psycho-social interactions during psychoanalytic first interviews - Understanding transference-countertransference and the body”, granted International Psychoanalytic Association (IPA)