In psychoanalysis, insight is a process whereby one grasps a previously misunderstood aspect of one's own mental dynamics. It refers to a specific moment, observable during the treatment, when the patient becomes aware of an inner conflict, an instinctual impulse, a defense, or the like, that was previously repressed or disavowed and that, when it emerges into consciousness, elicits surprise and a sense of discovery.
Two forms of the experience have been described. The first involves a feeling of sudden discovery or illumination—a kind of "Eureka!" moment. The second is a slower, more gradual process where the subject and usually the analyst as well experience a sensation of the obvious: "Yes, that's how it is. We knew this, of course, but now it's perfectly clear." In all cases, something other than simple intellectual comprehension is involved. Frequently, understanding at a lower level, laden with cultural references and general, abstract concepts constructed as defenses, is replaced by deeper insight that leads patients to question their entire personal histories and thinking. This happens, for example, when patients, after making defensive comments about oedipal conflicts, relive and reabsorb their own oedipal dramas. In such cases the economic and dynamic charge of such a shift and the accompanying emotions run far deeper than mere intellectual understanding.
Insight indicates a transition from the preconscious to the conscious. Attentive analysts will often anticipate a coming moment of insight, though they may feel that interpretation would be premature so long as the moment has not yet arrived. When they sense that the moment is truly imminent, they may choose to facilitate the revelation by intervening.
When assessing whether psychoanalysis is indicated during initial consultations, evaluating a patient's capacity for insight is especially important. The capacity for insight must likewise be taken into account in gauging whether an analyst in training has yet been adequately analyzed.
See also: Analyzability; Initial interview(s); Introspection; Projective identification.
Blacker, Kay Hill. (1981). Insight (panel). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 29, 659-672.
Freud, Anna. (1959). The psychoanalytical treatment of children: Technical lectures and essays. New York: International Universities Press.
Kris, Ernst. (1956). On some vicissitudes of insight in psychoanalysis. International Journal of Psychoanalysis 37, 445-455.
Poland, Warren S. (1988). Insight and the analytic dyad. Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 57, 341-369.
Rangell, Leo. (1981). From insight to change. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 29, 119-142.
Valenstein, Arthur F. (1981). Insight as an embedded concept in early historical phase of psychoanalysis. Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 36, 307-318.
The term is used improperly by some (e.g., W. Köhler) for animal "solutions" to animal "problems" but has acquired a technical meaning, corresponding to its ordinary use for acumen or intelligence, in the works of B. J. F. Lonergan. For him, it is the specifically human act of understanding. It is limited: "By insight we have not meant a pure understanding but an understanding of something" (Insight 343); and this limitation derives from presentations, or images, or experience (again a technical word for the materials to be understood, ibid. 357), which determine a specific object for human understanding. Thus one does not speak of divine insight, though one may speak of divine understanding.
The chief value of the word lies in the fact that it expresses the act of understanding familiar to everyone, without carrying the philosophical connotations of the term intuition. It also indicates the direct relationship of human understanding to materials to be understood, in contrast to the reflection that is involved in judging. But "sight" is used only analogously of intellectual operations, which are properly to be studied in themselves (St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, 1a, 88.2 ad 3). Since intuitionist philosophers may read their peculiar meanings into "insight" and justify them by its root meaning, it seems better to give preference to the term understanding, whose root meaning is more obscure and requires one to attend to the actual meaning assigned by the user.
See Also: understanding (intellectus); apprehension, simple.
Bibliography: b. j. f. lonergan, "The Concept of Verbum in the Writings of St. Thomas Aquinas," Theological Studies 7 (1946) 349–392; 8 (1947) 35–79, 404–444; 10 (1949) 3–40, 359–393; Insight: A Study of Human Understanding (New York 1957). w. kÖhler, The Mentality of Apes, tr. e. winter from 2d ed. (New York repr. 1959).
[f. e. crowe]
in·sight / ˈinˌsīt/ • n. the capacity to gain an accurate and deep intuitive understanding of a person or thing: this paper is alive with sympathetic insight into Shakespeare. ∎ an understanding of this kind: the signals would give marine biologists new insights into the behavior of whales. ∎ Psychiatry new understanding by a mentally ill person of the causes of their disorder.DERIVATIVES: in·sight·ful / inˈsītfəl/ adj.in·sight·ful·ly / inˈsītfəlē/ adv.ORIGIN: Middle English (in the sense ‘inner sight, mental vision, wisdom’): probably of Scandinavian and Low German origin and related to Swedish insikt, Danish indsigt, Dutch inzicht, and German Einsicht.
1. (in medicine and psychiatry) a patient's awareness that he or she has an illness. Insight can be impaired by drug intoxication, physical or mental illness, brain damage, or dementia.
2. (in psychology) a patient's accuracy of understanding the development of his or her personality and problems, which can be enhanced by psychotherapy.
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