This paper examines the phenomenon of “uncanny” or “telepathic” communication between patient and analyst as seen through the lens of contemporary psychoanalytic theory and practice. How far have contemporary Freudian-based theories expanded their view toward accepting the possibility of “Psi?” Drawing on a sequence of “uncanny” clinical events between patient and therapist, the author will examine the interface between contemporary psychoanalytic theories of unconscious communication (informed by neuroscientific advances) and theories of “telepathic” dyadic unconscious communication within the field of parapsychology.
Beginning with scrutiny of the therapist’s unbidden “slip of the tongue” that seemingly ushered-in otherwise unknowable information about her patient, de Peyer will explore the potential opportunity that such moments of “uncanny” communication offer toward a deepening of the clinical exchange. The impact of a sequence of moments of “uncanny” dyadic exchange will be described, elaborating on how patient and therapist internalized the intimacy of these exchanges with both positive and negative outcomes. While inspiring feelings of closeness, these moments also inspired fear of a lack of boundaries between patient and therapist, in which their respective private thoughts and experiences could be potentially invaded. The author will describe how these “uncanny” exchanges, and the discussion that ensued between patient and therapist, affected the patient’s on-going treatment. While the patient longed throughout her life to be implicitly “read” by someone, de Peyer explores the paradox between their clumsy day-to-day verbal exchanges replete with misunderstandings and misattunements, and their seamlessly intimate moments of apparent “uncanny” nonverbal interconnectivity.
The importance of the impact of the therapist’s personal belief system about “Psi” will be examined, focusing on the influence of whether therapist and patient “match” or “differ” in their belief systems, and how transparency or seeming neutrality on the part of the therapist will affect the patient’s experience of safety in the treatment relationship. The author advocates for the clinical importance of nurturing receptivity to the possible existence of “Psi” within the field of psychoanalysis, both in order to expand psychoanalytic theorizing about forms of unconscious attunement, and to lessen the sometimes a priori inference of psychopathology often assumed when patients present with “exceptional experiences.”
While skepticism about “telepathy” endures, notions of unformulated, dissociated, sub-symbolic, implicit, right-brain, mirror neuron, and sensorial forms of attunement are furthering psychoanalysis’ mission to understand unconscious communication beyond words. In view of this interest in non-verbal attunement, de Peyer invites a re-consideration of the divide between psychoanalytic theories and investigations into the paranormal and “telepathy.” Reasons for longstanding psychoanalytic resistance to the “uncanny” stem from the prevailing underlying material-based worldview purporting that “mind equals brain.” These concerns are reviewed along with common fears of the paranormal. The author suggests that clinicians’ ongoing effort to consciously engage with these fears will reduce the likelihood of such fears emerging in the consulting room in the form of unconsciously driven destructive “enactments.”
A review of psychoanalytic literature on the “uncanny” notes the prevalence of research into nocturnal “uncanny” transmissions (telepathic dreams), and highlights the comparative paucity of literature on “uncanny” transmission during wakefulness. Citations of various contemporary psychoanalysts’ work on wakeful anomalous transmission are offered, focusing predominantly on Elizabeth Lloyd Mayer’s (2007) book, Extraordinary Knowing: Science, skepticism, and the inexplicable powers of the human mind” in which Mayer offers an exhaustive investigation into the relevance of the “uncanny” in psychotherapy and psychoanalysis. Highlights from Mayer’s book advancing the link between psychoanalysis and physics offer examples of other respected analysts’ clinical experiences of moments of “extraordinary knowing.” In addition to introducing mind-matter studies conducted by the Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research Laboratory, Mayer focuses on a poignant example of “uncanny” interconnectedness offered by Robert Stoller in his posthumously published paper on “telepathy,” in which he describes remarkable incidences of telepathic dreams between himself and his patients, including (similar to de Peyer’s example), patients’ dreams that accurately depict incidents occurring concurrently in his own personal life.
Since the apparent “telepathic” communication illustrated in this paper takes place both during and in between sessions, de Peyer highlights the problem that “telepathy” presents to neurobiologists, since “telepathy” challenges traditionally upheld scientific boundaries of space and time by transcending recognized material physiology and the existence of sensory cues. The author engages these issues, questioning the boundaries of “consciousness,” the limits of “subjective experience,” and the neural basis for “meaning-making” and “self-awareness.” Neuroscientific constructs underpinning contemporary psychoanalytic theories of unconscious communication are discussed, drawing attention to limitations in the understanding of how two minds interconnect across time and geographical space.
In further explorations of the intersection between neurobiology and “telepathy,” de Peyer proposes a speculative model of the mind in which “censorship” of certain stimuli prevent mental destabilization through what might otherwise be experienced as overwhelming exposure to incoming data of other peoples’ thoughts, feelings, sensations, images and experiences. If the human mind is indeed considered “porous,” the material instrument of the brain would likely develop a mechanism to “filter out” these data in order to survive. The author explores the possibility that this “porousness” might be stimulated for some through heightened affective experiences such as dreams, songs, visual cues, prayer, smells, other sensory cues, including relationships involving intense emotional exchange. The view that some might be more susceptible to “leakage” through conditioning of early childhood trauma is explored, along with the potential that such “porousness” might become activated within the clinical situation itself.
De Peyer balances inconclusive hypotheses of the functioning of “telepathy” while maintaining her primary focus on the impact of anomalous experiences on the clinical exchange. By acknowledging the possibility that human minds might be more “entangled” than previously recognized, she endorses a cross-fertilization between psychoanalysis, neuroscience, quantum physics and parapsychology. The contemporary psychoanalytic view of the analytic dyad as a variable multi-person field of inquiry is seen as a model quite compatible with Schrödinger (1935) and Radin’s (2006) theories of “entanglement.” De Peyer concludes that perhaps the metaphor of “borrowing a thought” from a unified field of shared knowledge (reminiscent of Carl Jung’s “Collective Unconscious”) is a system of thought that psychoanalysts in the coming future will more readily embrace.