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Media, ethics, and journalism. What works. What doesn't.


Jeffrey Dvorkin

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Psychoanalysis and Radio: "How do you feel about that?"

The New York Times recently reported that psychoanalysis, may have something to it, after all. Psychoanalysis is a therapeutic technique devised by Sigmund Freud in early 20th century Vienna. Known as the "talking cure," it enjoyed a vogue in mid-century America and was always more popular in the US and, for other cultural reasons, in Argentina, than in Europe.

The psychoanalytic process is complex. The patient meets with a therapist and spends the next fifty minutes talking about what ails him or her. While that sounds like a lot of other therapies, there are significant differences. The role of dreams is one of the more important aspects in psychoanalysis, as Freud believed they reveal aspects of the unconscious that are clues to the patient's repression of what is causing distress and anxiety.

In classical analysis, the patient lies on a couch with the psychoanalyst sitting so that there is no eye contact. The patient may then freely associate and describe his or her feelings. There may or may not be a conversation between patient and therapist. Over time, the patient may come to understand the true nature of his/her condition. Freud believed that this process where memory and consciousness coalesce, ideally results in greater understanding which is an important goal of the therapy.

Psychoanalysis fell into disfavor in the popular culture of the 1960's. It was criticized for being patriarchal and authoritarian at a time when alternative therapies blossomed. While other therapies seemed to promise happiness and fulfillment, psychotherapy only offered the possibility of clarity and self-awareness, which is not the same thing as being happy.

It was also denounced for being both expensive and inefficient. The stereotypical New York analyst in a Park Avenue office charged an expensive fee which was eagerly accepted by anguished middle class patients who might be on the couch five times a week for years. Woody Allen became the paragon analysand who devoted much of his time to an analysis that has lasted more than twenty years.

By the late 1980's, a new generation of more efficient antidepressants, known as Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors or SSRIs - was introduced. Psychoanalysis was condemned as outmoded, inefficient and expensive. Prozac is the most popular SSRI and it revolutionized psychotherapy. Psychiatrists who were advocates for drug therapy were particularly dismissive of psychoanalysis as a result of SSRIs.

Now a new study from the Journal of the American Medical Association says that psychotherapy over the course of a year shows better results than other more short-term therapies in treating depression and anxiety.

Radio, it seems to me, operates as a form of journalistic psychoanalysis.

As in psychoanalysis, there is no eye contact. Ideas are conveyed aurally. The process is long and the outcome uncertain. But there is a consistency in the relationship of listeners to the voices. The listener assumes the role of analyst and therapist. But the result (if done properly) is for the listener/analysand to emerge from the session/program with a greater sense of clarity. The listener/analysand ideally understands more about the world and his/her role in it as a result.

The passion that radio listeners have toward their preferred medium also reminds me of the therapeutic community of analysts and analysands who swear undying fealty to their choice.

What remains missing is the ability for the listener to give feedback to the therapist. Hence the need for a agency to convey these ideas more effectively back to the therapist/programmer.

Was there ever a better reason for having an ombudsman in the role of therapeutic go-between?

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