An Interview with Wilma Bucci, Ph.D., on Psychoanalysis and Cognitive Science
This interview presents a challenge, because the subject matter is complicated. To understand what Dr. Bucci is talking about requires a lot of pre-requisite knowledge - knowledge of psychoanalytic theory, and also knowledge of the past 30 years or so of progress in psychology and neuroscience. That is a lot to ask of a lay audience. It is also hard to unpack big ideas under a demand condition like an interview the various parts of her thinking seem to come out somewhat jumbled here. Her ideas are *marvelous* however, and I very much encourage people to struggle with them a bit so as to try to understand what she is saying here. There is real treasure here if you dig.
The starting place for understanding should not be this interview. The starting place is Bucci's 2009 paper presented at the annual conference of the American Psychological Association in Toronto, Canada. That paper is titled, "How Does The Psychoanalytical Process Work? New Perspectives From Cognitive Sciences and Affective Neuroscience", available online in PDF form by following the link. I don't think this paper will be particularly easy to consume for lay people either, but at least all the points of her argument are laid out in a good and approachable order and can be researched, one by one therein. Here, in this interview, they do not seem to cohere as well. If you already know what she is talking about, however, it will make more sense. Don't hesitate. Jump in. The water is fine. The worst thing that can happen is that you drown, figuratively.
Here is my outline of points Dr. Bucci is trying to make:
1. Psychoanalysis has a popular reputation of being completely outmoded these days. Yet the psychoanalytic approach to treatment and many psychoanalytic ideas are incorporated in most psychotherapies practiced today. The psychological theory underlying the psychoanalytic approach needs to be revised, however. Dr Bucci has worked on that for many years, with the development of the multiple code theory, which is based on current work in cognitive psychology, affective neuroscience, psycholinguistics and related fields. The basic principle underlying her work is that the treatment works; we need to understand why; what are the basic processes that make it work; how do we use what we know about these basic processes to make the treatment better.
2. From her perspective, perhaps Freud's most important contributions was his recognition of multiple modes of thought; in particular a mode of thought outside of the conscious,verbal mode. Freud spoke in terms of dissociation in his early writings, but emphasized repression in his later years; multiple code theory returns more to early Freud and focuses on dissociation between what Bucci calls the subsymbolic and symbolic modes. But that dissociation is only partial; we are half-integrated and half-dissociated all the time. You can never really talk about your most private felt experiences. There are important parts of the mind, including perceptual processes, and also things that are about space and movement (e.g., dance, driving a car, walking, experiences of emotion) that are fundamentally not verbal and not even symbolic.
3. One unfortunate thing Freud did was to be too thin-skinned about subjecting his theory to empirical study. He rejected the university training model (where research can occur) for the free-standing institute or professional school model of training. Without the self-correcting discipline of science keeping his theory relevant and honest, it has fallen into disrepair and disrepute over the century of its existence. That is what Bucci is trying to correct with the work on the multiple code theory, to develop a coherent theory that accounts for the psychoanalytic process (as well as for a range of other functions in science, the arts, and everyday life).
4. There is considerable evidence from cognitive science and neuroscience, in areas of memory and attention, for example, that directly supports the idea of multiple modes of thought (verbal vs. non-verbal, episodic vs. semantic, implicit vs. explicit, etc.) . Neuroscientists are beginning to identify the location of different functions in the brain, the circuitry that connects these parts, and the potential points of breakdown in communication among those parts. The hippocampus is central in emotional functioning; this is a sub-cortical structure sitting physically between the outer brain or cortex (the latest part to have evolved) where what we think of as "thinking" occurs, and the most primitive, evolutionarily old brain stem part that regulates our breathing and heart rate. We can think about the hippocampus as a kind of switching station where the various parts of the brain connect their inputs to create multi-modal memories (containing information about what happened, in what order, and what each of those events "felt" like). It is possible to interfere with this 'switching station' so as to garble the integration of memories, at retrieval time, and also at the time memories are created. the result is dissociation among parts of memories that would otherwise be integrated. When this occurs, emotional problems can happen as a result, as well as cognitive problems too.
5. The psychological model that Bucci and her colleagues are working on offers a way to understand the psychoanalytic process, and perhaps to use some psychoanalytic ideas to feed back to contribute some understanding of the emerging neuroscience knowledge. After all, psychoanalysts are experts on emotional processing, and can offer much knowledge to cognitive psychology and neuroscience in this area. A working alliance among psychoanalysis, cognitive psychology and neuroscience could provide insights that might advance all fields.
Overall, regarding the interview, I got this from it: Dr. Bucci has been interested in being a psychologist and integrating psychology and neuroscience with psychoanalysis basically ever since she was aware of these various fields. She thinks that many of Freud's basic insights continue to be valuable and need to be revisited from a scientific, empirical perspective. They are relevant to psychological and neuropsychological observations concerning multiple separate but interacting brain memory systems. They help to understand the effects of events that stress or destroy the functioning of brain systems, including systems that allow separate but interacting memory components to talk to one another. For example, brain damage from dementia (e.g., tissue damage) or traumatic stress (e.g., chemical damage) results in various different kinds of dysfunction. She views the fundamental nature of the mind to be revealed in the partial interaction of these various brain systems. Another way to say this from a psychological way of speaking would be to say that the most fundamental thing about consciousness is dissociation, which can be adaptive or dysfunctional, depending on its causes and how it plays out. Adaptive dissociation occurs when we are having a "peak" experience that we cannot put into words (stuff that poets try to capture), or when we are driving a car and able to operate the stick shift. If we try to narrate what we need to do to ourselves (e.g., to understand the motor memory in verbal terms), we are likely to mess up our ability to function on this subsymbolic level. Dysfunctional dissociation happens when the various parts of the brain which should be talking to one another so as to support our ability to function (such as when we are shy but talk ourselves into screwing up the courage to ask someone we are attracted to for a date) become, for whatever reason unable to talk to one another. What tends to happen then is emotional dysfunction and avoidance. We can't solve the problems we need to solve and we get emotionally stuck. Bucci is a proponent of Freud's technique of free association for helping people who are stuck in this way to make the connections they need to make; to overcome the dysfunctional dissociations that are plaguing them. But as she also says, the inner exploration that goes on free association also has to take place in the context of the emotional exploration that goes on between therapist and patient.
If you are intrigued to learn more about the work of Bucci and her research group, you might visit her website: http://www.thereferentialprocess.org
David Van Nuys: Welcome to Wise Counsel, a podcast interview series sponsored by Mentalhelp.net, covering topics in mental health, wellness, and psychotherapy. My name is Dr. David Van Nuys. I'm a clinical psychologist and your host.
On today's show, we'll be talking with Dr. Wilma Bucci about her work integrating psychoanalytic theory with cognitive science. Wilma Bucci, Ph.D., is chair of the Research Associates of the American Psychoanalytic Association. She's a member of the faculty at the Research Training Program of the International Psychoanalytical Association, and she is also an honorary member of the American Psychoanalytic Association, the New York Psychoanalytic Institute and Society, and the Institute for Psychoanalytic Training and Research. Moreover, she's director of research at the Bernard L. Pacella Parent Child Center, and co-director of research at the New York Psychoanalytic Society and Institute. Dr. Bucci is professor emerita, Derner Institute, Adelphi University. Her publications include Psychoanalysis and Cognitive Science: a Multiple Code Theory, and many clinical, theoretical, and research papers. Now, here's the interview.
Dr. Wilma Bucci, welcome to Wise Counsel.
Wilma Bucci: Thank you, Dr. Van Nuys.
David: Yes, I'm pleased to have you here, and let's start out with a bit about your background. When did you realize you wanted to become a psychologist?
Wilma Bucci: All my life. I never thought of being anything else in my life.
Wilma Bucci: As soon as I realized there was such a field, I knew that there was nothing else that I wanted to be. And I could give you reasons why.
David: Well, yes, I'm wondering what was it about it that spoke to you.
Wilma Bucci: Oh, trying to understand - in order to survive, I guess, I needed to understand quite a bit about people. It enabled me to make it through my childhood.
David: Okay, well, that's something that I and I'm sure other listeners can identify with. Now, how did you get interested in psychoanalysis?
Wilma Bucci: I went to Swarthmore, which - and the focus there was experimental and Gestalt. They were the core representatives of Gestalt and experimental psychology in the United States at that time. And it's far from psychoanalysis, but in those years, psychoanalysis was the therapy that people went to. There weren't all the other choices, and I became involved in formal therapy when I was in college and was interested in it and didn't plan at all to be a clinical psychologist, but just had intellectual interest in psychoanalysis. But actually it was after I - when I was in graduate school at Michigan, University of Michigan, as you know. I spent a year in experimental, and the experimental psychology in those years was pretty much learning theory and rat running.
Wilma Bucci: Yes, so I couldn't find my way there, and as I tried a year of the clinical psychology program at Michigan, which is excellent, but I didn't want to do that. And I came back to New York and I took 10 or 12 years off to have a family, and then decided to go back to school; still wanted to be an experimental psychologist, although always intellectually interested in psychoanalysis. But for various reasons, my position after getting my Ph.D. was in the clinical behavior research unit at Downstate, which was psychoanalytically focused, and although I was still doing experimental in psycholinguistic research, began to turn the emphasis more towards treatment research. And there was also coming out of my own personal experience in therapy of an interest in it on a basic psychological level. That's enough?
Wilma Bucci: I can go on.
David: Yes, well, you had written that your major commitment to psychoanalysis resulted from your own experience of being analyzed.
Wilma Bucci: Right.
David: How would you describe your experience of analysis? And I know that's a huge question, but just in a sentence or two, what - ?
Wilma Bucci: Well, the relevant aspect is that as a person who was a - I was a graduate student in cognitive psychology and working in experimental areas and reading the theory and studying the basic psychological mechanisms that were involved in memory and language. I wondered how these were being applied in my own treatment, and I realized then and I realize now that there's this huge gulf between the basic mechanisms as they're understood in cognitive psychology, psycholinguistic neuroscience, and as they're applied in psychoanalysis.
The psychoanalytic theory is a hundred-year-old theory that has not been revised, and yet the process and the practice works. So that's where the great intriguing aspect of this for me was, to try to understand how this process works, because it does work. But you need to understand the mechanisms, and there's lots of research out there that will help to understand the mechanisms, but the psychoanalysts aren't studying that. And the psychoanalysts know a lot about emotion, and the cognitive psychologists aren't studying that. And actually there's this huge gap that needs to be bridged.
David: Yes, and you've been doing a lot of work to bridge those gaps. Later, as you went on, you discovered that many analysts rejected Freud's underlying theory of analysis, and so did that set you off on a search to develop a different theoretical understanding?
Wilma Bucci: Not really. I mean they explicitly reject it; they implicitly accept this. They can't give up the concepts of it they've learned to work with, so they're working without theory. And what set me off was really a attempt to understand something very important is going on in therapeutic change, in real therapeutic change, where people are exploring themselves and something does shift and their life shifts, and it's not understood how it works. And so it just happened gradually, trying to understand this and putting one piece after another. And that's what we're still doing now from various directions.
David: Yes, well, before we get into the more current work, what do you see as the major enduring contributions of Freud's thought? I mean, some of his ideas have fallen away, but I gather that you see substance in some.
Wilma Bucci: Enormous, enormous. I guess - you really have such easy questions.
David: I'm sorry.
Wilma Bucci: I guess the - I actually have written papers about the contributions, psychoanalysis to cognitive science, which are not recognized. I guess, from my perspective, a couple of major seminal, brilliant contributions. One is - I'm not going to call it the discovery of unconscious processes, but I'm going to talk about the discovery of multiple modes of thought, and that really came out of psychoanalysis in various forms when he talks about the processes of the dream work and the - I don't like the concepts of primary and secondary process because they're not well defined, but in a - you know, from a scientific perspective.
But it's essentially that discovery, that there are modes of thought outside of the verbal, waking, rational mode of thought. There are systematic modes of thought that are outside of the verbal, logical mode. That's a huge contribution to psychoanalysis, and people talk about his discovery of the unconscious; I talk about it as the discovery of alternate modes of thought, but it's coming at that same major discovery. And I think Freud saw that, too, because he would go back and say, well, his contribution in the interpretation of dreams of the - discovering the primary process, which he called - as he called it. That was a major contribution. That's one.
The other major contribution is discovery of the free association process, the process of exploration, of self-exploration. So that his basic concept of you're riding on a train and looking out the window and say whatever comes to mind, no matter how trivial or irrelevant, is a fundamental way to get at the structure of the emotion schemas or the structure of what one's personality constructs are. And I hate to see that being lost in these very directed and manualized treatments, because you have - that's the way you get this surprise, is you have to get the surprises out there in order to have change.
David: Fascinating. Yes, I've often felt that free association has been trivialized, and that, in fact, it's a very powerful approach, and you have written that it's an approach that can also be used in research. Have you or others used - somehow subjected free association to research?
Wilma Bucci: Well, see, part of the issue is that there's - again, you want to understand what the mechanisms are that are underlying this, because it can also take you in a direction of very long treatments that don't go - that don't really bring about change. So you really want to understand to what extent - you don't want to just let this go on without an understanding of how to use it and where one intervenes in it. Yes, so what we've done a little experimental work on this.
Again, you have to understand that psychoanalysis takes place in an interpersonal context, and it's determined by its interpersonal context. So anything that one does experimentally has to be interpreted as just addressing a part aspect of the mechanism. But we have done experimental work - research - trying to look at analogs of the associated process in a experimental setting.
For example, we ask subjects to think of a early experience and to rate it on an emotion scale and then to just - not tell us about it - just think about it and say how intense was that and what was the nature of the emotion. And then we ask them to tell the story in as much detail as possible and there - that, you know, whatever comes to mind in telling the story in as much detail, just go back into it and then to - we look at how they see the nature of the emotion and the intensity of the emotion after this process of telling. And that's - it's really very powerful. It's almost too powerful to contain in an experimental situation.
Wilma Bucci: You cannot imagine stories that people think they know, what happens to them when they try to tell it in detail, how much it opens up for them. We have done that kind of experimental work, and that's in the process of being published.
David: Okay. Well, you have a background not only in psychoanalysis but also psycholinguistics and cognitive science, and you've written a book titled Psychoanalysis and Cognitive Science. How do these two come together?
Wilma Bucci: Well, I think all the ways that I've been trying to talk about: what are the mechanisms underlying the multiple processes that people - that underlie people's cognitive functions? And how do they - and what are the processes underlying this kind of effect of the associative process that I've been talking about? So I think they come together in both directions: that cognitive psychology potentially has a lot to offer psychoanalysis, and the psychoanalytic situation would be an excellent naturalistic context to study the interaction of emotion, language, and cognition, and if it were only recognized and used systematically that way.
I think there's tremendous potential for studying these processes that isn't being used, but psychoanalysis is - all psychotherapy really is based on theory of this interaction of mind, emotion, language, and it needs to be understood, so I see it as a little - it's just too bad that you have to even ask that question. I mean it's too bad that there's such a separation. And that's one of Freud's - a disservice that Freud did to the field, was - for various reasons - taking the institutes away from the universities, and the field's been suffering ever since. And we're trying - we wish that we could get more of a connection between the institutes and universities, but it's very hard sledding to do that.
David: That's a chapter that I was unaware of. You say that Freud specifically did something to take it away from the universities?
Wilma Bucci: Oh, sure.
David: How so?
Wilma Bucci: Well, if you take - take a look at George Makari's really excellent - I don't know if you have interviewed him yet, but he's done -
Wilma Bucci: He would be a very interesting person for you to interview. He's done an excellent book on the history of the whole - sociological more history rather than psychological - but of the psychoanalytical movement from the beginning. And I'm not expert on this at all; he's expert on it.
But it's generally known that Freud did not feel himself well treated in the universities and maybe because of anti-Semitism, maybe other reasons, and felt that his ideas weren't received with proper respect and not featured properly, and so took and opened - started the whole institutes instead, where they study psychoanalysis, rather than leaving it as part of an intellectual study, academic study.
David: In a way, that's sort of what's been recapitulated in terms of clinical psychology and American academia, where they had to go out and start free-standing graduate schools to make sure that therapists were continuing to be trained.
Wilma Bucci: It's absolutely and it's - I think it's damaging in so many ways. In Europe, I think they do have psychotherapy programs in the universities, so I don't know exactly how they maintain them, and I think there are problems there also, but I think that this collaboration that's needed could definitely be supported better if there were real departments in psychology departments that were willing to study these processes.
And I think part of the problem - there's so many sociological roots of this - but part of the problem is that the psychology or the schools, the universities at Freud's time, there wasn't enough there to make an interface between the fields so that it's understandable sometimes why his ideas couldn't find - to take roots in the universities, scientific home in the universities.
And in America it's still the case. I mean we're so dominated still by a behaviorist approach and now the cognitive approach, which is also leaving emotion out to a large extent, so that in order to study emotion in the universities, you have to go into neuroscience and, again, that's what - to give a scientific base, to try to give a scientific base to the field, you need the neuroscience apparatus, and that makes all sorts of problems, also, for studying psychoanalysis.
So, I mean it's the whole - it's the fragmentary nature of the study of mind that we see in America and in Europe, too, of we have the cognitive psychologists studying the cognitive memory emotion - memory and attention, and language to some extent; and we have the neuroscientists, who are studying emotion, and then we have the therapists work on their own thing, doing outcome studies, and just, you know, looking at trying to find the scientific evidence through showing that something works.
Wilma Bucci: And there's this big hole in the middle of - that one could do - and I think it's going to happen. I think it can have like - because you see little fragments of tendrils coming out and joining - it can happen that they can nourish and enrich each other, but right now there's just this black hole in the middle of these fields.
David: Yes. Can you say what some of those tendrils are that you see?
Wilma Bucci: Yes.
David: You opened the door.
Wilma Bucci: No, it's just - there are people like Damasio and LeDoux, that are opening up tremendous connections of levels, talking about levels of awareness, talking about how change occurs - LeDoux mostly - in terms of fear - you know, how fear is reduced, and it's sort of an extinction model, but it's very related. So if you start to break down the psychoanalytic processes into its basic mechanisms, and then you can look around and you can see that every form of therapy and lots of people working in all these fields are talking about these same mechanisms.
So there are people that are talking about the effect of language in containing and regulating emotion. There are people who are talking about the effect of language in activating emotion. There's lots of research on this, and all of these are part processes of the psychoanalytic process. That's why I say, when there are tendrils, I could put together 10 or 12 areas that are all relevant to how the psychoanalytic process works but haven't been put together yet, and it can be done. I mean, I can see the way to do it; it's just that it's a lot of - you know, it's going to take time.
David: Well, you've been doing it a lot in your work. I had the advantage of -
Wilma Bucci: Well, I've taken baby steps.
David: Yes. I got to - you sent me a copy of a paper that you presented in Toronto, and after our interview is over, I'll make sure that listeners have a link to that paper, but you really go into a lot of specificity about these - the bridging of these mechanisms, in a way that I think is very impressive. Let me take you back -
Wilma Bucci: I've been trying.
David: Yes, I'd say you're trying very hard. Let me take you back to free association. How do you see that free association leads to change or something that might be experienced as a cure? What is it that you think that happens in there, either in terms of, well, psychoanalytic theory or cognitive processing or emotions, this whole mish-mash that we're talking about here?
Wilma Bucci: Well, you can talk about it many different ways, but if you're getting inside a story of your - a story of something that happened in your life, which is what happens in free - What happens in free association is a patient comes in: "Oh, I'm really very upset about something that happened with my husband and, you know, he and I are just not getting along. And he - you know, he never - doesn't show me respect, and I try to get him to be a little more understanding," etc. And if it then goes on on that abstract level, nothing will happen.
But if you said, "You know, I don't know why I thought of this, but I just remembered this weird incident that happened with him when we went to the movies two weeks ago," and then she starts to tell the story, and as she gets into detail of the story, something happened. She remembers that she had changed her mind about what - that her contribution - she remembers some detail of her contribution that. Yes, she had said that we would go to this movie and then she had said that movie, and he - and she remembers something that - and she says, "Oh, my god." In the ideal way, she remembers something, and she starts to feel a little change in her feeling because there's - she remembers something that happened at the moment. She gets back into that moment. It activates the emotion of that moment that she had not previously connected to her feelings about her husband
And then - so if you're talking abstractly, you won't get there. If you do, and this is what Tulving talks about as time travel, this episodic memory. If you let yourself get into this whole process of getting your psyche back into that moment, activating the experience of that moment, then something will emerge that you had not thought of, and then you will be able to connect it to the - to another.
So a new connection can be made between certain representations in your mind, and these - if you're in the moment, not talking abstractly, it has the capacity, the capability to activate the actual emotional experience, so you actually feel a sense of some - of what you were doing, and maybe she was protecting herself from some attack that she had expected in some way, and she had not thought of that before. That's the kind of thing.
David: Yes, you know I've just become aware, as a result of another interview that I did, of something called memory reconsolidation. Have you been following that research?
Wilma Bucci: Whose work is that? I don't - I mean, maybe.
David: It's a group in New York, and I don't have their names close at hand, but -
Wilma Bucci: Are they neuroscience? In neuroscience?
Wilma Bucci: Is it Ochsner? Is it Ochsner, those people at Columbia?
David: Yes, I think so, yes.
Wilma Bucci: Uh huh. Yes, right. They're the top-down people. They don't talk so much about episodes, I don't think. Do they?
David: I don't know, but it seems to me that what you were just saying relates to some of that research, where they suggest that, in the process of recalling, of bringing up the memory, then it sort of gets put back in, and there's a critical period during which new meaning can be added or new associations can be added. I don't know if I -
Wilma Bucci: Yes, it's connection. New connections are going to be made, but they're connections that activate the emotion system.
David: Yes, and so that's what I'm getting is really key, that the cognition and the emotion both have to be there.
Wilma Bucci: Right. Well, in order to bring about change, you're really looking to bring about change in emotion systems. In order to do that, the emotion system itself has to be activated in the treatment situation. Otherwise, you're just making change on abstract levels.
David: We're going to have - yes, we're going to make a transcript of this, and you mentioned a name, so for our listeners and our transcriber, I think it was Tovin did you say? How was that spelled?
Wilma Bucci: Oh, Tulving, yes. Endel Tulving. He's the cognitive psychologist whose very seminal ideas in area of memory.
David: How do you spell his last name?
Wilma Bucci: T-u-l-v-i-n-g.
David: P as in Peter?
Wilma Bucci: T as in Thomas, ulving.
David: Okay, thank you. Now, you've written - and I'm quoting here: "The human organism is a multi-code, multi-format, emotional information processor, with partial and limited interaction among systems." That statement seems to pack a lot of information. What do mean by multi-code, multi-format, emotional information processor?
Wilma Bucci: Well, that's the problem, you see. That's what I will go back to when I say what is Freud's seminal contribution, is that there are different ways - we really have different modalities of thought. When I think evolutionarily, there's lots of rational processing going on before language comes in. Language is this powerful system that's been overlaid on all the other things we know how to do very well, and we forget that we're interacting, working with the world on all kinds of different levels, and then we try to somehow or other integrate them so that - but they're only partially integrated.
So that's why - and everyone knows it perfectly well: "Well, I can't really talk - I can't describe it. This is too - I'm too emotionally - this moment is too emotional for me. I can't put it into words. I can't put into words how much I - how I feel towards you." So if one respects the fact that we're communicating on all kinds of levels all the time, it makes a very different understanding and toleration of our capabilities, so that, for example, we're doing this interview on the phone. The rhythm of our interaction is affected because I can't see you or feel any kind of reaction, so I have to speak tuned in. I'm only operating on my auditory and most - and I can't hear you either, and you're not giving me many um-hmms or things like that.
David: Would you like more?
Wilma Bucci: No, it's fine.
David: You're doing fine.
Wilma Bucci: Now, I'm sorting myself to your style, you see.
Wilma Bucci: But what I'm saying is, if you're talking to a person, there's so many channels that you're interacting on.
Wilma Bucci: And only partially connected. So I'll give you - for example, I don't know if you watch tennis, if you watched the Roland Garros.
David: Sometimes I do. I didn't see that match.
Wilma Bucci: Yes, but it's such a wonderful example. It's very, very high level processing to the way a tennis player like a Federer - although he didn't win this time - but it's very high level processing, the kind of - the way they set up match points. It's not driven by the verbal system while he's in operation; it will never work if it is. He's operating entirely on that level. When you have to change a - something within your motoric system - and all tennis players know this - there's a period where you have to change a stroke, you fall apart as a tennis player until you have incorporated it into the motoric system.
David: I have experienced that. Somebody tried to show me how to improve my serve, and it just all fell apart.
Wilma Bucci: That's exactly - everyone - you see it all the time, like Justine Henin. Really, it had - you saw that happening with her, that her serve was never as good as the rest of her game, and she tried a lot to improve it and fell apart for a while. But that's exactly the kind of thing. That happens, you know, with everything. You have to realize what a large proportion of our processing - because if you believe that we are evolutionarily formed, so much of our processing is going on outside of the verbal system, and it's going on certainly outside of the verbal system, and it's going on on this analogic format that we can't capture in discrete images or - and certainly not in images that are nameable. So if we recognize that we're operating on all these different channels, it makes really quite a difference in all kinds of functioning.
David: In fact, you -
Wilma Bucci: That's what I mean - that's what I mean by partial integration. We're not going to be fully integrated. We're never - so there has - if you want to talk about how to get these systems to some extent captured in language, then you have to understand you're not going to - that there has to be a particular sort of process, and that's really, I guess, what I've devoted most of my career work to, is trying to understand this process of how - what do you do to capture something like an emotion system, an emotional process - which is all going on on many different analogic, continuous channels - into something you can get into words, which are very discrete.
David: Yes, because a lot of it is sub cortical. You wrote a bit about the role of the hippocampus and the amygdala.
Wilma Bucci: Right.
David: Can you say a little something about that?
Wilma Bucci: Well, that's really - if you go on to the - you're taking me into the neuroscience level. There's a whole - and that's also only - that's a very over- - my little diagram there is very oversimplified, but they're understanding the circuitry now of how you move from autonomic processing - emotional processing - into cortical, the kind of cortical processing that's going to be represented in language.
But I can talk about it on a psychological level, and again we'll get back to the episode: what do poets do, what do great writers do, in order to express emotion? They don't say, "I love you. I hate you. I feel sad." They describe a story. They tell a story; they describe an image; they use a metaphor. And that's really - that's the core process, to me, of connecting emotional experience and getting it into words. And all poets know that. That's the essence of the trade.
David: Okay. Now, dissociation plays a major role in your theory. You say that it can be not only maladaptive, but also adaptive. Can you tell us a bit about that?
Wilma Bucci: Sure. About adaptive dissociation. Well, there's two different kinds that I talk about - one that I just talked about and that you understand very well as a tennis player. If you need to be functioning on your motoric mode in order to respond as best you can, if you hear your coach's or whatever voice saying to you, "Twist your elbow that way," it's going to break into the sequence of the whole series of your movements, so that's dissociation. You've got to get - your motoric system is operating on its own. That's one aspect. Dancers are - who do a lot of dancing, and if you're in lead and follow in dancing, you have to only be - not be thinking - your leader's not going to say to you, "Move your left foot, or do the step, or -," but you're going to have to be focusing on your body system. You have to take yourself out of the language mode, that sort of thing.
Now, that's one kind of - so that's dissociating systems. That's the - when I'd say the sub-symbolic from the symbolic or the verbal. That's adaptive dissociation within the - between those systems and within schemas. But the other kind that I talk about is also the different ways we all have of being, so I saw your image on your website and you're a grandfather, and you're different - your way of being as a grandfather is very different from your way of being as an interviewer of me, for example.
David: I hope so.
Wilma Bucci: Well, okay, that's it. That's adaptive dissociation. You've put yourself into a different state. And since to do this - and it's very different. And women experience it maybe more even than men do because we spend - we have many, many different kinds of roles, so my role as - maybe it's - I don't know how different it is now, but my role as mother or partner to my husband or a teacher or when I'm taking my tango lesson from my teacher and I'm a novice, and there's all the different - and different, really different ways of being and different emotion schemas that get activated and dominant. That's adaptive dissociation.
David: Okay, good. Well, I'm aware of the clock here, so maybe we'll begin to wind down.
Wilma Bucci: Okay.
David: You did give this wonderful paper to an APA conference in Toronto, and I wondered what sort of reception your work on integrating psychoanalytic theory with cognitive science - how's that been received?
Wilma Bucci: Well, by the people who like it, they like it, you know. But the people who came - the people - I'll say a little bit on that. I think a lot of people are looking for it. There are a lot of clinicians that are looking for it, and they realize they need guidance. And to the extent that this work can provide them with a little more understanding of what they've experienced clinically, I would say it has been quite well received by clinicians. Not so well received by cognitive psychologists. That's a struggle. That's my struggle.
David: Yes, yes, and that makes sense. Well, as we wind down, is there anything else that you'd like to say?
Wilma Bucci: No, I think you really gave me an opportunity, and I appreciate it. I really appreciate it very much that - this opportunity to talk about my work, and I think you've certainly touched on what was important to me.
David: Well, thank you very much. Dr. Wilma Bucci, thanks so much for being my guest today on Wise Counsel.
Wilma Bucci: Thank you for having me.
David: I hope you enjoyed this interview with Dr. Wilma Bucci. As you heard her mention, she spent her first year of graduate training at the University of Michigan, where I received my own training and degree in clinical psychology. However, we weren't there at the same time, so our paths did not cross.
I'm not sure I was able to capture the depth, specificity and complexity of her work in this relatively brief interview; however, you can find a number of her papers online by going to her website at www.referentialprocess.org. Click on the link there that says "Papers." I would highly recommend the talk she gave for an APA conference in Toronto. That talked impressed me as a real tour de force. Under the "Papers" link, scroll down until you come to the paper titled "Bucci, W. How Does the Psychoanalytic Process Work? APA\CWC2009." It will look like you have to sign into the site with a user name and password, but you do not have to do that to get the paper. Simply select the paper by clicking on it once, and then click on the "Submit" button at the bottom of the list. If you read all the way through this paper, I guarantee you will get quite an education in understanding how psychoanalysis can be integrated with cognitive science.
You've been listening to Wise Counsel, a podcast interview series sponsored by Mentalhelp.net. If you found today's show interesting, we encourage you to visit Mentalhelp.net, where you can add a comment or question to this show's web page, view other shows in the series, or simply page through the site, which is full of interesting mental health and wellness content. Access the show's page and show archive information via the podcast box on the Mentalhelp.net home page.
If you like Wise Counsel, you might also like ShrinkRapRadio, my other interview podcast series, which is available online at www.shrinkrapradio.com. Until next time, this is Dr. David Van Nuys, and you've been listening to Wise Counsel.
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About Wilma Bucci, Ph.D.
Wilma Bucci, Ph.D. is Chair of the Research Associates of the American Psychoanalytic Association (RAAPA); She is a Member of the Faculty at the Research Training Programme of the International Psychoanalytical Association; She is also an Honorary Member of the American Psychoanalytic Association, the New York Psychoanalytic Institute and Society, and the Institute for Psychoanalytic Training and Research; Moreover, she's Director of Research at the The Bernard L. Pacella Parent Child Center and Co-Director of Research at The New York Psychoanalytic Society and Institute. Dr. Bucci is Professor Emerita, Derner Institute, Adelphi University. Publications include Psychoanalysis and Cognitive Science: A Multiple Code Theory; and many clinical, theoretical and research papers.