What Really Counts


I think Albert Einstein would have made a great psychoanalyst.  He just seems to have all the best quotes.  In my last post, I explored his idea that “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results.”  Now I want to delve into another saying attributed to Einstein, “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”

Being new to the blogging world, I started off by doing a little research.  I googled “best psychology blogs.”  Turns out, there are a lot of them—and a lot of good ones.   I found it interesting, though, that the psychology blogs at the top of the list have a lot to do with research psychology.  It made sense to me because there is a clear trend in my field toward a more scientifically-based psychology.  For example, there is a fascination these days with the function of the brain and how it affects our emotions and behavior.  Likewise, we seem to be enamored with scientific research; we believe things really matter if they can be measured in a laboratory.   Even within my own field of applied psychology, there is a strong movement toward “evidence-based treatments.”  A particular set of psychotherapeutic techniques is applied to a person with a particular symptom, and we measure whether or not the treatment “works” by whether or not the symptom is alleviated—and how much so and for how long.

Surely there is a place for such psychological science, but I fear that it is taking up nearly all of the space these days.   We overvalue measuring, counting, proving, and guaranteeing.  And so much that makes for a meaningful life cannot be quantified in such ways.

So I am heartened that one of the greatest scientists of all time said that counting is not everything.  Einstein understood that there are mysteries, that there is beauty, that there is meaning that transcends correlation and calculation.  This is true for so many aspects of life and especially for a depth psychology such as psychoanalysis.   While there is a growing body of research that demonstrates the effectiveness of psychoanalytic psychotherapy, its effect and value cannot be captured within the confines of the scientific method.

I turn to a poet to help me convey what I mean—to Rainer Maria Rilke who wrote, “Ultimately, and precisely in the deepest and most important matters, we are unspeakably alone; and many things must happen, many things must go right, a whole constellation of events must be fulfilled, for one human being to successfully advise or help another.”

An effective psychotherapy treatment is a mysterious and sacred set of experiences between two human beings, dedicated to understanding the unique life of a single person in all of its complexities.  It is both science and art, aimed not only at reduction of symptoms but at lifting unconscious resistances so that we can face life on life’s terms and become our best selves.  The process of psychotherapy is difficult to measure because the things that matter most in life are difficult to measure.  Yes, we want to be free of the worst of our anxiety, depression, addiction, and dysfunction.  Yes, we wish to be more successful by having lasting marriages, good salaries and grade point averages, and high self-esteem as measured on a scale of 1 to 10.  But what of love?  Or joy?  Or gratitude?  Self-respect, self-control, generosity, hope, or, dare I say, peace of mind?   These are the things that we value most, deep in our heart of hearts.   These are the things that make life worth living.

I remember a particular moment during my psychoanalytic training when one of our instructors asked us what psychoanalyst Melanie Klein’s theory was essentially about.  We young candidates were flustered, trying to find the center of such a complex model of the mind.  “The unconscious?” one of us asked.  “Projective identification?” asked another.  Or the big kahuna, “Envy?”  Our instructor shook his head.  Gently, he said, “It’s about love.”  That was it for me.  That was my moment, when the deep and often confusing models of psychoanalysis began to make real sense.  It’s about love.  Love of self, love of other, love of life.  While it is nearly impossible to measure, it is ultimately what counts the most.

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One response to “What Really Counts

  1. Albert Einstein also had this to say about Love:

    “Gravitation is not responsible for people falling in love.”

    And

    “How on earth are you ever going to explain in terms of chemistry and physics so important a biological phenomenon as first love?”

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