Consolation and Psychoanalysis

Per Magnus Johansson


Psychoanalysis has seldom concerned itself with the notion of consolation at the theoretical level. Consolation (or comfort or solace) is not a psychoanalytic concept. Freud only uses the word once in his general reflections on the human condition.

Freud saw religion as an effect of man’s infantile need for consolation, and compared it with obsessional neuroses. His reflections on the matter led Freud to the conclusion that reli- gion is an illusion. The more people who gain access to thinking influenced by science, the more people will abandon their belief in the religious message.

In Freud’s scientific-ideological attempt at turning psycho- analysis into a scientific discipline, phenomena which are parts of the religious and literary fields are lost. The human need for consolation is such a phenomenon.

Donald W. Winnicott’s concept of the transitional object must be considered in this context. According to Winnicott, the tran- sitional object is on the border between psychic, subjective reality, and external, objective reality. It is usually used by the child of the age of four to twelve months. The transitional object is a compensation which has the function of consoling the individual.

In Sweden, as in many other European countries, the psycho- dynamic tradition that arose was to a greater extent concerned with fulfilling man’s need for consolation, as compared with pursuing an ideal that was influenced by the natural sciences. The psychotherapists in this tradition attended to man’s need for consolation, and the treatment was called pastoral cure.

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