The First Ambush: Hijacking the Human Brain
‘Unbeknown to me at the time, the army’s training and/or indoctrination would come to shape my life, my decisions and my neurological processes for years to come. I suppose at the time we took it all in our stride and laughed it off. But we as people and in particular our brains were being prepared for the inhuman rigours and demands of traditional war fighting, closing with and engaging the enemy and by extension modern international conflicts’ – Ryan Hall, British infantry, 2000-2008
A major new report has just been published drawing on veterans’ testimony and around 200 studies from the last half-century to explore for the first time the effects of modern army employment on soldiers, particularly their initial training. The studies are mainly the work of military academic research departments in the UK and US, supplemented by research in other countries including Australia, Canada, Germany, and Norway. The report finds that army employment has a significant detrimental impact on soldiers’ attitudes, health, behaviour, and financial prospects. This is partly due to soldiers’ war experiences, but also to how they are recruited and trained, how they are conditioned by military culture, and how they re-adjust to civilian life afterwards.
It reveals how in the process of transforming civilians into soldiers, army training and culture forcibly alter recruits’ attitudes under conditions of sustained stress, leading to harmful health effects even before they are sent to war. Among the consequences are elevated rates of mental health problems, heavy drinking, violent behaviour, and unemployment after discharge, as well as poorer general health in later life.
The Origins of Permission to Narrate
I’d just finished The World Within the Group (2014) and had several lines of research and chapter drafts that did not find a home in that book. So, without too much of a leap, I thought, why not give birth to a new set of essays? The more I looked over what I had, I saw an emergent theme, that of human narration and voice, both within psychotherapy, and without, in the wider domain of culture. I just love the general idea that human beings are inherently literary creatures, whose motives, passions, and reasons are expressed in wonderful spontaneous metaphors, analogies, speech acts and stories. So, I guess, I granted myself ‘permission to narrate’, to explore such questions.
How Society Shapes Who We Are
The Political Self explores how our social and economic contexts profoundly affect our mental health and well-being, and how modern neuroscientific and psychodynamic research can both contribute to and enrich our understanding of these wider discussions. It therefore looks both inside and outside—indeed one of the main themes of the book is that the conceptually discrete categories of “inner” and “outer” in reality constantly interact, shape, and inform each other. Severing these two worlds, it suggests, has led both to a devitalised and dissociated form of politics, and to a disengaged and disempowering form of therapy and analysis.
Hanging between Heaven and Hell: Jung’s Pioneering Understanding of Integration
Jung’s Red Book records an extraordinary series of self-induced visions that Jung experienced between 1913 and 1917, together with his reflections and interpretations of them, which he continued to reinterpret and refine until about 1930. The book, which was only publicly published in 2009, takes us to the core of the personal experience on which Jung drew more circumspectly in his psychological works.
Entering the Analytic Frame: Psychoanalysis as Romantic Science
Following the talk I gave at the Freud Museum on October 6 to celebrate the publication of Portraits of the Insane. Théodore Géricault and the Subject of Psychotherapy, a couple of new thoughts have emerged, connections implicit in the book that I now feel I can make more explicitly. It is unsettling but satisfying too to have to acknowledge that writing and thinking are processes over which I have but limited control – like patient and therapist, who are similarly subject to larger processes.
Publishing a Book About Psychoanalysis and Movies
I have been a psychoanalyst for about 45 years, and a writer all of my life. Conducted seriously, both practices impart a degree of personal pride that sometimes verges on self importance. Long ago, I began to be chastened of such inclinations with regard to the practice of clinical psychoanalysis: the non-negotiable price of growth as an analyst is a systematic diminution of omnipotence. Likewise with writing: you learn soon enough that you have overestimated the distance that talent, alone, will take you. All this is painful, but necessary, if you intend to persist.
The further we go, the more there is to go
Totem conveys spirit, a sense of the sacred. Freud attempted to get under the totem and explore psychic forces and pressures below the surface. Jung opened further depths in exploration of the sacred. Engagement with a sense of mystery that permeates existence lives in many quarters, including art, music, religion and depth psychologies.