I had the incredible privilege of attending the 18th International Neuropsychoanalysis Congress in London, United Kingdom, in 2017 which centred on the development of the self and its disorders and was titled the “Compulsion to Predict”. 

Prolific psycho-analytic writers and practitioners partook in this event and scholarly papers were presented by amongst others Professor Peter Fonagy, Dr Ron Britton, Dr Suzan Mizen, Dr Anne Alvarez and Professor Yoram Yovell. The University of London’s Cruciform Building provided the backdrop for this cross-cultural exploration of the self and its germination from conception to death.

What is Neuropsychoanalysis - Psychologist Port Elizabeth

South Africa was perhaps best represented at this event by Professor Mark Solms who is regarded as the modern-day father of this field of study and practice and who invented the term. Professor Solms is perhaps best known for his discovery of the forebrain mechanisms of dreaming, and for his integration of psychoanalytic theories and methods with those of modern neuroscience. 

Together with Oliver Turnbull he wrote The Brain and the Inner World (2012) which is a best-seller and has been translated into twelve (12) languages. Professor Solms is, amongst others, the Chair of the Neuropsychology Unit at the University of Cape Town, President of the South African Psychoanalytical Association, and Research Chair of the International Psychoanalytical Association. He has published widely in both neuroscientific and psychoanalytic journals - more than 250 articles and book chapters and five (5) books! What an honour to witness a master at work in his own lifetime!

What is neuropsychoanalysis?

The question of what defines neuropsychoanalysis requires brief exploration. My aim here is to entice the reader to explore the ever-evolving landscape of the mind and to engage in the exploration of the complexities of intrapsychic functioning by entertaining the complex dynamics between the brain and the mind. If we are to consider a historical account of neuropsychoanalysis we must of course begin with Freud who, after all, invented psychoanalysis. 

Freud was a neuroscientist and neurologist for the first two decades of his life. He mapped the structure and functions of the human mind, and also recognised that these were intimately related to the structure and functions of the human brain. In 1920 Freud wrote “biology is a land of unlimited possibilities. We cannot guess what answers it will return in a few dozen years. They may be of a kind that will blow away the whole artificial structures of our hypotheses” (p. 60). Freud’s great contribution evolved from his recognition that mental life is unavoidably tethered to the body, and thereby to biology. 

There can be no mind without a body – what is unique about this is that from this viewpoint we are both an object and a subject, and, in this way, neuropsychoanalysis seeks to link the findings of the science of the mind as an object with those of the mind as a subject. There is no attempt to reduce the one to the other. Neuropsychoanalysis is, in essence, a serious and systematic attempt to reconcile the two aspects of the mind with each other.

Estelle De Wit - Psychologist Port Elizabeth

The next conference will be held in Mexico City later this year and I hope to be able to bring back not only new memories, but also new skills to enable me to deepen my understanding of the importance of my role as a clinician in this exciting and evolving field of work! For further reading please consult consider The Feeling Brain – Selected Papers on Neuropsychoanalysis by Professor Mark Solms (2015).