Eros and Thanatos

I was chatting with a friend recently who is a Programmer. I asked if he  had been good at I.T. at school .”Not particularly, but I enjoyed physics. It helped me understand the world.” I replied that all I could remember of physics at school was my  headmaster explaining how simple  and important were Ohm’s law and Boyle’s law. He spent a good few lessons trying to demonstrate how to remember these laws. It failed to settle in my adolescent mind. I still have no idea what they are about or why they matter. I found Shakespeare’s star cross’d lovers much more interesting .What was to not understand about Romeo and Juliet? Their dilemma seemed far more important than equations about volts, power and resistance.

Our conversation continued and I said much that I have already said, adding that that was probably why I became  nurse and a counsellor. That I could understand -to some measure- how people work. We laughed and carried on chatting.

But the conversation stayed with me. The two laws seem to be an attempt to describe how things work under certain circumstances or conditions. (Presumably they can also describe what might happen under adverse conditions and the consequences that might follow.) The parallels to the work of therapy are not hard to see. At its most basic, therapy can be seen as understanding how emotional energy flows in the psyche. To what does this energy attach itself and why?  How do I understand depression or anxiety when it becomes toxic? We all know the experience of mild depression or anxiety about something. But for many people it becomes overwhelming and crippling.A patient told me that they had been having panic attacks all day before coming to see me. (Fortunately they found the actual experience of seeing me less awful than they had feared!) This is a long way from exam nerves or worry about money.

One way of thinking about my work as a therapist is to see the patterns of energy attachment in my patients.Where does a person’s energy or drive take them? Is it attracted to Eros (Freud’s Life Instinct) or to Thanatos (Freud’s Death Instinct). Why does their energy attach to one direction and not another? What might  happen if the energy directed into Thanatos is able to be channelled into Eros?  This is where we leave the laws of physics and move to the realm of the unconscious. Instead of neat physical laws we work with dreams, with slips of the tongue, with how we encounter our patients and so on.  It is an imprecise science but, as Einstein puts it,”To raise  new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle..” this “… requires creative imagination and marks real advance in science.”

I think Freud and Einstein would  have worked well together.Einstein’s view of science will be echoed my many a counsellor and therapist who would see themselves engaged in the same task.



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