Psychoanalysis was born at the end of the last century as a therapeutic method for treating neuroses and later become the science of unconscious mental processes. The use of the term has always had a certain degree of ambiguity, owing to the fact that psychoanalysis is at one and the same time a theory of the personality, a theory of psychopathology and its genesis, a method of research and a means of treating psychiatric disturbances. In addition, psychoanalysis has given rise to an ideological movement and to the institutions arising out of this.
As an instrument of research and therapy it acts within the boundaries of a relationship between two people, that is between the analyst and his patient.
As a theory of the unconscious mental processes it has sought to understand and conceptualize the relationship between the individual and his small group contexts, with culture and society.
Psychoanalytical concepts have been applied to education, social psychology and to the study of small groups. Various sociologists, including Talcott Parsons, have set themselves to understand how the individual internalizes the normative aspects of the society in which he lives and how these normative aspects influence, on an unconscious level, his social behavior. At the same time, from this point of view, efforts have been made to understand how the mental processes of the individual are reflected in the organization of society. From this perspective an overall analysis of social processes is not possible without taking into account the reciprocal influences between the individual’s unconscious mechanisms and the social structure.
However it must be pointed out that the psychoanalytic movement has been fragmented by theoretical conflicts. Psychoanalytic theory is in a constant state of evolution and the psychoanalytic institutions have not been loft untouched by the crisis and the typical divisions of other social institutions.
The potentially revolutionary element of psychoanalysis is often weakened by the fact that psychoanalysts belong to a privileged class. The potential of psychoanalysis as a theory offering new perspectives of social change has also been partially negated by the fact that, as a therapy, it has always been restricted to patients of the higher social classes. This fact has contributed to its loss of credibility among those working towards a libertarian society. We anarchists therefore should undertake two tasks: first to reconsider its usefulness as a means of understanding social processes and secondly, on another level, to make analytic therapy available to all those who have need of it.
In the last decades a theory and a methodology have developed in the heart of psychoanalysis itself, seeking to understand the reciprocal influences between the individual and the small groups to which he belongs and, at the same time, to carry out therapy in the group context; that is "group analysis".
In fact the small group is an important point of contact between the individual and society as a whole. In an age when the "mass society" is ever more standardized, the recovery of the identity of the small group has an importance that cannot be played down. So group analysis appears as a useful means of acting in the interface between the individual and society, as part of a sustained effort to combat alienation. This problems remains open for discussion.