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Psychoanalysis On and Off the Couch

Sep 3, 2023

"Conscience represents ethics that are not socially constructed and not socially learned but built-in. In fact, the whole of psychoanalysis is grounded in such an ethic - we all as analysts value life over death, we value truth over lies, we value love over hate, kindness over cruelty. Like those little three-month-old infants that Bloom studied at Yale, these values are grounded in our biology. They are part of what Winnicott would call our true self and they are quite distinct from the very different moral notions that wind up in our superego. After all, our superego contains our racism, it contains our sexism, it contains our heterosexism and those values are very distinct from our core values: love over hate, life over death. We all know on a fundamental level what’s right and what’s wrong on that very basic level, and that is the voice of conscience; we don’t need God for this; it is built in biologically.”


Episode Description: Don begins by describing the difference between the narcissistically based superego from the object-oriented conscience. He sees the former as culturally derived and the latter as biologically given. We discuss how in the clinical situation persecutory guilt, i.e., superego, may often be emphasized to defend against the vulnerabilities associated with loving and being loved. We consider the use and overuse of the concept of trauma in contrast to intrapsychic conflict, and he distinguishes between empathy and sympathy. He shares his view that the edges of our political parties are imbued with the self-certainty born from the paranoid position. Ultimately, he concludes, "I’m not afraid that analysis will disappear - people who have problems with their soul will seek out soul doctors."


Our Guest: Don Carveth, Ph.D., is an emeritus professor of sociology and social and political thought at York University in Toronto. He is a training and supervising analyst in the Canadian Institute of Psychoanalysis, a past Director of the Toronto Institute, and past editor-in-chief of the Canadian Journal of Psychoanalysis. He is the author of The Still Small Voice: Psychoanalytic Reflections on Guilt and Conscience, Psychoanalytic Thinking: A Dialectical Critique of Contemporary Theory and Practice, and Guilt: A Contemporary Introduction. Many of his publications are available on his York website ( and his current website (; his video lectures are available on his YouTube channel ( He is in private psychoanalytic practice in Toronto.


Recommended Readings:

Carveth, D. (2016). Why we should stop conflating the superego with the conscience. Psychoanalysis, Culture & Society(2017) 22, 15-32.


Carveth, D.(2023). Guilt: A Contemporary Introduction. New York: Routledge.


Carveth, D. (2006).  Self-Punishment as Guilt Evasion: Theoretical Issues." Canadian Journal of Psychoanalysis/Revue Canadienne de Psychanalyse 14, 2 (Fall2006): 172-96.