The opening paragraphs of the chapter for this week speaks to how much we (and by "we" I mean social workers and others who work in mental health) like things that make sense, we enjoy being able to explain stuff. For this reason, we are, by and large, drawn to theories and systems that help us in our attempts to "make sense" out of stuff.
Even the term "make sense" is revealing: We make sense, which is to say that we produce sense, we create sense.
Sense being synonymous with an explanation or understanding of what we encounter or experience.
Another way to say this is that people generally get a kick out of solving mysteries and making having ah-ha moments where all of a sudden we can put things together in ways that make things that did not make sense start to make sense. It feels good when something goes from being something outside of our understanding to something that fits into our understanding.
What I just read from Inside Out & Outside In makes clear is how, today, right now, so much of the work social workers, and other people involved in mental health, do is aimed at using the scientific method (i.e., empirical research, statistics, psychological experiments, etc.) to help us produce this thing we call Data. Data that we then use to produce plans, measurable outcomes, to make what are often called “data-driven decisions.”
And when it works the scientific methods is awesome. Making data-driven decisions is a great idea. Except when it's not --when we encounter things that don't make sense, the flukes, the things that don't follow the rules and trends the data suggests they will.
Psychoanalysis tends to focus on the things we can’t explain because they don’t make sense. The outliers refute what the data should happen. The things people do that don’t make sense, the thing that people feel that don’t make sense, the things that people believe that don’t make sense.
These things that don’t make sense, are often unhealthy, illogical, and perhaps even crazy; they are are the things that freak us out a lot.
I think that there are lots of mental health theories and practices that will look away from these enigmatic irrational nonsensical things and look towards the things that people do that do make sense, that are healthy, that we can be proud of. (The whole strength-based perspective, which is so prevalent in social work, is an example of this tendency to privilege healthy things and to shy away from the more problematic things in our lives and the lives of our patients.)
What I’m going to ask you to do is to bear with me while I tell you some things about something that does not make sense, yet is present in all of our lives: the drive.
Some people have described psychoanalysis as a way of examining or studying the relationship between the subject (a person with an unconscious) and their object.
When I first heard this, I thought to myself, what is "their object"? That seems like kind of a vague term. Now, several years later, I've got a pretty good handle on what this might mean, and I'm going to explain it to you.
The term object is very flexible. It can mean actual things (like a car, a computer, a piece of jewelry, etc.), but the ways psychoanalysts use the word it can also mean things that are more complex (time, money, power, control, etc.). An object can be an experience that someone wants (sex, adventure, winning, etc.).
There are some objects we want, and we can get them. Earlier today I wanted a donut and I went and got three donuts.
But there are some objects that we can't get, or we can't get enough of them. These objects are called "drive objects". When it comes to drive objects, we are sort of like zombies. We just keep going after that object. No matter how much of that object we may get, we will just want more.
Also, generally speaking, things that are drive objects are things that we don't NEED, but we ENJOY, and they are things that represent a transgression. By "transgression" I mean that having them is something that some people would call "bad" or "inappropriate."
I'll use money as an example: I've known some people who wanted to make lots of money, and they did. They made all sorts of money. They bought a house, a nice car, other expensive things. Then they invested their money, and their investments turned their money into more money. And the thing is, no matter how much money they made, they wanted more and more money. For some of them the more money, they had the more stingy they got.
Another thing I've seen function as a drive object for lots of people (lots of social workers!) is validation. People want to be validated, told they are on the right track, told they are doing the right thing. However, even when they get the validation they are not satisfied! Give it just a little bit of time and they want more validation.
This brings me to the next point I want to make about drive objects. When we go after them, regardless of whether we get them or don't, our pursuit of these objects is usually a problematic aspect of our lives.
One of the things that psychoanalysis might try to help someone with is altering their relationship to a drive object. Notice I said, "alter their relationship to a drive object," I did not say, "get rid of their relationship to a drive object." This is because, and you might not agree with this, according to psychoanalytic theory, we will always have some kind of drive object in our lives.
To close this podcast lecture I'm going to make a request: Can you all please try to think of someone (it can be yourself if you're comfortable doing that) who has a drive object? Come to class being able to describe the person and their drive object.