Bad Language and Psychoanalysis

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I’m increasingly becoming concerned when I see language used like this: http://www.nscience.co.uk/10-feb-2016.html by colleagues in the psychoanalytic world.

What I am talking about here is the misappropriation by some sectors of the psychoanalytic community of the terms ‘sadism’ and ‘masochism’ to largely mean acting in a way which punishes others or themselves, (usually with words or thoughts rather than physical activities).

I believe it’s now pretty widely understood that in the real world, sadism and masochism refer to consensual sensation based ‘play’ (giving or receiving pain in sexualised contexts).  I think that in mainstream society this is fairly well understood and  I suspect more people understand sadism and masochism in this context than the obscure psychoanalytic one.

Language is constantly evolving and dynamic and words that for one generation were acceptable are no longer acceptable.  This continued usage is akin to us using the word ‘Coloured’ to mean Black, or ‘cripple’ to mean disabled. It’s outdated and no longer acceptable practice.

In 2012 the British Psychoanalytic Council held its first conference, Homosexuality: Moving On, reviewed here by my former supervisor and friend, the late Dr Bernard Ratigan who was sat next to me.  It really felt there was a genuine desire to apologise for the harms done to the lesbian and gay communities by psychoanalysis.  The conference had an air of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of the post-apartheid era South Africa..  I know the BPC as an organisation are keen to no longer pathologise homosexuality, although how much progress has been made in their desire for moving on has been reflected in the curriculum of their member organisations psychoanalytic trainings or in their being openly lesbian or gay psychoanalysts as members is another question (there are several out gay psychoanalytic psychotherapists but to my knowledge not a single openly gay or lesbian psychoanalyst within BPC membership.

But what of other diverse sexualities, identities and lifestyles?  Is it acceptable to continue to pathologise members of the BDSM/Kink communities by using outdated and frankly offensive and misleading terms like sadism, masochism and perversion?

If the world of psychoanalysis wants to show it has something to offer those with diverse genders, sexualities and lifestyles and step aside from its history of pathologisation of sexual difference, and heteronormativity, then I think it would be wise to consider the impact of pathologising language on those disenfranchised members of society they might hope to help.

Dominic Davies
CEO Pink Therapy

P.S. In 2004 Pink Therapy’s held it’s first ever conference on the  subject of Queers, Queer Theory and the contribution of Psychoanalysis and Psychoanalytic thinking.  You can listen the audio recordings of the keynotes on our YouTube channel playlist

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