17 September 2009

Right-Brain Psychoanalysis

Filed under: Language, Psychology — ktismatics @ 5:01 am

Last night I attended a presentation on learning styles at my daughter’s school. The speaker, an educational psychologist, pushed the left brain-right brain asymmetry as the source of two different cognitive styles: auditory-sequential and visual-spatial. I’m left-handed, so presumably my brain has more cross-wiring than right-handed people’s brains. Even so, characterizing the left hemisphere as “auditory” is misleading.

Briefly, the argument is this: Empirical evidence consistently demonstrates that (for right-handers especially) language is processed mostly in the left hemisphere. This is true for both spoken and written language. Language is processed sequentially, and sequence is a function of time. There is some evidence suggesting that the left hemisphere is more sensitive than the right in detecting short time intervals. What the right hemisphere adds to linguistic processing is the awareness of affect, attitude, interpersonal context: connotation rather than denotation, holistic rather than sequential. Many of the relevant connotational cues are visual: body language, facial expression. And there is independent evidence supporting right-hemispheric dominance in processing visual-spatial information.

However, other connotational cues are auditory: tone of voice and inflection, so-called “melodic speech,” which is also predominantly a right-hemispheric function in most people. The right brain is also presumably better at conjuring up mental images of what a string of language is talking about: the objects, events, and scenes being described, the array of signifieds toward which the linguistic signifiers point. The right brain is also better at divergent thinking: coming up with alternative ways of imagining or thinking about or representing something, which I believe implies the ability to generate alternative linguistic descriptions of something.

So now I find myself thinking about implications for psychotherapy and analysis. Language is the dominant medium for pretty much all techniques, suggesting a left-hemispheric bias. Cognitive-behavioral praxis involves a systematic parsing of thoughts and behaviors in an attempt to identify mismatches: irrational perceptions and attitudes and beliefs, inappropriate behavioral-linguistic responses. Treatment involves breaking into the sequence that links environmental cue, thought, and action, then consciously attempting to restructure this sequence in a more rational way.

In contrast, psychoanalytic technique deals primarily with the unexpressed, the repressed, the unformulated. As the person speaks, the analyst looks for clues to what is not being said: slips, tone of voice, facial tics, bodily movements. Through free association the client begins producing linguistic strings that haven’t been structured consciously into appropriate and rational discourse. Guided imagery encourages the client to picture memories or events or situations in the mind’s eye. Progress is made by bringing more and more unconscious material into awareness, playing with it, integrating it with conscious but discrepant thoughts, and eventually letting it settle into a holistic scheme of coherent personal meaning.

In short, doesn’t it seem that cognitive-behavioral therapy is a left-hemispheric praxis whereas psychoanalysis emphasizes right-brain activity?

Still, psychoanalysis focuses on linguistic expression. In part this is an artifact of analysis being an interpersonal process: it’s hard to know what someone else is thinking without their putting it into words. Also, though, there is a presumption that consciousness is inherently linguistic. Thought and language seem inextricably linked, such that thought is a kind of unspoken linguistic process and language is thought made accessible to others. Thoughts which cannot be expressed verbally aren’t really thoughts, it is argued. Further, analysis has historically depended on the analyst’s ability to interpret the client, and interpretation is always verbally communicated.

But what about images, pictures, physical structures? To create visual-spatial things requires conscious attention, contemplation, imagination, and manipulation. Collage, haphazard rearrangement of components, even demolition: these activities both embody and generate meaning, even if that meaning cannot be put into words. Must the analyst insist that the client drag the right-brain stuff across the corpus callosum into left-brain language processing? Why not just let the client express the non-linguistic stuff non-linguistically, through image, movement, intonation, manipulation? The explicitly analytic role of the analyst is regarded as less important than the client’s self-analysis. And even if the client never explicitly formulates his or her insights in words, the changes in perception, affect, energy, desire, proactivity, freedom of expression, personal integration, and so on are the most important outcomes.

On the other hand, perhaps because I’m left-handed I value bilateral integration. Being able to express divergent and holistic thoughts and images verbally seems like a good thing. And being able to deal with images and structures and intonations and affects without having to talk about them also seems like a good thing.


  1. Eloise I would say that psychoanalysis regards the conscious to be the ”left” function while the unconscious is the ”right” one, but these kinds of physiologizations are usually strained to say the least.

    Kvondique managed to inscribe herself in my hero’s blawg, which proves that I was right to have faith in le discours phantasmagorique de Kvondique. I don’t know exactly what they’re arguging, but it sounds like the Temptress is being called to duty for her claim that there is no sex between the objects.


    Comment by the voice of parodic reason — 17 September 2009 @ 7:37 pm

  2. So I emailed the speaker, more or less copying this post, to see what thoughts she might have on the subject. 36 hours later and no response yet. I think psychoanalysis has become such an alien concept in the US that even psychologists don’t know how to think about it. Either that or I’m just being ignored.


    Comment by john doyle — 18 September 2009 @ 9:19 am

  3. but you realize eloise that psychoanalytically speaking that is just a symptom, or maybe even a sinthome, because how else could america go around the business of being a vulgar militant pragmatic farmer if not by a denial of its Unconscious??? On the other hand you have movies, like Wall-E, which operate on psychoanalytic concepts. Of course psychoanalysis is still there, present or absent are relative terms.

    the narcissistic cat doesn’t want to inscribe me in her symbolic system, but keeps basking in my adoration as a proper narcissistic cat should. she knows that i like to lavish attention on her by doing her PR for free. meanwhile everyone seems to be moving to Twitter, and though I adapted my presence to meet the parody intelligence requirements, I just don’t feel myself there.

    the Babs bottom has really gone, it seems, though his various Doppelgangers return to haunt the Parody Center, which means she’s never really been gone. Jonathan Beller put Colonel Sherbert on his blawgroll.


    Comment by the voice of parodic reason — 21 September 2009 @ 2:14 pm

  4. Still no reply from the speaker, though I’m sure I shall continue haunting her right brain, occasionally appearing in her dreams as the return of the repressed.

    Twitter I have not explored at all. I could never distinguish the different characters contributing to the love correspondences on the Parody Center. Where does one find Beller’s blog?


    Comment by john doyle — 21 September 2009 @ 4:25 pm

  5. It’s just all The Mark ‘n’ Al Movie now (lol)


    Comment by the ---- girls — 21 September 2009 @ 5:56 pm

  6. http://orbismediologicus.wordpress.com/



    Comment by Dejan — 22 September 2009 @ 2:11 pm

  7. I guess Beller liked Chabert’s treatment of The Wire better than mine. I just went to check in on Chabert’s blog and it seems to have disappeared.


    Comment by john doyle — 22 September 2009 @ 4:56 pm

  8. I think Missus threw her malevolent charms on Beller just like she threw them on me, but you know how that usually ends.

    I think that my main dispute with DOT PALIN can be rendered well through her last post, in which she appears to have dumped
    her boyfriend because he preferred watching movies on the internet to the cinema. No matter how far this girl runs
    into the Walden, she always returns to the patriarchal bourgeois family into which she was born. It’s always like this with
    the Marxist avant garde experiments, including Palin’s avant garde sex theater.


    Comment by the voice of parodic reason — 22 September 2009 @ 7:58 pm

  9. KDD’s last post is about Seraphine, a working class artist who is discovered and then dumped by the intelligentsia and the marketplace, and who then goes mad. Is this the post of which you speak? Are you performing some sort of right-brain interpretation of the post?


    Comment by john doyle — 22 September 2009 @ 8:45 pm

  10. No there’s a post about how she left her long-time lover ”O” because he didn’t want to go to the movies with Dot. Dot you see is a highly demanding lover, if you don’t play by the rules – you can goddamn go back to the woods pal!!!


    Comment by the voice of parodic reason — 23 September 2009 @ 1:02 am

  11. Yes, KDD writes an open book about many aspects of her life. She talks a tough game, but she also presents her vulnerabilities. Perhaps in the unfolding melodrama “O” will one day return, whether he agrees to go to the movies or not.


    Comment by john doyle — 23 September 2009 @ 1:15 am

  12. Anyhow, back to your earlier remark on this thread, VOPR:

    “how else could america go around the business of being a vulgar militant pragmatic farmer if not by a denial of its Unconscious???”

    Yes I agree with this. The speaker who extolled the visual-spatial capabilities to the gathering of parents emphasized at the end of her talk that right-brain thinking is just the sort of thing that 21st-century employers are looking for. And of course she’s on the money: right-brain capabilities contribute mightily to advertising, team-building, captivation by image/spectacle, and the atrophy of critique that together make for an attractive employee. This is true even at high corporate levels, to which the local parent community aspires on their children’s behalf.


    Comment by john doyle — 23 September 2009 @ 1:30 am

  13. Perhaps in the unfolding melodrama “O” will one day return, whether he agrees to go to the movies or not.

    Maybe, but it will certainly be on Dot’s terms.

    I forgot to tell you that I did an intelligence test recently and while my verbal scores were extremely high, my visual-spatial (”performative” intelligence) was below average. This is odd for a designer, even more for an animator. Furthermore the high scores were in conflict with the low scores.


    Comment by the voice of parodic reason — 23 September 2009 @ 9:57 pm

    • You mean the test where a 2-dimensional representation of a 3-D object is displayed and then you’re supposed to select among another set of such representations the one that matches the original? I suck at that test as well. I’m also quite poor at navigating in space, continually losing my bearings: this is true in both urban and rural environments. And I’m not very skillful with tools and machines and so on. It’s been my experience, and probably yours as well, that these pragmatic mechanical-spatial skills don’t often correlate very highly with visual aesthetic sensibilities.


      Comment by john doyle — 24 September 2009 @ 5:08 am

  14. It’s been my experience, and probably yours as well, that these pragmatic mechanical-spatial skills don’t often correlate very highly with visual aesthetic sensibilities.

    Yes that was the test, but I also experience in drawing/visuals that I am less aware of space… than of figure and movement. Things tend to fall ”off screen” in a manner of speaking, or I need much more time to figure out how the space works than I would when drawing the figure.


    Comment by Dejan — 25 September 2009 @ 9:43 am

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