2265 North Clybourn Avenue    Chicago, IL 60614    P: 773.296.6700     F: 773.296.1131

Resistance, Sigmund Freud, and Getting Well

Click here for the Health Tip link.

Physicians worldwide agree that Sigmund Freud was one of the two or three most influential figures in medical history. It’s hard for us to imagine a medical landscape with virtually no mental health counseling whatsoever, except for a few primitive asylums. A landscape where patients for years simply endured depression, anxiety, and other emotional travails that therapists now treat routinely and with great success.

Interestingly, Freud, in late 19th century Vienna, had his share of patients with chronic fatigue syndrome. Mainly women, these patients were exhausted all the time, literally collapsing on his famous couch, unable to live normal lives. The term for this condition was neurasthenia, and like physicians now, even the best doctors of the day could find nothing physically wrong with most of these patients.

But Freud had described a mental state in patients that he called “resistance,” the unconscious reluctance on the part of his patient to get well. Remember, his psychoanalytic approach to patients was completely different from ours now, and in fact would be virtually impossible today because of time and cost restraints. Freud’s patients came for an hour daily, often for years, and using techniques familiar to every contemporary therapist–like free association, dream interpretation, and slips of the tongue–he would try to analyze the landscape of his patient’s mind.

Often, Freud’s patient would throw up a barrier when a particular topic was raised, and no matter how delicately Freud directed his questions, his patient would not budge. Even among patients extremely committed to getting well, certain topics brought down this curtain of resistance.

To resist efforts at wellness does seem to many physicians particularly irrational. Why keep up with endless visits, unpleasant tests, unpalatable medications, and yet at the same time appear to block therapeutic intervention?

Freud tells us that a person’s unconscious mind obeys its own, scarcely understandable set of laws. Resistance is the patient’s compromise that enables him or her to come to terms, however miserably, with repressed wishes and memories. Unbelievable as this may sound, it’s sometimes easier for a patient to be chronically fatigued, depressed, and in pain, traveling from one doctor to another and enduring test after useless test than it is to explore the deep-seated psychological sources of misery.

I referred in an earlier health tip to the DePaul University study on chronic fatigue, and how the single most effective therapy was psychological counseling. If you recall, I remarked that the no-show and drop-out rate for counseling was unexpectedly high, despite the fact that all treatments were free as part of the government-funded study. Now that’s resistance with a capital R.

Returning to Catherine’s case, presented in my last health tip, after a couple of visits with her I strongly suspected she’d become an attorney because her attorney father wanted her to do so. Since he had been a verbally abusive alcoholic to his late wife and family, Catherine consciously or unconsciously hoped he might love her if she acted the dutiful daughter. In actuality, she hated being an attorney, but it got dad off her back. What better revenge could her unconscious mind create than a chronic disabling condition to get her out of the law firm and extract vengeance on her aging father by making him her purse-carrier until his death.

This whole series on resistance began with my dismay that virtually none of our several hundred chronic fatigue or fibromyalgia patients called to inquire about our well-publicized group therapy sessions under psychologist Dr. Janet Chandler. After a few minutes of remembering Dr. Freud and resistance, I came to my senses.

In conclusion, psychologists use the phrase “deep processing your illness” and this really refers to exploring resistances. You are always better off recalling and processing repressed material as it surfaces, no matter how distressing. And keep this in mind: no matter how complex you think you are, you’re just scratching the surface. You are far more complicated that you could imagine.

Leave a Comment


1 Pings/Trackbacks for "Resistance, Sigmund Freud, and Getting Well"
  1. […] rarely a simple or straightforward affair. One reason for this involves what Freud described as “resistance.” Resistance often entails a fear or reluctance to face unsettling or frightening aspects of […]

Join our Newsletter

Get health recommendations, delicious and time-saving recipes, medical news, supplement reviews, birthday discounts, and more!

BIRTHDAY

Health Tips

Dr. Edelberg’s Health Tips contain concise bits of advice, medical news, nutritional supplement and pharmaceutical updates, and stress relief ideas. With every Health Tip, you’ll also receive an easy, delicious, and healthful recipe.

When you sign up to receive Health Tips, you can look forward to Dr. Edelberg’s smart and very current observations arriving in your in-box weekly. They’re packed with helpful information and are often slightly irreverent. One of the most common responses to the tips is “I wish my doctor talked to me like this!”

Quick Connect

Get One Click Access to our

patient-portal

The Knowledge Base

Patient education is an integral part of our practice. Here you will find a comprehensive collection of staff articles, descriptions of therapies and nutritional supplements, information addressing your health concerns, and the latest research on nutritional supplements and alternative therapies.

Join our Newsletter

Get health recommendations, recipes, medical news, supplement reviews, birthday discounts, and more!

Upcoming Workshops

**Facial Guasha Class
Thursday, March 12, 6:00–7:30pm
Hosted by Mari Stecker, LAc

Course Fee: $75.00
(Includes take-home facial guasha tool and custom anti-aging facial oil!)

Join us and learn a traditional Chinese facial rejuvenation technique that you can do yourself! Guasha treatment is a 2,000 year old Chinese massage technique that uses a flat tool to apply pressure to the skin to increase circulation as it moves along acupuncture channels. Learn more and register →

**Adrenal Boost!
Tue, April 28, 6:00 PM – 8:00 PM
With Naturopath Caley Scott and Yoga Therapist Renee Zambo

Course Fee: $75.00
(Includes custom adrenal herbal tincture and a description of yoga practices you can do at home.)

Feeling Tired? Need help improving fatigue? Learn to boost your energy! Dr. Scott will teach you about herbs that support your adrenal glands to help boost your energy and adapt to stress. Renee will teach practices that restore and build energy, support daily activities, and ensure sound rest at night. More →

Recent Health Tips

  • “My Breath Smells Like Poop!”

    Usually by the time someone comes to us at WholeHealth Chicago with this complaint, they’ve already taken the obvious route. Ralph, a healthy looking guy in his 30s and recently married despite his halitosis, had already seen: –His primary care physician, who wasn’t sure he noticed anything odd about Ralph’s breath at all, but suggested regular brushing, flossing, and tongue scraping. –His dentist, who did Read More

  • When Your Sex Drive is on Life Support

    Low desire? No more orgasms? Is your sexual enjoyment a nonexistent priority in your partnership? Sex is such a physical/emotional chore that you’d rather be burning the calories in a Pilates class? Part of our intake questionnaire at WholeHealth Chicago asks if you’re satisfied with your sex life and fully half of our newcomers either indicate no or leave it unanswered. This pretty much lines Read More

  • Breakthroughs in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

    To me, the greatest advance for the estimated 2.5 million adults, adolescents, and children with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) has been the slow but steady acceptance of its very existence by the conventional medical community. This has been a real uphill battle and we’re encouraged to finally see some (guarded) victories. The first description of what would be later called chronic fatigue syndrome came in Read More

Join our Discount Program!

Member benefits include 10% off all your purchases. Low, one-time membership fee of $25 ($35 for family).

MORE INFORMATION