Pierre Fédida

The Benefits of Depression An Appreciation of Psychotherapy Publication date : January 1, 2001

Is depression an illness, one that is grounded in biological reality and manifests itself in the form of inhibitions, physical immobility and a number of somatic disturbances? Doesn’t it offer clinical symptoms that can be treated, quickly and efficiently, with third-generation psychotropic drugs? But can the psyche be purged in this manner? When we attempt to cure human suffering with a chemical pill, aren’t we denying the real issues that have given rise to depression? Must we resort to denying the psyche in order to come out of a depressive state? Isn’t there another way?
Based on his long experience as a practising psychoanalyst, Pierre Fédida shows that the emergence of a depressive state can always be explained by the disappearance of the capacity to fight off depression: the psychic ability that all human beings possess that enables them to cushion the blows of existence and cope with extreme internal tensions. Without this protection, we become depressed, which means that we continue to live, but only minimally, because we are afraid that we will be unable to cope with anything more. The goal of the psychotherapy of depressive states should be the recovery of the capacity to fight off such states in order to regain one’s vital inner balance. The process of recovery depends on speech, and requires its own space, time and the presence of an attentive listener. Only under these conditions can life be revitalised from within, without resorting to chemical mediators, and by restoring the environment that makes human intersubjectivity possible.

Pierre Fédida, a psychoanalyst who studied under Ludwig Binswanger, teaches at the University of Paris VII where he heads the Centre d’Études du Vivant.