Emotion, in the proper sense of the term, is not initially a concept of psychoanalysis, which prefers to speak of affect. The affect, in a scale of mentalization, is above the emotion: it is more sayable and already testifies to a representation, to an elaboration, which signs a certain psychic vitality. Affect is put into words. Emotion is above all bodily. To put it roughly, when the affect circulates, there is less need to go to see an analyst.
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Having said this, analysis does not ignore emotions. It is an emotional-affective adventure. For the psychoanalyst, the emotion that he sees, that he observes in his patient is an indicator. Someone who blushes when he tells you that what he is telling you is trivial is obviously signaling something to his analyst.
Two aspects in the patient’s emotion
For psychoanalysis, emotion is not synonymous with truth. On this point, it goes against the runaway emotions that we observe in contemporary society. We must be wary of this kind of immediate adhesion, which says: “It’s emotion, it’s good”. No, it’s emotion. Point. The work of the analysis will be to look for what it is the sign of. The objective is to have the patient gradually develop the unconscious representations that are behind these emotions: traumas, repressed and therefore forbidden unconscious desires, etc.
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During the session, the patient’s emotion can take on two aspects. There is the emotion that is linked to its history. There is also the emotion felt by the patient to express this emotion, and the patient’s search to move. In that case, where am I for him? What is he trying to relive?
The patient, reader of himself
The work of the analysis makes it possible to pass from a raw emotion to the elaboration of an affected thought. It allows the patient to become a reader of himself and not just be a spectator of his emotion. At the end of a cure, one achievement would be that the emotion does not take precedence over the other capacities of the person. We have, in French, this expression “to be the seat of emotions”. However, being permanently besieged is not comfortable! Being able to move from the register of emotion, to that of affect and to that of representation, allows a more harmonious relational life.
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On the side of the analyst, the emotion is also present. There is no analyst who does not feel emotions during an analysis. In the United States, some psychoanalysts promote “self-disclosure”, the act of opening up about his emotions to his patient. In France, many of us think it’s risky, because it puts the two partners in a kind of dyad where the patient can get lost.
The analyst’s emotion
This felt emotion must be received by the analyst as a signal. The analyst must detoxify what belongs to him and keep it for himself and, at the same time, he must be able to seize this particular moment to try to understand what the patient wants to tell him, that he does not tell him, and which, however, causes a strong emotion to be transmitted.
The analyst’s emotion is a subject to be taken with great delicacy so that it does not encumber the patient’s psychic life. There is certainly an emotional part in the encounter, but the psychoanalyst seeks understanding and not sharing, which would be experienced as seduction.
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