The Discovery of the Unconscious Summary (10/10)

The Discovery of the Unconscious is a book that explores the history of the dynamic psychiatry. It starts with an introduction to Mesmer (responsible for Hypnotism), and then transitions to Janet, who’s main contribution was explaining neuroses and hysteria by deviations in mental energy.

Then we are introduced to Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic revolution – his ideas about infantile sexuality and insights into the conflict between man’s natural hedonistic impulses and the structure of civilized society are topics that have had lasting relevance.

Adler, who was a student of Freud, almost had an opposite approach, where he was much more interested in pragmatic solutions, than delving into the subconscious. Finally, Jung, another disciple of Freud who eventually parted ways, was responsible for a new kind of approach, where he downplayed the significance of the role of sexuality (he thought that libidinal energy was more complex) and hypothesized that religious impulses are as central to man’s psyche as sexuality is.

Jung’s construction of the ego was very different from Freud’s structure of the psyche (Id, ego, superego), the former thought the mind was made up of exterior elements (shadow, persona), and interior elements (archetypes, anima/animus, the self)

Ellenberger does an incredible job at showing us the philosophical and psychological roots of these various psychoanalytic schools. Particularly enlightening was the influence that Nietzsche had on all of them. He also highlights the shortcomings of psychoanalysis, while at the same time, showing how different individuals, depending on their circumstances and personality, stand to benefit from these different schools of thought.

Below are the chapter summaries.

Chapter 1: The Ancestry of Dynamic Psychotherapy 

The origins of dynamic psychotherapy can be traced back to primitive peoples (medicine men, shamans). While to civilized people, the sight of a medicine man extracting an illness appears to be nonsensical quackery, it is important to understand that these methods were often effective. It is impossible to understand the meaning of this belief or custom without taking into consideration the sociological nature of the community.

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Chapter 3: The First Dynamic Psychiatry

A source of the first dynamic psychiatry was imagination. Montaigne thought that imagination was a frequent cause of physical, emotional, and mental disease, of death, and of manifestations attributed to magic.

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Chapter 4: The Background of Dynamic Psychiatry 

The 1800’s was a time that is difficult for us to imagine. People were much tougher, since they had no access to the luxuries and comforts of today. Sedatives and narcotics were almost unheard of and public hygiene was at a primitive stage. Even the wealthy lived in a way that few people would consider comfortable today.

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Chapter 5: On the Threshold of a New Dynamic Psychiatry

19th century Europe was a society that was dominated by men. It was a world for men by men, and women had no say in politics and were not admitted into universities. Male values were celebrated. Among the aristocracy, women and men who had private means were in love with the idea of love. But there were differences in ways of thinking between countries.

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Chapter 6: Pierre Janet and Psychological Analysis

Janet was a psychologist who invented the idea of the “subconscious.” He had a religious background and he questioned the spirit of Darwinism. To him, the cult of progress is dangerous because it leads to hatred for the present, and the destruction of the past. After being interested in theology, Janet shifted his focus to philosophy, and finally to psychology.

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Chapter 7: Sigmund Freud and Psychoanalysis 

Freud broke with official medicine and was the first in the history of dynamic psychiatry to do so. The result was a cultural revolution that can be compared to what Darwin had unleashed.

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Chapter 8: Alfred Adler and Individual Psychology

Adler and Jung both had independent ideas and were not psychoanalytic deviants, as is commonly believed. They collaborated with Freud, but maintained their independence, and after their break, they developed their own systems of psychoanalysis.

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Chapter 9: Carl Gustav Jung and Analytical Psychology

Jung, like Adler, broke off his relationship with Freud. But he was also like Freud in that his philosophical ideas are influenced by Romanticism. Jung proclaimed that he discovered an objective truth about human nature that is between science and religion, and this is the most distinguishing feature of his perspective.

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Chapter 10: The Dawn and Rise of the New Dynamic Psychiatry

Psychoanalysis had many followers and many detractors. One of these detractors was Dr. Max Kesserling, a specialist in nervous diseases in Zurich.

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Chapter 11: Conclusion 

Romanticism heavily influenced the schools of psychoanalysis. This can be seen through the teachings of Freud and Jung. Janet was a representative of Enlightenment thought, and to some extent, so was Adler.

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