Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer


Posted by Dr. Vollmer on September 17, 2015

Neuroscience is marrying psychoanalysis. For real? Yep. Mark Solms PhD is spearheading this field, as he passionately pursues both worlds. In essence, his goal is to demonstrate that different parts of the brain light up when experiencing different kinds of feelings, such that the id, ego and superego, will, one day, be able to be localized in the complicated brain structure. In a primitive way, psychoanalysts have always thought of themselves as people who strengthen the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for judgment and executive decision-making. Dr. Solms wants to go deeper with this notion to say that feelings of attachments, and primitive feelings of rage and aggression can also be located in deeper, more primitive structures of the brain. Casey Schwartz,, writes about Mark Solms and the converging worlds of neuroscience and psychoanalysis, and she has a new book, entitled “In The Mind Fields”. I heard her speak last night, along with a psychoanalytic candidate, Justin Shubert PsyD, about the ways in which psychoanalysts are beginning to care about neuroscience, and how equally surprising, neuroscientists care about psychoanalysis. Oliver Sacks did not get mentioned, but I felt his presence in the room, as they described stories of patients who had severe cognitive deficits, and yet, could still benefit from psychoanalytic inquiry. Not surprisingly, as I work with kids who are both verbal and non-verbal, the psychoanalytic method, although seemingly based on verbal exchange, is, in fact based on a relationship, and words can be substituted with action, and a psychoanalytic experience can still be had. So, a stroke patient with aphasia, can benefit from the intense curiosity that a psychoanalyst brings to the consultation room. I knew that. Now, I hope others do too.

2 Responses to “Neuropsychoanalysis”

  1. Shelly said

    Can you elaborate a bit on how patients with severe cognitive deficits can benefit from psychoanalytic inquiry? If they cannot understand things in depth, how can they benefit from psychoanalytic inquiry? Do you mean that the analyst can understand more of the patients’ issues, or the patients will understand more of their own? I get how kids with both verbal and non-verbal issues benefit from a psychoanalytic experience, and stroke patients with aphasia can too, but patients with cognitive deficits?

    • Essentially, it depends on the type of cognitive deficits. As you say, if you have aphasia, but you know what you want to say, you can communicate in alternative ways such as writing. Like with children, playing games also reveals a lot about the patient’s inner world. Yet, other cognitive deficits, like an inability to do abstract thinking, can make psychoanalytic inquiry nearly impossible. In other words, some patients with severe cognitive deficits can understand things in depth, and some can’t. Thanks.

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