Jackie Gerrard explores the wisdom of not knowing: ‘the answer is there are no answers’

The Impossibility of Knowing: Dilemmas of a Psychotherapist


Brett Kahr came to hear my paper on Absence (Chapter 8) given at the London Centre for Psychotherapy in June 2009 and, following this, encouraged me to think about producing a book, based on the many papers I have written and published over the years. He made the first contact with Oliver Rathbone on my behalf, and so smoothed the path through to Karnac Books, who generously offered to publish.

I then had to choose from my published papers as to which would most easily integrate into a book and find a title that would encompass the papers and my thinking and work as a Psychotherapist. The first title that I reached was The Human Touch and then I found that Michael Frayn had written a book with just such a title. Later, I recalled a letter from a grateful patient which read “thank you for teaching me that the answer is that there are no answers”. This quickly developed into the current title – The Impossibility of Knowing: Dilemmas of a Psychotherapist.

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Frozen Children: Rod Tweedy explores the pathology of contemporary Disney

Devitalisation, Ice-olation, and Zero Degrees Princesses: Disney’s FROZEN


Frozen is the highest-grossing animated film of all time, and the fifth highest-grossing film in any medium ($1.3 billion in worldwide box office sales). 375 million youngsters have viewed and sung along to the YouTube clip of it’s hit song Let It Go, and as Dorian Lynskey notes, “it’s shaped the imagination of a generation”. Beyond the sparkle and CGI patina something about the movie is clearly resonating powerfully with children and young people, and I think it’s secret – and what lies at the heart of its appeal – is its potent exploration of themes of childhood anger, ‘ice-olation’, inner devitalisation and self-absorption, which the film both addresses and amplifies.

For anyone blessed by not having seen it, the story revolves around the conflicted and volatile dynamic between two sisters (who, as this is Disney, also happen to be princesses). The elder one, Elsa, seems to be possessed of a Midas-like power of turning everything that her hands touch or are directed towards to ice –  a ‘magic’ that is triggered when she feels threatened or angry, and which resembles in this the similar ‘magic’ power of adrenalised telekinesis in Stephen King’s Carrie. As Lynskey observes, Elsa’s ‘powers’ reflect those of the X-Men or Spiderman, ‘where super-powers are used as a metaphor for adolescence – because they’re empowering but they’re also really tormenting.’  Similar concerns with adolescence and the unfamiliar and potent capabilities that emerge during puberty have been given an extensive airing in today’s cinematic obsession with children painfully learning to manage apparently similar ‘magic’ potencies.

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Alan Mulhern analyses how a subtle, powerful healing intelligence permeates the psyche

Healing Intelligence: The Spirit in Psychotherapy – Working with Darkness and Light

The origin of this book lay in a conference, while I was doing my training, in which some notable psychotherapists were giving an overview of the principles guiding their practice. The question of what is healing in psychotherapy did not arise, so I asked how they believed healing worked. None were inclined to reply until one remarked: “That is the $64.000 question and if I had the answer to it I would retire to the hills of Hollywood.” General laughter followed. Clearly, healing was not on the agenda for serious analysts. Individuation, yes, but healing, well … not quite. This was a more “alternative” topic – image rather than substance. It was certainly mysterious. The matter, however, remained, not just as a personal struggle but increasingly, in my view, a crucial issue in psychotherapy.

 In my early practice I was reasonably skilled at exploring the negativity and darkness in the psyche, having spent years investigating plenty of my own. However, it was much longer before I could work with the light in the psyche and to realize that darkness and light have to be worked with together to facilitate a healing outcome. Thus, I learnt to value the healing intelligence that can manifest as light in the inner world, to cherish and enjoy the light of inner awareness, to recognise the potency of healing energy, to listen, evoke, cooperate and work with it, to appreciate the higher powers of illuminative intuition and even, albeit infrequently, transcendental love.

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Support Kids Company ‘Give the gift of Christmas’ campaign



This year, Karnacology and Karnac Books are supporting the work of the children’s charity Kids Company, who this Christmas are organising a special Christmas Day party for some 4000 vulnerable children in London, for whom this time of year can be particularly isolating and distressing. As Camila Batmanghelidjh, the founder of Kids Company, explains:

‘We work with some of the most traumatised children and young people, the majority of whom have been sexually and/or physically abused. For 4,000 of them Christmas Day is one of the most difficult days of their lives. In fact, during December, in the process of dreading it, many of our young people used to attempt suicide. That’s why we decided to generate a party on Christmas Day that they could look forward to. It helps reduce their shame of not having a loving family or presents. So Kids Company staff give up their own Christmas to act as a substitute family for the kids. In partnership with some 300 volunteers, we create the best party in town with food, face painters and presents, as well as nourishment to take home.’

Kids Company will also be providing an additional 7,500 children, young people, vulnerable adults and families with food as well as gifts over the Christmas period.

Please support their inspiring and vital work by donating to this special Christmas project at www.crowdfunder.co.uk/give-the-gift-of-christmas/ and help give these neglected and vulnerable children a Christmas Day that they can both look forward to and remember.

Thank you.

Tom Ormay’s theory of the fundamental social nature of all human beings

The Social Nature of Persons: One Person is No Person


By presenting a series of interconnected studies, effort is made to approach timely questions regarding the social nature of human beings. A new part of the structural theory of the personality is presented, called “nos”.  Instead of attempting a definition at the beginning, it is more expressive of our subject if slowly, chapter by chapter some of it emerges, always from a specific viewpoint. Such method may not satisfy some disciplined minds, as it lacks a tightly organised frame in which everything duly falls into its place. I want to introduce the subject not only from an intellectual viewpoint, but allow relevant feelings to come in also. The result awakens not only our logic, but hopefully the whole person.

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Hendrika C. Freud on Marcel Proust, Masochism, and Matricide

Marcel Proust – the making of a sadomasochist



The subject of the mother-son relationship had never been broached with such psychological insight as in Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past (1921). Indeed, we had to wait until 1969 before Philip Roth revisited the subject in Portnoy’s Complaint.

Yet Proust writes about the mother in such an innocuous and idealizing manner that to the unsuspecting reader it appears an unambiguously loving relationship. However, in earlier works, such as Jean Santeuil (c.1897) and short stories dating from his youth, Proust expressed himself in a less veiled style. Moreover, a letter to his mother written when he was more than forty years old is even more revealing. In it he complains that she still treats him as a four year-old child. Her aim seems to have been to control him mentally as well as physically.

Proust developed a sexual perversion. He became a sadomasochist and shows in his novel how this preference can develop. Generations of analysts after Sigmund Freud have maintained the explanation of masochism put forward in Freud’s paper, ‘A Child is Being Beaten’: the boy wants to be beaten by father as a replacement for being loved by him. The Oedipal father is the central figure in this account, rather than the mother. Indeed, Freud idealized the mother-son relationship, calling it ‘the least ambivalent and the most loving’ of all human bonds. He used only female cases for his theory of masochism. No male cases at all were explored, with only a mention of how passive feminine strivings are the source of masochism in males.

Like Proust, Freud derived his psychological knowledge in great part from subjective experience. But his experience with his mother was very different from that of Proust, who never overcame her domination. Consequently, Proust felt that in order to enjoy his (homo)sexuality he had to escape her control. Because his pleasure insulted his mother, then profaning and even murderous phantasies concerning mother figures became a condition for his pleasure and sexual excitement. This is the perversion that drives all his male protagonists throughout his novel.

marcel-proust-maman-famill1The Oedipal concept of ‘the boy in love with mother and wanting to kill father’ is turned upside down. The boy has not overcome his dependent position towards his mother. He has not reached a triadic Oedipal relationship. Consequently, he has to escape her control momentarily, to function as a sexual being at all. To channel his anxiety and aggression in a perverse sexual scenario enables him to become excited and potent. But this is compulsive, repetitive and not at all a free choice.

In my opinion, matricide (rather than patricide) has not received the attention within and outside of psychoanalysis that it deserves. Besides mother-son pathology, the concept clarifies much mother-daughter pathology as well. Such murderous phantasies and dreams are not uncommon in either men or women, but there is a crucial difference that must be observed: femininity is not threatened by unresolved dependency on the mother, unlike masculinity in males.

Hendrika C. Freud
Author of Men and Mothers: The Lifelong Struggle of Sons and Their Mothers, and Elektra vs Oedipus: The Drama of the Mother-Dauighter Relationship

John Michael Greer explains why symptoms of approaching social change are often pathologized



The human psyche is not simply a cultural construct. Neither is the universe in which the individual and society alike are embedded. Both have their own reality, their own powerful drives and hard limits. Sanity has as much to do with confronting those implacable facts as it does with conforming to social norms.

Now and then, the gap between the collective imagination of society and the realities of psychological or physical existence widens to a breaking point, and the facts that matter most are precisely those for which a culture’s definitions of sanity can find no room at all. When this happens, some of that culture’s cherished assumptions about the world are about to give way, with consequences that usually end up in big type in the history books.

There’s at least one way to catch the foreshocks of such a transformation, and that’s to pay close attention to changes in psychological patterns on the individual level.

“All mod cons!”Consider ‘housewife syndrome’, a common but poorly-defined neurotic condition of married women in the suburban middle classes of postwar Britain and America. Presenting symptoms included anomie, depression, substance abuse, and a galaxy of poorly specified psychosomatic complaints. The medical authorities who pronounced upon it consistently blamed it on the supposed psychological or moral inadequacies of the women who suffered from it, and the standard treatment involved daily doses of tranquillisers such as Newtown.

Very few people noticed at the time that those authorities making the diagnoses and handing out the tranquillisers were almost exclusively male, and that their breezy certainty disguised a deliberate lack of attention to the fact that many women in the stifling conformity and isolation of postwar suburbia might have very good reasons to feel unhappy with their lives. Not many years later, this unmentionable reality became a massive social force, as second-wave feminism burst onto the scene, blind-siding scores of pundits and social critics (again, most of them male) who had convinced themselves that since women had won the right to vote, they were contented with their still bitterly unequal lot.

The emergence of ‘housewife syndrome’ marked the first round of foreshocks of a coming social earthquake. Even in the relatively short history of medical psychology, other cases of the same kind can readily be found. The redefinition of political dissidence as ‘insanity’, practised by the Soviet Union in its last decades, is only one of the crasser examples. To those who like to insist that everything is well in paradise, pathologising the symptoms of approaching social change is always an appealing option. In retrospect, the self-imposed blindness brought about by such manoeuvres is itself a psychological dysfunction, and always a highly destructive one at that.

John Michael Greer
Author of Not the Future We Ordered: Peak Oil, Psychology, and the Myth of Progress, and Twilight’s Last Gleaming

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