From No Subject - Encyclopedia of Psychoanalysis
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adaptation (adaptation) The concept of adaptation is a biological concept (see BIOLOGY); Org3DÃSms are supposed to be driven to adapt themselves to fit the environment. Adaptation implies a harmonious relation between the Innenwelt (inner world) and Umwelt (surrounding world). EGO-PSYCHOLOGY applies this biological concept to psychoanalysis, explaining neurotic symptoms in terms of maladaptive behaviour (such as applying archaic defence mechanisms in contexts where they are no longer appropriate), and arguing that the aim of psychoanalytic treatment is to help the patient adapt to reality. From his early work in the 1930s on, Lacan opposes any attempt to explain human phenomena in terms of adaptation (see Lacan, 1938: 24; Ec, 158; Ec, 171-2). This forms a constant theme in Lacan's work; in 1955, for example, he states that 'the dimension discovered by analysis is the opposite of anything which progresses through adaptation' (S2, 86). He takes this view for several reasons: 1. The stress on the adaptive function of the ego misses the ego's alienating function and is based on a simplistic and unproblematic view of 'reality'. Reality is not a simple, objective thing to which the ego must adapt, but is itself a product of the ego's fictional misrepresentations and projections. 2. Therefore 'it is not a question of adapting to it [reality], but of showing it [the ego] that it is only too well adapted, since it assists in the construction of that very reality' (E, 236). The task of psychoanalysis is rather to subvert the illusory sense of adaptation, since this blocks access to the unconscious. 3. To set adaptation as the aim of the treatment is to turn the analyst into the arbiter of the patient's adaptation. The analyst's own 'relation to reality thus goes without saying' (E, 230); it is automatically assumed that the analyst is better adapted than the patient. This inevitably turns psychoanalysis into the exercise of power, in which the analyst forces his own particular view of reality onto the patient; this is not psychoanalysis but SUGGESTION. 4. The idea of harmony between the organism and its environment, implicit in the concept of adaptation, is inapplicable to human beings because man's inscription in the symbolic order de-naturalises him and means that 'in man the imaginary relation [to nature] has deviated'. Whereas 'all animal machines are strictly riveted to the conditions of the external environment' (S2, 322), in the human being there is 'a certain biological gap' (S2, 323; see oAP). Any attempt to regain harmony with nature overlooks the essentially excessive drive potential summed up in the death drive. Human beings are essentially maladaptive. Lacan argues that the stress put by ego-psychology on the adaptation of the patient to reality reduces psychoanalysis to an instrument of social control and conformity. He sees this as a complete betrayal of psychoanalysis, which he regards as an essentially subversive practice.

     Lacan regards it as significant that the adaptation theme was developed by the European psychoanalysts who had emigrated to the USA in the late 1930s; these analysts felt not only that they had to adapt to life in the USA, but also that they had to adapt psychoanalysis to American tastes (E, l15).