How Researchers Are Combining Neurobiology and Freudian Psychoanalysis

Up until about ten years ago neurobiology and Freudian psychoanalysis were not considered related in any way. Neurobiology focused on the concrete study of the brain: how nerve cells communicate, chemical impulses, etc. They avoided any subjective experiences. The study of mind and consciousness was considered inappropriate for science.

Mark Solms, a neuropsychologist, was told that it would damage his career if he explored Freudian theories. He was not deterred. Following his doctorate degree, he studied to be a psychoanalyst. Solms opened up a new field of research that combines the brain and the mind.

Keep reading to learn more.

Freud’s theories

In an article in Discovery Magazine, The Second Coming of Sigmund Freud, Kat McGowan describes this new field of research.

Sigmund Freud began his career as a neuroscientist. In the 1890s he formed his theories of mind based on what he heard from his patients about their inner experiences. Freud believed that these subjective experiences had meaning and are important. He believed that we do not know ourselves. It is the job of the psychoanalyst to bring this unconscious information into awareness. Freud believed that this would help his miserable patients.

Psychoanalysis is considered by some to be “the 20th century’s single most influential theory about the human mind” (McGowan). In the past psychoanalysts were not open to testing through scientific experiments and neuroscientists rejected the study of the subjective. As a result, Freudian theories were never validated.

Mark Solms

Solms realized that neurobiology was missing a key element. Solms wanted to study the mind and the brain and how they are related. According to McGowan, “Neuroscience claimed to explain the brain, but ignored its finest product: the dazzling, intimate sensations of human consciousness.”

When working with brain-injured patients, Solms found Freudian concepts like denial and wish fulfillment useful. For example, a paralyzed patient might say he is just too tired to move or explain that his motionless limb belongs to someone else. These patients were not able to face reality and chose to believe that they were still healthy.

Using Freudian concepts, Solms was able to calm patients and help families through difficult issues. Solms came to believe that researching Freudian theories could prove beneficial. This opened up a major new field in brain science.

What we have learned so far

Some of Freud’s theories are incorrect, but others are not. Here is what we have learned so far:

  • Emotions are worthy of study. According to Antonio Damasio emotions are key to decision making and rational thought.
  • People process information unconsciously.
  • Our minds struggle between instinctual impulses and self control.
  • Below the surface of consciousness, we worry and create fantasies.

The scientific study of Freud’s theories has opened up new ways of seeing ourselves and new treatment options.

I have been exploring how working with emotions and subjective experiences can help people let go of the past. By letting go of the past you can find your true self.

To read more…

(Image: Feliciano Guimares @ Flickr)

{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Barbara Wascom May 23, 2014, 4:05 pm

    Fascinating….I’m glad the 2 “ologies” are beginning to work together.
    Thanks for the info!

    • Donna Weber May 23, 2014, 5:29 pm

      I am glad you liked the post. It is about time more people are working together.


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