Phil Mollon Ph.D. DCEP

Psychoanalytic Energy Psychotherapy [PEP]

The interface between PEP and psychoanalysis

The methods described on this site are not psychoanalysis - but psychoanalysis is a rich vein of knowledge that informs PEP

Although this site is not concerned directly with psychoanalysis, some comment on psychoanalytic aspects is important for two reasons:

  • The work draws upon psychodynamic insights and developmental perspectives
  • The practice of PEP is primarily for those who have some experience of psychoanalytic work. Some understanding of psychoanalysis is crucial to being able to work with PEP.

For an outline of the process of Psychoanalytic Energy Psychotherapy, showing its links with the psychoanalytic process, click here.

The question of transference and the therapeutic frame

A problem commonly expressed by those with a psychoanalytic background, who are interested in incorporating PEP into their work, is the concern for how these adjunctive methods might affect the transference. In many psychoanalytic circles the transference, often viewed as the unconscious relationship between client and analyst, is seen as the crucial vehicle of the work. It is often assumed that this was Freud's view. My own reading of Freud does not support this. Consider the following comment by Freud regarding the transference. It is from a relatively late paper - Beyond the Pleasure Principle [1920]:

“He [the patient] is obliged to repeat the repressed material as a contemporary experience instead of, as the physician would prefer to see, remembering it as something belonging to the past. These reproductions, which emerge with such unwished-for exactitude, always have as their subject some portion of infantile sexual life … and they are invariably acted out in the sphere of the transference, of the patient’s relation to the physician. When things have reached this stage, it may be said that the earlier neurosis has now been replaced by a fresh, ‘transference neurosis’. It has been the physician’s endeavour to keep this transference neurosis within the narrowest limits: to force as much as possible into the channel of memory and to allow as little as possible to emerge as repetition.” [Freud 1920 p 18-19]

Two points are clear from this quote:

  • Freud viewed transference as the patient’s way of remembering – and, within the psychoanalytic process, as a stepping stone towards conscious remembering and reconstruction of childhood development.
  • The transference itself is not to be encouraged. The memorial material emerging as transference is to be guided back into the realm of memory - an intrapsychic rather than interpersonal source of disturbance.

From the PEP perspective, it makes much more sense to address the client's problems as residing within the client rather than as existing between client and therapist. Of course transference does emerge and intrude into the therapeutic relationship - but the task is to recognise it for what it is as soon as possible, and then to address its traumatic roots within the psycho-somatic-energy system. When addressed in this way, transference becomes more fleeting - indeed rather as Freud originally viewed it, as an intrusion into the process of exploring the intrapsychic, a memory masquerading as a present experience.   

Whatever is expressed as transference can be hypothesised as:

  • either traumatic early experience that is not, at that moment, experienced as memory, or
  • infantile relational desires or needs that are intruding into the professional task-oriented, working relationship with the therapist.

To work with a focus on the transference relationship is to undertake psychoanalysis. This has its place. The gradual exploration and working through of unconscious relational patterns, provided within traditional psychoanalytic therapy, may be required. Indeed, with clients whose transference dynamics continually invade and potentially distort the professional relationship with the psychotherapist, energy modalities are probably contraindicated.  

However, once transference is viewed with this slight shift of perspective, it becomes much easier to consider how PEP might be incorporated within a psychoanalytically oriented approach - at least with some clients. If introduced from the beginning of the work PEP becomes part of the frame. Introducing it within an already ongoing psychotherapy can obviously be more problematic.

Although I have myself written critically regarding current fashions for continual 'here-and-now' transference work, the reference I prefer to cite is the following:

Bollas, Christopher. 2007. On transference interpretation as a resistance to free-association. In The Freudian Moment. London. Karnac. 85-100.

Christopher Bollas has written and spoken extensively on this controversial issue.

Comments on 'recovered memory'

Following the increased recognition of the common role of trauma in the development of psychopathology during the 1980s, concern emerged in the early 90s that some people were constructing 'false memories', or perhaps 'false beliefs' regarding childhood events -and that such errors of reconstruction could be fostered by certain kinds of therapy. There is indeed validity to this concern. Our experience of 'memory' is highly malleable - akin to a process of reconstruction, or telling ourselves a story, rather than one of accessing an objective and fixed record. Memory is influenced by suggestion and other factors. Many books have addressed this issue, including my own [Mollon 2002 click].

It does happen sometimes that during the course of therapy (of many different kinds), a person may suddenly remember an event that they had not thought about for many years. This does not mean that the experienced 'memory' should be assumed objectively accurate. At times it can be important to emphasise this to the client, particularly if the memory has serious implications for the view of a family member. Usually clients are quite willing to accept this - and indeed this view of the uncertainty of memory is fairly congruent with common assumptions (beyond those fostered by particular books advocating a view of memory as infallible). In his book, The Interpretation of Dreams [1900], Freud did suggest, on the basis of dream evidence, that perhaps everything experienced is in some way recorded and could sometimes find expression in dreams - but he also thought that dreams inherently scramble the information so that the objective truth was unavailable. In a significant comment in his paper on Screen Memories [1899], Freud states:

"It may indeed be questioned whether we have any memories at all from our childhood: memories relating to our childhood may be all that we possess. Our childhood memories show us our earliest years not as they were but as appeared at later the periods when the memories were aroused. In these periods of arousal, the childhood memories did not, as people are accustomed to say, emerge; they were formed at the time. And a number of motives, with no concern for historical accuracy, had a part in forming them, as well as in the selection of the memories themselves" [page 322 Standard Edition 3. London. Hogarth Press]

This view is startlingly congruent with contemporary cognitive perspectives and has much merit. Dreams, free-associations, and 'muscle testing' may all contain allusions to early experience, but we must remain cautious about the inferences we draw from these - and convey that caution to the client. We must avoid illusions of knowing.

It must also be noted that some clients may have an extremely biased perception of childhood events, or may be prone to confabulation. Fortunately, energy psychology methods allow early traumatic imprints to be cleared from the system without the necessity for these to be known consciously.