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On Depression and Subjectivity: A Lacanian Approach

Johnson, Richard Antony


Richard Antony Johnson


The signifier of ‘depression’, substantiated by dominant therapeutic practices such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and constructed by mainstream psychological discourse, is ubiquitous. Yet within the omnipresent nature of such a social pandemic lies a paradox. Depression is both everywhere and nowhere. That is to say, the range of meaning conveyed by the term is so expansive that, in a sense, it is meaningless (Gueguen, 2008). Through engagement with Lacanian psychoanalytic theory, the aim of this research is to reconceptualise the current construction of depression by critically evaluating pervasive psychological approaches that perpetuate and shape current understanding of Mental Health diagnoses. In addition, the individual, rational and unified subject of the Cartesian tradition, arguably the crux of mainstream psychology, will also be critically considered. The initial argument contextualises Descartes’ cogito within mainstream psychology. This elucidates an individual, unified and knowable self, or ego, that has a privileged central place within western ideology and philosophically underpins the defining, outlining and constructing of mental illness. It is argued that a Lacanian approach is vital, here, as it renders such an ego a ‘false being’ and ‘the seat of illusions’ (Lacan, 1953-1954, p. 62), which raises serious concerns with current understandings of depression. Thus, it could be postulated that approaches to mental health that neglect the unconscious appear doomed to fail. Such a critique opens up possibilities for a detailed traversing of the construction and mobilisation of subjectivity in relation to the depression experience. This theoretical research project is positioned within the sphere of critical psychology. In terms of an epistemological underpinning, the methodology employed broadly focuses on psychoanalytic theory and discursive approaches to enable a detailed exploration of subjectivity in relation to mental health diagnoses. Specifically, concepts from Lacanian psychoanalytic theory such as; the three registers (the real, the imaginary and the symbolic); the subject as a signifier; the unconscious as discourse; objet petit a and the relationship of the subject with jouissance are brought together with an extensive consideration of the conceptual co-ordinates provided in Freud’s (1917) paper Mourning and Melancholia. The thesis discusses the implications of a Lacanian response to Freud’s paper, which takes into account the polysemous textures of Lacan’s consideration of mourning in relation to loss and desire in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, anxiety, psychotic foreclosure and melancholia in relation to language, impossibility and the ethical duty to be Well-spoken.

Thesis Type Thesis
Deposit Date Feb 13, 2015
Peer Reviewed Not Peer Reviewed
Keywords Depression; Cognitive Behavioural Therapy; Lacan; psychoanalytic theory; mental health;
Public URL
Contract Date Feb 13, 2015
Award Date 2014-01


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