Jon MillsConundrums: A Critique of Contemporary Psychoanalysis

Routledge, 2011

by Tracy D. Morgan on December 19, 2012

Jon Mills

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In this interview, Canadian philosopher, psychologist, and psychoanalyst Jon Mills speaks with us about his book Conundrums: A Critique of Contemporary Psychoanalysis (Routledge, 2011). In the book he discusses current tenets in North American psychoanalytic thinking and practice that he finds to be concerning and problematic. Focusing on the relational and intersubjective turn currently popular in the field, he articulates what he believes are the faulty ways in which some contemporary analytic thinkers make use of philosophy and, therein, particularly post-modernism.  Though relationally influenced himself, in that he is drawn towards a more flexible, less removed approach in the consulting room, he questions the denigration of the drives and what appears to be a seeming disinterest in life before the acquisition of language.  Mills wonders about the ways in which ideas associated with post-modernism and the practice of a psychoanalytic hermeneutics have been used to drum thinking about the body out of psychoanalysis and what impact that has on our clinical encounters.

In this interview the discussion ranges from the problem of therapeutic excess via analytic self-disclosure to the fate of the drives in relational and intersubjective thinking to the emphasis on meaning-making, and the role of philosophy in psychoanalysis. Also discussed are psychoanalytic politics, analytic training, and the relational critique of the analyst’s authority. While in this interview Dr. Mills asks some hard questions, particularly of the relational approach, and particularly its philosophical underpinnings, he does so gently and with great seriousness.


{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Claire December 6, 2014 at 5:44 pm

Thanks for a great interview. I wanted to share my response to this topic as a non-therapist client.

To the question of if Relational Therapist (RT) have read Freud’s work, I’d like to add the question: have they read source postmodern theory (i.e. Foucault)? Foucault outlines how power structures shift, how they essentially remain the same yet are renamed and identified with current meaning. For example: corporal punishment:rehabilitation, control of body:control of mind. This is a strong theoretical basis to critically examine one’s ‘benevolent’ position.

I think RT has the potential to be as insidiously controlling as controlling gets. RT’s seem to think that using self-disclosure positions them safely outside the inherent client/therapist dynamic and allows them to disown the responsibility that comes with authority.

To answer a question raised in the interview… Yes, I can confirm that this type of therapy can be experienced in ways especially threatening/dangerous to a vulnerable/fragile client. To take someone with a history of trauma where their wants, needs and self have not only been denied but nearly (even completely) annihilated and expect them to endure your needs without any formal structure is a *bloody mess*. The client is already ‘relating’ to you being in your presence and surrounded by your belongings. I don’t understand the need to impose more of ‘you’ on your client.

So, a quick open letter to RTs

Dear Relational Therapist

I am not impressed by your effusive displays of sympathy/empathy. I am not impressed by your constant compliments and validations (by the way, this only draws attention to what you don’t make a grand display of heaping positive response atop). When you tell me how much you want to work with me in our first appointment and continue to affirm it every time after, what do you think will happen to me if you decide working together is not a good fit? I do not want a buddy. I do not want your (completely absurd to me) modeling of an ideal relationship, I do not pay people to be friends with me.

I do not want to be engaged in your fact finding mission to identify why you had tearful outbursts. I do not want to know anything about your home life. Please do not attempt to identify and name every single trauma in my life and then ask me to trace it back to my childhood. If you just ask me and let me talk about my traumas and childhood and ask basic follow-up questions all those things will come out at MY pace and on MY terms (in a way I can feel safe). At best this is annoying and at worst it pushes me to frame much of my existence as traumatic (it is not validating, it is depressing). I don’t get how you can call this a collaborative effort when everything seems so forced and on your terms (yes, when you keep telling me this relationship is on my terms and telling me to define it and narrowing and narrowing the space between us it is on YOUR terms)… ???

I am coming to you because I feel broken, vulnerable, fragile. I am coming to you because I do not feel safe in the world because I do not feel, have not felt heard. I am coming to you because I’ve had a lifetime of dealing with/taking on other people’s needs, other people’s demands, the responsibilities other people have disowned in their relationships with me. I am coming to you because -YOU- are the professional and -I- need help. Stop denying your position as one who knows while telling me how to be, act and what I think (yes, your ‘model’ partner act and validations etc do that). You have a job where you get paid to provide a service, a contractual job with obligations and responsibilities for your role in it. Please own it and stop trying to be friendsies with your client. We have enough fake friends already (i.e. Facebook). Seriously, I do not need everything I say to be ‘liked’ and ‘up voted’ because you misguidedly believe that will cure my self esteem issues.

I do not need to a therapy that leads me to feel I am cold, unfeeling, critical, mean and finally emotionally numb because I found your warmth and kindness so abhorrent. I did not need to feel these things when all the while you were busting my boundaries and my anger was likely the healthiest response I could have had. I do not need a therapy where I feel small because your presence is so large. I do not need a therapy where I feel confused, helpless, unheard, frustrated, annoyed and at times angry with the absence of any growth on or relief from the issues I arrived with. I am sure this is not what you intended, I am sure this is not what you want and I have good reason to believe that if you practice RT you will want to distance yourself (position yourself as a better, different) from the therapist I speak of and I ask you, implore you not to do so. Please reconsider your RT practice. There may be very helpful ways to do this work that I haven’t experienced but I can’t as yet imagine them and I think that is because there are some fundamentally very problematic aspects to RT that have the potential to be not only unhelpful but abusive. And, I am deeply troubled when I go online to try to understand this therapy and find (with exception to the reviews of Conundrums) only self-congratulatory, non-critical, lacking in self reflection articles describing a therapy that is supposed to be healing and non-abusive of power (the only self reflection I found was how you deal with your feelings toward a client, again it’s all about you!).

A former client

Paul Jerry December 20, 2012 at 12:11 pm

Knowing Dr. Mills very well, I can say that his thinking is sharp and incisive and thorough. I’ve been at this business for 25 years, and he’s one of the authors who, when he speaks, I listen.

dirk December 19, 2012 at 9:03 am

if you are interested in an analyst/writer who understands the internal relationship between psychoanalysis and pomo philosophy (largely via Lacan) and is working to bring it up to date with modern science/materialism check out the work of Adrian Johnston:

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