Sustainable Psychoanalysis: Self-Sustaining and Collective Benefits

by Kenneth Silvestro

Table of Contents


Two Dreams: The Presenting Problem and Solution

From Individual to Collective Treatment

Self-Sustaining Psychoanalysis

Domination Collectives

Caring Dynamic, Collaborative Collectives

Understanding the Extraverted, Collective Treatment Process

An Example — Religious Collectives

The Power of Collectives




Historically, psychoanalysis emphasized the introverted and individual characteristics of human nature. A new focus to help sustain psychoanalysis is addressed in this paper. The approach involves a collective rather than an individual focus and an extraverted rather than an introverted approach. Treating the collective-mean in order to change the collective in general is presented.


Historically, psychoanalysis emphasized the introverted and individual characteristics of human nature. Treatment addressed psychic structures such as ego, Id, unconscious, conscious, persona, complexes, personality and more. This produced a deep understanding of human nature, as well as pathological conditions, which has proven invaluable to many professionals and clients, alike. Today, a different question confronts analysts: Can psychoanalysis sustain itself by continuing to treat clients and developing along the same direction using the same approaches? If the answer is no, which I believe is the case, then in addition to losing a footing in the therapeutic health care fabric, psychoanalysis will atrophy as a viable understanding of, and approach to, human nature. This is a serious consideration since the evidence for atrophy appears to be present and growing, as evidenced in the medical community losing interest in psychoanalysis, the myriad new therapeutic approaches such as body therapies and the coaching insurgence, the lack of attendance at psychoanalytic presentations, the devaluing of the original pioneers Freud, Jung and Adler, analysts struggling to maintain private practices as client numbers diminish, and the increasingly intense alignment by numerous people with various religions.

A new focus to help sustain psychoanalysis is addressed in this paper. The approach involves a collective rather than an individual focus and an extraverted rather than an introverted approach. Treating the collective-mean in order to change the collective in general is proposed.

Two Dreams: The Presenting Problem and a Solution:

Dreams present individual and collective concerns, problems and insights, serving to inform and guide an analysis. Recently, one of my clients presented a dream that I believe represents the collective posture that we are all facing and living. Thus, the client’s dream is a collective dream and not just a personal dream. This collective dream introduces and reveals the issues addressed in this paper.

A female and male are both part of a traveling team but have limited purpose and are endangered. I am part of the team and we are cutting corn when the lead combine cuts an old tree, the top of which was severed some time ago. The remaining part of the tree with some branches is still fairly tall. The tree falls across an eight lane freeway and onto a school. When my combine gets close enough to see the fallen tree, I stop and run across the highway, narrowly escaping being hit by speeding cars that travel under the fallen tree. I meet with someone in the school. Other team members are attempting to come across the dangerous highway full of speeding cars. A dog comes across along with some of the people.

This being a collective dream, the female and male symbols that typically represent the masculine and feminine nature within the dreamer’s psyche are symbols representing the collective feminine and masculine nature within the dreamer’s social structure or collective. The dream informs us that both symbols are a natural part of the collective psyche but are endangered and only partially functional at this time. These collective symbols express the caring, relational elements and creative sources in the collective psyche, carrying the potential to develop or become inactive in these critical psychological areas.

Since the dreamer and each one of us are all part of society, or the collective, we all contribute to the collective problems and characteristics. We are all instrumental in forming the collective. The symbolic collective problem is represented by the image of the corn and the harvesting of the corn by the team members using combines. The collective use of corn includes fuel, food and various other products. It is an important product, genetically engineered and enhanced for greater production and capital gains. The symbolism informs us that the collective is modifying natural ways and focused on capital gains more so than the mutual benefit and well-being of each human being. In addition, we are all contributing to this slippery-slope, even if we are conscious of the necessity for more healthy and natural sustenance and care for each other.

The machines in the dream, i.e., the combines, symbolize the collective machines that harvest and use the corn production for fuel, economic gains and with a lack of concern for environmental destruction, as indicated in the dream by the cutting of the tree. Again, we are all part of this environmental destruction; that is, all part of the collective machines.

The tree, or the tree of life, is already partially destroyed as a result of our continued contributions to the production and progress indicated by the harvesting of corn and the speeding cars in the eight lane highway that are oblivious to the surrounding environment and its destruction. The collective speeding through life in a myopic direction occurs, and clearly there is little consciousness associated with the automaton existence. This is symbolically represented by the environmental and social hazards, and their demise.

The school symbolizes the collective’s potential for increased consciousness and knowledge, and for future possibilities. Some of the people who are part of the collective structure and contributors to the collective problems, as indicated by their operation of the machines, are also aware, or conscious, of the issues; yet, a caring,  concerned, and aware attitude, apparently is not enough to prevent the continued collective movement.

This collective dream provides insights into the social, economic, spiritual and psychological problems plaguing most Western collectives. Fortunately, there are solutions. The following dream, though not as clear as the previous dream, provides meaningful direction and hope for a solution.

This dream occurred a couple of months prior to my client’s dream while I was intensely considering solutions to the social problems and the changes needed to sustain psychoanalysis. Although I received this dream, it, too, is a collective dream.

I am observing a container (about 3 feet by 3 feet) filled to the ¾ level with a liquid that receives additional liquid from a conduit/pipe suspended in the air above the container. The liquid flows out of the tube/conduit through the air for a short distance and down into the container. As the additional fluid accumulates in the container, the top level of the fluid in the container doesn’t simply get higher in the container. Instead, the entire volume of liquid in the container moves upward, as a whole, leaving a space beneath it in the container (the space is equivalent to the volume of liquid flowing into the container).

When I awoke, I immediately realized the dream symbolized the necessary changes needed for the betterment of the social collective and how psychoanalysis could help resolve many of these social or collective problems, and also become self-sustaining.

The level of the liquid, as a complete volume in the container, moving higher in the container will eventually “overflow” the container but an intuitive sense informed me that the liquid will not disperse once outside the container but maintain its three dimensional shape as the volume moves above the rim of the container. At that point, the container will no longer be necessary.

The liquid in the container represents the collective psyche – both conscious and unconscious psyche. In addition, the liquid flowing through the conduit is the psyche as well, however, the conduit and container, together, represent an open system which requires an exchange of energy or material, in this case the symbolic psyche, from within the container to the outside environment and vice versa. The container without the conduit is a closed system. There is no exchange occurring. The conduit is essential for an open system structure and for changes/transformations in the collective and psychoanalysis.

Once psyche moves above the rim of the container, a major transformation occurs. The closed system is no longer possible and the open system becomes permanent. This is the goal and solution to the closed system symbolized by just the container, or the non-sustainable collective and psychoanalysis. Both require an open system structure with an exchange of energy/information flowing to and from the collective, psychoanalysis and the psyche. This open system structure provides for greater consciousness and innovative developments or changes. In this process, psychoanalysis must be self-sustaining by offering new approaches to contribute to the open system development.

The space below the liquid represents the ongoing transformation in the collective and psychoanalytic systems. As more symbolic fluid (psyche) flows into the container, the steady state changes; therefore, the whole of the liquid enters a different state/condition.  The space below in the container indicates the level or degree of transformation or state changes. When a complete transformation occurs, the container will be empty and a new consciousness, and open system structure, will be revealed.

Throughout this paper, dream excerpts serve to introduce points of interest. By focusing on the collective and finding collective treatment approaches, the field of psychoanalysis will become self-sustaining and the social/collective problems represented in the first dream will be addressed.

From Individual to Collective Treatment:

When an individual is treated, typical psychic structures are reviewed and become prominent during the analysis: ego, superego, unconscious, conscious, id, complexes, trauma, personality, and more. These same psychic structures also exist at a collective level, which is critical to understand. Treating the collective requires reviewing these structures as an analyst would an individual.

Although social collectives are a product of each individual within the social structure, there are salient traits that emerge forming the collectives that are greater than the sum of the parts. David Korten (2009) describes this phenomenon: “What we are depends in substantial measure on what we choose to be – not just by our individual choices but also by how we shape the collective cultures and institutions that in turn shape our individual behavior” (p. 92). But the emergent collective properties are more profound that Korten’s description. As such, society, or any collective organization or group, can be, and must be, viewed with the same psychic structures as an individual, e.g., collective ego, collective personality, etc.

The collective personality attitude is extraversion; whereas, individuals are introverted, extraverted or a mixture of both. Given this single psychic characteristic, an approach to treatment can begin to form. Therefore, how do analysts treat collective structures? In general, the answer can be stated as an extraverted approach to enhancing the capacity for caring, sharing, peacemaking and service for others.

Taking an extraverted treatment approach to the collective problems, as indicated in the solution or second dream, to enhance greater conscious caring, sharing, and so forth, is a beginning. This radical approach for psychoanalysis – focusing on collectives rather than individuals using only extraverted traits — appears to be necessary given the dreams.

Since psychoanalysis is traditionally more familiar and comfortable with individuals rather than collectives, perhaps introducing microcosms versus macrocosms as an analogy will help clarify the point.  Viewing microcosms can provide additional insights on how to address macrocosms, as Korten (2009) explains:

The secret to life’s success is found in the trillions upon trillions of cells, organisms, and communities of organisms engaged in an exquisite dance of continuous exchange with their living neighbors, in which each maintains its own identity and health while contributing to the life of the whole and balancing its own needs against the needs of the larger community. (p. 106)

Contributing to the greater good of the whole collective while self-sustaining smaller community collectives certainly is a complex notion. Yet the admirable functions performed at the micro level in Korten’s description, must be incorporated and developed at the macro level of social collectives in order to address the problems indicated in the initial dream.

The collective is not an actual individual. As mentioned, it is a group of individuals that function in many ways at the individual level, according to the unconscious and conscious psyche. At the collective psychic level, emergent properties unique to the specific collective influence the individual members. In the past, this has been referred to as herd mentality (PsychCentral, 2008).  This is only one emergent property, however, that must be addressed.

Just as the mean, or average, of a list of numbers is often not an actual number in the list; so too, the collective individual, or collective-mean figure, does not exist in the individuals forming the collective. The emergent collective properties belong to the whole of the collective, or can be understood in terms of the collective-mean. It is the collective-mean that displays the psychological characteristics listed earlier, e.g., ego, extraversion, conscious, unconscious, and so forth.

Self-Sustaining Psychoanalysis:

What does self-sustaining psychoanalysis mean? One attribute, as indicated in the dreams, requires psychoanalysis to become more extraverted and develop open system characteristics. In order to meet the extraverted collective, psychoanalysis must approach the collective in a similar way. Given that most analysts are introverted, adapting an extraverted approach to treatment means overcoming initial difficulties and developing one’s unconscious extraverted attitude (Jung, 1971).

Although the collective psyche can synonymously be understood in terms of individual characteristics as noted above, addressing pathological and non-pathological collective dynamics is very different from individual dynamics. After all, there are no parental figures for the collective-mean, unless strong, influential leaders within the collective are considered collective parents. Certainly this assessment warrants consideration, but it moves the analyst away from the collective and back to the individual. By now, it is obvious that sustainable psychoanalysis requires extending psychoanalysis to social collectives and their dynamics in an extraverted manner.

Uncovering the areas in the collective needing psychoanalytic assistance will vary from analyst to analyst. For psychoanalysis to become more sustainable by addressing these collective problems, each analyst must not only determine these problematic areas but become actively involved in the treatment. As indicated in the solution dream, the benefits include social and environmental changes for the betterment of the planet and humanity, as well as the self-sustainability of the psychoanalytic discipline.

Some initial basic questions that need to be asked include: (Eisler, 2007, p.20)

  1. What collective qualities, activities, services and attitudes require psychoanalytic treatment and change?
  2. How can relational and caring qualities develop within the social collective?
  3. What type of treatment intervention is necessary to develop more caring, effective, innovative and sustainable social collectives?

Finding solutions to each of these basic questions, while generating more specific questions, is essential. The following suggestions are helpful and a good starting point.

  1. Obtain as complete an understanding as possible of the integrated social concerns and troublesome patterns.
  2. Orient social organizations, attitudes, beliefs and values toward partnership structures rather than domination systems (both partnership and domination collectives are addressed below).
  3. Develop social changes that encompass corporate caring attitudes and practices, encourage caring and care-giving to each other, apply altruistic and empathic consciousness to enhance basic human and environmental needs, and always maintain a caring focus to the future social structure/collectives.
  4. Determine ways of assessing social/collective changes instilled by psychoanalysis.
  5. Develop mutually beneficial and responsible attitudes, and consciousness, that encompass partnership and relational social/collective structures.
  6. Maintain valuable individual psychoanalytic perspectives, introduce collective perspectives and continue to look for a greater integration of the two.

Domination Collectives:

The structure of domination collectives, prevalent throughout Western societies, is thousands of years old but hopefully, these collectives are finally becoming outdated. There are two primary functions attributed to these collectives: “dominate or be dominated” (Eisler, 2007, p. 30). Symbols of the domination collective in the initial dream include: cutting down the tree of life, the speeding vehicles, the drivers’ lack of awareness as the tree forms a bridge above them, the combines used to harvest the corn crop, and the corn crop.

The people on top, the dominators, control the people below, the dominated, in overt and covert ways. Typically, the dominators benefit by design while the dominated do not, also by design. The emotional and energy motivators that bind these collectives in the above structure are fear and force, respectively. This description, however, leaves much to be desired.

For thousands of years, Western societies were structured on hierarchies and dominant, power oriented relationships (Berman, 2000; Eisler, 1987). This has proven harmful to individuals, the environment and collective groups within the social structures by producing scarcity for each of the basic needs associated with the lower tiers of the hierarchy. In domination hierarchies, this is common and considered inevitable (Eisler, 2007). Scarcity can be a natural process, but it can also be artificially produced. Either form can be perpetuated and used as an advantage by dominators of a collective, resulting in greater control and gains over the dominated in the hierarchy (Eisler, 2007). Symbolically, the entire dynamic is found in the initial dream, represented by the corn, its commercial production, the combines and the destruction of the tree of life.

As scarcity increases due both to natural or induced processes, the collective-mean becomes more needy and helpless, as do each member of the collective. As goes the collective-mean, so goes the individuals in the collective. Consumerism and narcissism compensate for the scarcity, as means of compensation the collective-mean attempts to increase its status. Trust dwindles and anger mounts. The collective-mean becomes a narcissistic, consumer which satisfies the dominators and expresses the pathology of the collective.

Domination collective characteristics described above align with five simple principles:

  1. Motivators include fear and scarcity.
  2. Trust is diminished.
  3. Caring and care-giving are not a focus for social collectives.
  4. Caring and care-giving hamper productivity.
  5. Compensatory narcissism and greed create an imbalance within the social structure/collective.

Another parallel psychic characteristic attributed to the individual and found in the collective is consciousness. The collective consciousness is attributed to the collective-mean and the collective in general. It is a lack of developed collective consciousness that prevents the collective from changing its ways, direction or intent. Domination collectives promote denial in the individual members which becomes an emergent property found within the collective-mean as well. Denial obscures consciousness, preventing it from developing.

Here are some alarming statistics supporting denial within the collective and indicating the ongoing narcissistic compensation. According to World Military & Social Expenditures (1996), “the cost of a US intercontinental ballistic missile would feed 50 million children, build 160,000 schools, or open 340,000 health centers (as cited in Eisler, 2007, p. 131). According to a UNICEF (1996) report, “the cost of one nuclear submarine would provide low-cost rural water and sanitation facilities for 48 million people, and the cost of eleven reader-evading bombers could provide four years of primary education for 135 million children” (as cited in Eisler, 2007, p. 131). These are dated reports but astonishing figures.

These statistics point to the lack of empathic and caring attitudes in collectives and reflect a domination structure versus a partnership structure that is so sorely needed for a new/developing collective consciousness and change. Psychoanalysis must address collective pathologies such as indicated in these examples.

Caring Dynamic, Collaborative Collectives:

The initial dream indicates that the feminine and masculine psychic energies/characteristics of the collective structure are endangered and functioning in a limited capacity. Among several critical functions associated with these psychic elements is the already mentioned relational function. At an individual level, relationship represents an emergent psychic property between two people. At the collective level, relationship also represents an emergent psychic property from all members in the collective, resulting in the collective-mean’s ability to relate to other collectives and the natural environment. According to the dream, this emergent property is endangered.

Some healthy changes leading to partnership collectives were introduced in a previous section but there are many other possibilities. Below are a few others that can be initiated (Korten, 2009, p. 10). (move)

  1. A dignified and fulfilling existence.
  2. A balance between Human consumption and consumerism, and natural resources.
  3. Boundaries and structural changes within the collective.
  4. Equality among individuals comprising the collective and social efficient resources.
  5. Nurturing relationships between individual members, the collective and natural surroundings.

Caring, collaborative collectives require genuine relationships, employing authentic relational qualities. Attending to the five areas of change listed above can instill the needed relational qualities. This can be accomplished by treating the collective-mean with respect to healthy relationships which includes focusing on, but not limited to: empathy, trust, communication, emotion and emotional intelligence, caring, compassion, care-giving and sacrifice. And, of course, the collective masculine and feminine characteristics are essential.

Collaborative collectives based on caring, relational qualities do not seek to control or dominate, to force or promote fear, or to induce scarcity. These collectives attempt to support, and provide for, survival needs, community developmental needs, health, creativity, meaning and equality.

If we just consider equality for a moment, we quickly discover a number of attributes which must be carefully understood and developed within the collective-mean in order for any treatment progress to occur. Primarily, equality refers to the distribution of everything, e.g., emotions, empathy, relationship, wealth, health care, and so forth (Korten, 2008, p. 37). Clearly, from this list, it becomes obvious the enormity of the task facing psychoanalysis.

Promoting caring responses and caring preventative measures, caring engagement and care-giving collectives without dominant, power leaders, is essential. Eliminating leaders is not the point; eliminating domination hierarchical structures is the point. Leaders in collaborative structures both receive from, and provide to, others. Through communication, emotion, compassion, empathy and trust, collaborative dynamic structures create and nourish relationships (Eisler, 2008).

Relationships are not new to the psychoanalytic discipline, however, developing healthy relationships within a collective offers new challenges. Analysts and representatives from the psychoanalytic discipline must go into the dominant social collectives and treat/promote, educate and influence the collective-mean to remove the masculine and feminine psychic energies from the endangered list and bring them to the collective consciousness in a greater, living capacity. The latter point, influence, becomes the critical focus and is described below. Changing the collective-mean will result in changing the collective and its followers.

Understanding the Extraverted, Collective Treatment Process:

The social collective determines what is valuable and what is not for the collective-mean. Members of the collective follow the collective-mean, attempting to aspire to, and mimic, this “figure,” sacrificing individual values and adhering to collective norms modeled by the collective-mean. As an example, consider a prison riot which can help illuminate this collective situation and serve to introduce another important principle.

The inmate population forms a collective structure. Let’s assume there is continual mounting tension and alienation for each prisoner within the collective structure of the prison. Eventually, the mounting tension leads to an inevitable riot. “The qualitative behavior, or the riot, that ensues requires a shift in perspective away from the individual attributes of the prisoners to the collective phenomenon of the system” (Wormer & Davis, 2008, p. 30). The social collective in the prison functions as a holism, producing an emergent property — the riot, for which the individual members are unconscious and yet, they experience the riot as one collective movement or activity due to its emergence.

The collective structure, or collective psyche, in this example includes many attractors, as described in chaos theory (Hall, 1991). The attractors serve as collective “motivators” to which all the prisoners, following the lead of the collective-mean, respond. In this example, one attractor within the collective (system), functions to draw the increasing tension and alienation to it, changing the state of the prison collective by inducing the emergent property – the riot. In general terms, the collective- mean leads the riot, motivating everyone as a whole to respond. This example also provides insight into how psychoanalysis can treat the collective-mean figure, and therefore, the collective. By uncovering attractors within the collective system, and attempting to influence the collective-mean toward different attractors/motivators at the collective level, the collective-mean can change states/collective consciousness.

Chaos theory informs us that attractors within different systems, or collectives, move/draw the systems to different states. This can change the system’s dynamic properties and, of course, new emergent properties then develop. This is particularly relevant to understanding how psychoanalysis can become self-sustaining and how collectives, or collective-means, can be treated and transformed as mentioned above.

Another way to understand this qualitative change related to the emergent property is by viewing a qualitative graph from Thom’s (1975) catastrophe theory (as cited in Woodcock & Davis, 1978). The “breaking point,” or emergent property, is realized by the riot, which can be graphed as a catastrophe in Thom’s terms, or a dramatic state change as describe in chaos theory. This catastrophe changes the collective.


The following examples are changes, due to treating a collective-mean, resulting in a new emergent property within a collective. Each change follows from a catastrophe or a dramatic state change from an attractor.

  1. From egotistical satisfaction to creative openness.
  2. From egotistical needs to making available resources to everyone.
  3. Shifting from large hierarchical collectives to small collaborative partnerships.
  4. From narcissistic externalization for satisfaction to sacrifice and altruism for caring to others.
  5. From distancing others to involvement with others.
  6. From narcissistic inequality to caring equality and sharing.
  7. From narcissistic self-centeredness to sharing, sustainable responsibility.
  8. From a consumer mentality to a giving mentality.
  9. From collective hierarchical control to horizontal engagement.
  10. From a competitive mentality to an empathic and non-competitive mentality.
  11. From discriminatory valuing to open acceptance and collaboration.
  12. From territorial dominance to care-giving.
  13. From narcissistic greed to a balanced view and acceptance.
  14. From focusing on monetary goals to focusing on relational goals. (Korten, 2008, p. 33)

As psychoanalysis and its proponents embrace collective tasks, the above emergent properties and sustainability can follow. The necessity for these changes are presently facing our profession and our collective development. Meeting the challenge, now, can diffuse the non-sustainable collectives and our profession, producing increased competence and collaboration, greater creativity and innovation, and very different collective structures.

An Example — Religious Collectives:

Religious worship dates back to the beginning of human nature (Gimbutas, 1996). As such, religion is the oldest and most obvious collective. Historic religious worship involved earth and animal sects, goddess sects, god sects, and multiple gods and goddesses. While more contemporary religions such as the Christian and Islam sects worship one god and follow the word from that god.

Never more evident than in this past century has spirituality and religion become so confused. Currently, forty-six percent of the U.S. social collective supports and adheres to creationism. Whether religions are valuable or not, spiritual or not, or represent an actuality or not, does not concerns the focus of this paper. What is of concern is the religious collectives and the psychological collective-means. Specifically, the relational dynamic between the collective-mean Self and the collective-mean ego is at the heart of the collective dynamic in this example.

The collective Self introduces spiritual qualities to the collective ego and therefore, the collective-mean which, in turn, produce emergent and transcendent experiences, feelings, sensations, visions, and so forth. When a relationship with the collective Self, which is so tentative, remains distant, then spiritual experiences are suppressed, disregarded and remain unconscious. A compensation for an underdeveloped conscious relationship between the collective Self and collective ego then results in a promulgation of collective religions and various associated collective dynamics filled with various emergent properties. The suppression of this dynamic leads to religious collectives that are literal rather than symbolic. For psychoanalysis to address this suppression, a symbolic realization must return to the collective and collective-mean.

Throughout the millennia, attempts to symbolically understand and experience religions seem more rare than not. Perhaps, describing the symbolic nature of myths, of the psyche and its expressions, appears a dangerous and an unlikely approach to such a powerful collectives; yet, it is just such an approach that is necessary to slow the speeding cars down, as noted in the dream, and to enable greater reflection and conscious development with respect to all collectives.

When a person begins to question her/his religion, typical comments and explanations surface from the collective, such as: membership in the religious creed is a necessary prerequisite for religious belief, the questionable tenets, creeds and tales are actual historic events, miracles are realities, and so forth. With little means of certainty, and little reflection, the individual questioning her/his religious connection has but two options: to implicitly believe or reject the claims (Jung, 1958).

The results of an either/or, domination oriented approach leaves the person following a creed and collective with fixed dedication but with little expansive consciousness, or the person blindly drops by the way-side only to reconstruct her/his own gods and goddesses, e.g., leaders, money, work, addictions, possessions, and so forth (Jung, 1958). Both paths contribute to a greater literal collective and collective-mean.

Throughout history religions were self-sustaining and sustained followers. It appears that the critical missing component that can return religious collectives to a self-sustainable position is spirituality. Ancient religious worship was naturally spiritual due to the close relationship between religious worship and the human psyche; that is, the symbolic relationship. Today, the distance from this relationship is far greater than ever before. Just as psychoanalysis requires changes, as noted in this paper, from an introverted, individual focus to an extraverted, collective focus, so too, religious collectives require changes from a stale, repetitive creed to a fluid, rich, symbolic, spirituality. Psychologist David Myers (2004) in his essay, What is the Good Life?, introduces this idea as follows:

We [Americans] were excelling at making a living but too often failing at making a life. We celebrated our prosperity but yearned for purpose. We cherished our freedoms but longed for connection. In an age of plenty, we were feeling spiritual hunger. These facts of life led us to a startling conclusion: Our becoming better off materially has not made us better off psychologically. (as cited in Korten, 2008, p. 42)

If psychoanalysis treats the collective –mean by influencing it toward developing spirituality, whether the collective mean is associated with a religious collective or not, it appears this is a critical treatment approach.

The Power of Collectives:

The power of collectives manifest as a result of its members. The manifestation of collective power, as an emergent property from the collective, enmeshes members. All emergent properties from collectives are not new to psychoanalysis. Properties such as: security, “evidence” for truth, common collective beliefs and “the gentle and painless slipping back into the kingdom of childhood, into paradise of parental care, into happy-go-luckiness and irresponsibility” (Jung, 1958), are all familiar. These emergent collective properties induce a herd mentality, a false safety among members and a dysfunctional collective-mean which, of course, is not experienced as dysfunctional but as highly functional by the collective members.

Paradise attracts so easily due to the promise of no pain or less pain, no important personal decisions or responsibilities for the benefit of oneself or others, being cared for by a higher authority or surrogate father or mother and the denial of realities outside the collective. Of course, such a collective existence basically amounts to a loss of individual vitality, creativity and a common empathic connection to humanity.

Status quo consciousness developed over a period of time becomes the collective consciousness of any given collective (Jung, 1958). Each person contributes to the status quo as in the initial dream, e.g., cutting the corn with combines, just as each person can contribute to a changing or developing consciousness. This accumulative change can eventually provide freedom from the collective, which only too soon leads to a new status quo and a new collective consciousness. To date, this so-called freedom has been the goal with respect to social and collective change but without much consideration for the formation of yet another, albeit new, status quo collective conscious.

The development of different status quo collective conscious levels is related to the second dream, or the solution dream. These changes from within the collective can be understood as state changes within a closed system/collective, or the image of the container of liquid without the conduit or flow of new liquid into the container. The result is called systemic/collective equilibrium. Equilibrium is the best possible condition for a closed. There are no dynamic changes occurring with the outside environment and no integration of the inside and outside of the system/collective. Although equilibrium might sound desirable, it only results in a status quo or stasis. Dare I propose that this can metaphorically result in open systems as well, when a system/collective is blocked from receiving and exchanging energy or information from outside of its container or the system.

In an open system, steady state with its continual refreshing dynamics from outside the system/collective is desired. In the previous metaphorical description, however, the open system/collective is stifled. At best, equilibrium ensues, but equilibrium is stasis or death to an open system/collective. This is the state of the symbolic container or the actual collective in the first dream. The conduit with the flowing liquid is necessary but is absent. For the closed container/collective to move toward an open system/collective, enabling major changes in consciousness and state conditions, changing the collective-mean in healthy and beneficial ways is necessary. Integration of the outside and inside sources must be realized.

Perhaps this is why individual psychoanalysis has only slowly succeeded, and more importantly, failed at providing the necessary big changes – the changes to the social collective and dynamics — enforcing care, care-giving, empathy and non-competitive, non-domination collectives. This failure has lead to this investigation in an attempt to promote the sustainability of psychoanalysis. Thus, the tension between the individual and the collective treatment is forced upon analysts to produce sustainable and open collectives.

Collective Examples Displaying the Desired Outcomes:

Many suggestions for treatment are presented throughout this paper.  Additional possibilities are found in social collectives already implementing healthier structures and living a different collective consciousness. Reviewing some of these cultural collectives reveals their level happiness, collaborative engagement and egalitarian ways. This can provide further insights for sustainable psychoanalysis.

David Korten (2008) presents details from three different cultures /collectives which he extracted from an article by Diener and Seligman (2004) from the Psychological Science in the Public Interest website. Describing happiness factors, Korten presents three collectives: the Pennsylvania Amish, the Inuit of northern Greenland (indigenous hunting and fishing culture) and the Masai of East Africa (a herding collective without electricity or a public water system).

The three collectives share modest, egalitarian life-styles and strong communities/collectives. Korten (2008) explains: “These are all communities in which people care for one another and share their resources, and in which economic distinctions are minimal” (p. 74).  This brief description highlights some of the characteristics suggested earlier that would benefit the collective-mean – distribution of resources, care-giving, empathy, collaboration, compassion, sharing, non-competitiveness  with a more horizontal structure, value of deep relationships and reduced narcissistic dynamics.

Another fascinating article written by Lisa Garrigues (2004) presents Costa Rica as the top collective in the world “in happiness, peace, longevity, and environmental stewardship” ( as cited in Yes, 2010, p. 12). Costa Rica’s tropical rainforests are protected by the government, and so are the citizens of this collective. The government provides access to health care and education, and actively promotes world peace. Garrigues (2010) quotes professor Mariano Rojas describing Costa Rica as holding a “privileged position as a mid-income country where citizens have sufficient spare time and abundant interpersonal relations” (p.13). Professor Rojas continues: “A mid-income level allows most citizens to satisfy their basic needs. Government intervention in the economy assures that all Costa Ricans have access to education, health, and nutrition services” and he indicates that a “race for status and conspicuous consumption” is not part of the individual and collective mindset (p. 13).

Costa Rica eliminated its military and applied the budgetary money once dedicated to military support to health care and education (Garrigues, 2004). Peace became a primary aspect of the Costa Rican collective as a result. It is a simple idea, but so difficult to implement, and yet, these are directions in which psychoanalysis can assist in transforming the collective-mean. The collective-mean, thus the collective, can lose domination control and aggressive posturing by succumbing to the changes introduced during treatment, by becoming a different and self-sustaining collective-mean dedicated to peace, education, the welfare of others and healthy living.


Revitalizing psychoanalysis requires catastrophes that result in open systems, extraverted relationships, and addressing collectives rather than just individuals. Treating the collective-mean as an analyst might treat an individual provides a movement in the direction of a self-sustaining psychoanalytic discipline, however, focusing on caring, care-giving, egalitarian, non-competitive, partnership collectives, non-domination hierarchies, empathy and compassionate relationships for collectives will heal and transform the emergent properties of the collective-mean. Individual members of the collective will continue to follow the collective-mean during and after the transformations, but now a greater consciousness with all the benefits listed above will constellate in each member. The collective will benefit, as will the individuals, the collective-mean, the environment and psychoanalysis. If, however, our discipline fails to treatment and transformation the collective, perhaps the masses comprising the collective are destined to live “lives of quiet desperation” as foretold by Thoreau. As analysts, let’s do our part to avoid the stasis.


Eisler, R. (1988). The chalice and the blade: Our history, our future. San Francisco, CA: Harper & Row.

Eisler, R. (2007). The real wealth of nations. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.

Freud, S. (2010). The ego and the id. United States: Pacific Publishing Studio.

Garrigues, L. (2010). Why is Costa Rica smiling? Yes! Magazine, 12-15. Retrieved (December 15, 2009) from

Gimbutas, M. (1996). The goddesses and gods of old Europe: Myths and cult images. Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press.

Hall, N. (Ed.). (1991). Exploring chaos: A guide to the new science of disorder. New York, NY: W.W. Norton, Inc.

Jung, C.G. (1958). The undiscovered self. Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Company.

Jung, C.G. (1971). Psychological types. Volume 6 of the collected works. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Korten, D. (2009). Agenda for a new economy: From phantom wealth to real wealth. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.

PsychCentral, (2008). Herd mentality. Retrieved from

Woodcock, A., & Davis, M. (1978). Catastrophe theory. New York, NY: Avon Books.

If you would like to contact Kenneth Silvestro, his email is:

One Response to Sustainable Psychoanalysis: Self-Sustaining and Collective Benefits

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