As I wrote in my previous post, holistic theories are based on the assumption that systems should be viewed as wholes, and not as a collection of parts, and that the properties and behavior of the system cannot be inferred from the study of the isolated parts. This is clearly incompatible with the underlying assumptions of the analytical method of natural science.
There are three kinds of holistic theories that have a bearing on psychoanalytic practice and thinking. The first one is, of course, the field model, which is the main subject of our blog. This focuses on the simultaneous and mutual influences of everything that is present in the observational field at any given moment. It is therefore an atemporal construction of the analytic experience and events.
The second is the process model, which studies the evolution in time of all events in the observational field during a certain period and projects its future course in terms of a given goal. Hence, it is a temporal construction of the events under study. A process is not just any sequence of events, and most certainly it is not a linear chain of cause-effect relations. A process, in this sense, is a highly complex evolving whole, self-organized around an aim or goal; it therefore has a direction, a course, and an intentionality, which give it a meaning that can be interpreted. This is, of course, a teleological understanding, in terms of what Aristotle called final causes, in sharp contradiction with the ethos of present-day natural science, which is inimical to teleological thinking, deemed to be mystical or religious, and demands that all explanations be strictly causal. Nonetheless, intentionality has been an essential underlying assumption of the practice of psychoanalysis from its very beginning, most probably derived from what the young Freud learnt from his philosophy teacher, Franz Brentano.
The third kind of holistic theory in psychoanalysis is the dramatic model, which views mental events, whether intrapersonal, interpersonal or transpersonal, as the result of a complex interrelationship of personal characters that engage in dramatic relations, determined by an unconscious scenario. Even though this model was implicit ever since Freud’s early works —as, for instance, in his description of the dynamics of the relation between the unconscious wish, the conscious ego, and the dream censorship— it was only in Mourning and melancholia and The ego and the id that it became explicit, thus paving the way for the development of object relations theory. In present-day psychoanalysis, such model is found in Thomas Ogden’s concept of a third subject in the analytic relationship and in the ample literature on enactment.
Obviously, these three models are not mutually exclusive, but fully complementary. Field theories are only atemporal in their theory-building strategy, which takes all events in a given lapse as if they were simultaneous, but they must necessarily include the evolution of the field, in order to account for the therapeutic process. Process theories are temporal in their strategy, but they need to consider the simultaneous disposition and mutual influence of all elements that are present at a certain moment, whether personal, interpersonal, cultural, political, physical, climatic or ecological. And, as every human occurrence is always personal and relational, the view in terms of the dramatic model is also needed to complement the other two.