Saturday, July 23, 2016

The Future of Psychoanalysis

If you are vaguely familiar with my thought on the question, you might imagine that I will be telling you that psychoanalysis has no future. It’s as dead as a dead horse, and we have all learned not to beat a dead horse.

The cognoscenti in the psychoanalytic world should not be surprised. In being dead psychoanalysis is fulfilling a prophecy uttered by the great French psychoanalyst, Jacques Lacan. You might recall, in Rome in 1973, or was it 1974, Lacan said that the Roman Catholic Church would outlive psychoanalysis.

How right he was!

One does not know whether Lacan’s cult followers have found a way to raise the dead, but I am confident that they are hard at work on solving the problem

One notes and one underscores that Lacan was comparing psychoanalysis with a religion, not with a scientific technique or a medical treatment. He was saying that a true religion will always outlast a fake religion, an apparent religion, a pseudo religion, a cult.

Of course, to the chagrin of his cult followers Lacan had himself contributed to the demise of psychoanalysis as a treatment. Others have denounced psychoanalysis as a con game and a mountebank’s trick, but Lacan was the highest ranking member of the Wholly Freudian Church who declared it to be a scam. And Lacan also said, for those who have now forgotten, that if anyone gets better by doing psychoanalysis, it is by accident.

Yes, I recognize that Lacan’s faithful toadies have tried to distort the meaning of the line to make it mean something other than what it says. But, the sentence is unambiguous. Worse yet, it is consistent with other pronouncements.

Nevertheless, Lacan’s followers have declared that Lacan did not mean what he said, but, if he did, he did not know what he was saying. For those who remain true believing true believers, that will solve the problem.

Yesterday, amidst the din over the Republican convention I came across an intriguing sign of the times,  a hint at a more productive future for psychoanalysis. This time, it’s from Japan. It appeared on Yahoo News, but the story comes to us from AFP, that is, Agence France Presse.

In principle there is very little if any psychoanalysis in Japan. This despite the fact that many books about psychoanalysis, including my 1983 book about Lacan, have been translated into Japanese.

The Japanese are orderly and economical. They have extracted the essence from psychoanalysis and transformed it into a new profession: rent men.

Does it show the future of psychoanalysis? I suspect that it does.

In Japan today, women and even men who want to talk to an anonymous someone who will just listen but rarely respond can hire what are called “rent men.” One cringes at the sexism at play here. Why not “rent women?” And why not “rent boys” or “rent girls?”

Evidently, the Japanese have a lot to learn about political correctness.

Sometimes these rent men sit silently and listen, allowing other people to speak their minds, without fear of offending anyone. Sometimes they engage in conversation, though the story does not make clear what they have to say. One suspects that, like psychoanalysis, the clients of these “rent men” are trying out different roles and buying silence. You understand that someone who sits silently by while you try on a role is playing the role of the audience.

After all, these men, the story's title tells us, are just paid to listen. In truth, if they are listening the way psychoanalysts are listening they are faking it. But, what did you expect?

And, truth be told, the price seems altogether fair. $10 an hour. If psychoanalysis promotes itself as a therapy, it’s worth about $10 an hour. At least, until their raise the minimum wage in your neighborhood.

The AFP story lays it out:

From lonely pensioners to Japanese schoolgirls with shattered dreams, Takanobu Nishimoto and his crew of middle-aged men will lend an ear to clients who would never dream of spilling their guts to a therapist or worse, their families.

Anyone in need of company can sign up to his online service to rent an "ossan" -- a man aged between 45 and 55 -- for 1,000 yen ($10) an hour.

"For me, the service is a hobby more than anything," says Nishimoto, who first came up with the concept four years ago and who now has a growing network of some 60 men across Japan.

"The initial idea was to improve the image of guys my age, people who might not be spring chickens anymore and not taken so seriously."

And while the 48-year-old professional fashion coordinator is used to renting himself out, he insists conversation is all he offers to between 30 and 40 clients a month, roughly 70 percent of whom are women.

"The people who rent me are just asking me to keep them company for an hour or two, mainly to listen to them," he tells AFP between sessions, giving the example of a woman in her 80s who would book him every week for a walk around the local park.

To be clear, it’s all about free speech. Or, at least, the illusion of same, which Freudians call free association:

Rather, those who use the service say it allows them to forget the expectations of their family and friends and speak freely -- an option which experts say is especially useful in Japan, where social roles can be tightly defined and expectations rigid.

Funnily enough, clients of these rent men do gain insight about themselves by speaking in ways that they would not be allowed to in normal social intercourse. And you thought that it required years of medical or paramedical training, plus years of personal psychoanalysis, plus years of studying in an institute to qualify you to help people to gain insight. In truth, you needed merely to be taciturn to a fault.

AFP continues:

"There's a different 'me' depending on whether I'm with my friends, my family, or my boyfriend," says 24-year-old Nodoka Hyodo after her session with Nishimoto.

She explains: "I create a 'me' in relation to others. Here, all that disappears because I'm talking to someone I don't know -- thanks to him, I feel like I'm understanding myself better."

The rent man service is a variant on other services. In the end they all show how well the Japanese have understood the importance of transference. In these other services, you can go out and hire someone to be your fake friend or family member:

In recent years, a number of agencies have been offering "rent-a-friend" services paid by the hour.

Customers can rent an agency employee as a fake friend, family member, or companion for various occasions such as weddings, funerals and parties. Some use them just to have a conversation partner to ease times of loneliness and isolation in old age.


AesopFan said...

The Japanese have always been very good at cutting to the chase.
However, it is sad to have so many people who don't have a real friend to talk to (but how many of us tell our own friends all our secrets?)

Ares Olympus said...

I guess my dad was a sort of "rent man" from me when he was alive. We'd go months not talking sometimes, but I'd always know he'd be there to listen if I needed him, and we'd always talk longer than I planned. He didn't even charge $10/hr. I can't say who talked more, but I felt in control, to open a topic, redirect it, and shut it down if it didn't serve my needs in the moment, and he'd usual comply happily.

About 5% of the time I sort of liked his new-agey wisdom. Sometimes it even came across close to Star Trek's "prime directive", basically saying we have no responsibility to help anyone else unless we felt like it, so more of an optional prime directive I guess.

Most of the time I thought he was gullible, and he'd listen to Coast to Coast Radio which he said was where you'd learn all the things that would eventually come out in mainstream media years later. The possibility the speakers were full of shit never seemed to occur to him. And its unfair since I like creative interpretations of events and reality, but there's some metaphysical level I just can't go. Sure, there's more that meets the eye, but all that Atlantis stuff with crystal technology that allowed distant communication and transportation, until they destroyed themselves. Can anyone believe such mythology?

The biggest reason I can't imagine having kids is I'd have no idea what to tell them about the world. Be fearful is not terrible advice. Perhaps my mom taught me that, and maybe that's what made me frugal, but also too frugal to imagine being responsible for the cost of raising children now-a-days.

Perhaps I'm a "rent man" to my younger sister? It is fun to offer advice, especially things like that she should divorce her husband. I don't suppose "rent men" are supposed to say things like that. Then I realize she's probably better off having someone to take care of. Maybe she just likes it when I tell her her anger is just, and then she switches side to defend him.

It is a curious modern world how conversations start by one small momentary need, and often shift to a dozen different things. But I guess if I'm going to be a good life coach, I have to learn to focus and also compare my advice to what I'm willing to do myself in something similar, and then I see why advice is easier to offer than to follow.

But the hardest time I can't help is probably ages 16-26, where young people find their calling. I can listen, and I have NO advice. I'd say live with your parents until you're 30, and be nicer to them than I was. They're human too you know.