Introduction and Practice Gap/Need
In a day and age when diversity is celebrated, religion and spirituality are not as much addressed, especially as they relate to the subjectivity and meaning they have for the clinician/analyst and patient. A majority of Americans profess religious or spiritual beliefs (PEW Research Center), and history shows us the influence of religion and spirituality in the lives of individuals, society, politics, culture, and value systems. Religious and spiritual beliefs are also present in the consulting room, but how openly do patients bring these up? And how do analysts listen to them?
Analytic clinicians are taught to listen with neutrality and non-judgment, but do we stifle patients in exploring religious and spiritual themes that are a part of their identity? Freud devoted much attention to religion in his writings, but seems to have viewed it mainly as defensive and as an “illusion” – giving an impression of pathologizing it, as if psychoanalysis was hostile to religion. In contrast, over the years there have been other analysts who have explored adaptive and creative aspects of religion/spirituality, even while recognizing that any belief system can be used defensively.
To address this gap in our conceptual framework, we have organized a program that aims to provide a balanced and open-minded perspective of psychoanalytic thinking about religion/spirituality. We are honored to have two distinguished psychoanalysts, Dr. Edward Shafranske and Dr. Donald Carveth, who are eminently well-qualified in this area to add to our understanding about the convergence and divergence between psychoanalysis and religion/spirituality. Their presentations are:
Dr. Shafranske: The Unthought Known and the Appearance of God in Clinical Psychoanalysis
Dr. Shafranske will “examine the dialectic between a ‘felt’ sense of the sacred Other, conceived as God or the transcendent, derived from transformational states and relationships. The presentation includes psychoanalytic consideration of the cultural overlay of religious/ spiritual belief and experience. Clinical material will be framed within an integrated object relations approach with reference to Freud and the contributions of Rizzuto, Meissner, Winnicott, Spero and others. Attention will be placed on clinical material, including the failures in God representational process in patients with borderline personality disorder and the role of disillusionment and reconciliation.”
Dr. Carveth: Psychoanalysis IS Spirituality
Dr. Carveth will explain that “although we have tried to disguise the fact, psychoanalysis is a moral enterprise, a value-infused rather than value-neutral science valorizing life over death, love over hate, and truth over lies. Since one’s moral compass is a central element of their spirituality, and given its concern with psyche, soul or spirit, and its promotion of personal transformation through self- observation, the development of an “observing ego” or an “inner watcher,” psychoanalysis is revealed as a spiritual practice and a type of meditation. Although analysts must not be “superego-ish” with patients; they must carry the conscience in the treatment until such time as patients are able to carry it themselves.”