Depth Psychology vs CBT – A New Perspective

Upset woman talking to her therapist on the couch at therapy ses

Depth Psychology has never had it easy. Most articles in New Scientist and other scientific journals denounce psychoanalysis as pseudoscience, a collection of disproved and discredited techniques for curing mental illness. At worst, a scam. A long review article by Oliver Burkeman recently published in the Guardian takes a different view that psychoanalysis (the author focuses on the Freudian approach) is indeed proving itself much more effective than more popular approaches such as Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT).

No one questions the efficacy of CBT therapy, at least its short term efficacy. It is designed at helping the patient alter unproductive modes of thinking and feeling, to enable the patient to cope in society. Be happier. However, according to Burkeman the cure tends to be short term because the underlying causes for the neurosis, mental pain, depression or obsession are not adressed. An analogy would be if a doctor gave a patient a regimen of paracetamol rather than finding the cause of the pain. Depth psychology on the other hand goes in search of the causes: the trauma, a patient’s history, or pain caused by their present psychological development. No one promises that the cure will be fast or easy. Or cheap. However recent studies show that the benefits of psychoanalysis far outweigh those off CBT therapy in the long run.

But has psychoanalysis any scientific basis? Curiously the recent support for psychoanalysis comes from neurological research. In psychoanalysis (Freudian or Jungian) our conscious self is only the tip of an iceberg floating in water. Nine tenths of us is unknown — not readily available to us. The unconscious speaks to us through dreams, symbols, strong feelings whose origins we don’t understand or patterns of behaviour. This is exactly the view of modern neurology that ascribes our conscious actions to a vast substratum of activity in the brain that we are not aware of. While it is unlikely (even undesirable) that the interpretation of dreams will ever be done by positivistic scientific analysis — dream interpretation is more of an art than a science —  the model of the human psyche uncovered by today’s neurology is in sync with the postulates of psychoanalysis.

Psychoanalysis has been alienated from most academic circles in Britain and the US for so long that one may not see its return there for some time. However, its growing acceptance by patients and people who find relief from mental illness will no doubt lead to a changing, more positive perception if a very effective technique.