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A Framework for Unraveling and Expanding the Mind: Psychoanalysis, Jazz, and Virtual Space

Updated: Apr 29, 2022

Clinical Psychologist and Certified Social Worker's Contribution Vol.1

In 2006, I wrote my master's thesis on the theme of "A Study of the Similarity between Psychoanalysis and Jazz: A Consideration of the Place Where Improvisation Occurs. Although psychoanalysis and jazz are completely different in terms of genre and origins, they are both characterized by free association and improvisation, and there has been research in the field of psychoanalysis focusing on similarities with jazz from various perspectives, mainly in the United States.


Lichtenstein, D., in The Rhetoric of Improvisation: Spontaneous Discourse in Jazz and Psychoanalysis (1993: Johns Hopkins University Press), links jazz improvisation and psychoanalytic free association with the term "spontaneous dialogue". In this paper, he links jazz improvisation and psychoanalytic free association with the term "spontaneous dialogue" and discusses the similarities between the two in terms of form and framework. He said, "The emphasis on spontaneous thought, on what comes to mind in the moment, is a distinctive feature of psychoanalysis, which, if faithfully carried out, should give rise to a kind of linguistic improvisation. In this dialogue, the recognition that the truth must be there is the basis of the analysis, and the task of the analyst is to create a space in which the analysand’s talk can be improvised." The analyst's job is to create a place where rambling can be improvised. This "place" is the framework of psychoanalysis.

Lichtenstein also says of jazz, "Improvisation is an act of spontaneous self-expression in the moment, in the moment, and in order to perform well, there must be a place where spontaneous dialogue is possible between the musicians, or between the musicians and the audience. Jazz has a number of frameworks for improvisation, such as the blues format, which allows any musician to improvise on the spot without a meeting, and a highly flexible musical score that does not require the musician to play exactly as written.

The two improvisational spontaneous manifestations bring about, for example, a therapeutic effect in psychoanalysis, and emotion, empathy, artistic creation, etc. in jazz.

In the framework of psychoanalytic psychotherapy, another researcher in the U.S, who was mentioned in my 2006 paper, described a case in which a client, through an unexpected and spontaneous self-expression that cannot be expressed in everyday life, broke away from mental oppression and constraint, gained freedom, even if only temporarily, and regained his true self. It is described as an analogy of jazz improvisation.

Now, 15 years later, I believe that the similarities of the aforementioned framework can be found in virtual spaces. In other words, I believe that the framework of the virtual space, created by modern advanced technology, protects the experiencer through psychological distance and anonymity from the real world, and that this allows the experiencer to temporarily leave the oppressions and constraints of everyday life, to spontaneously express themselves, and to experience the positive feelings of being relaxed and open-minded. If you can have such an experience If such an experience is possible, the virtual space framework can be effective in reducing or alleviating mental problems. Of course, the opposite is also possible, so careful consideration needs to be given to each type.

It is not abrupt to present this theme now. Virtual reality, which is at the forefront of the times, has a semantic connection with Freud's "Dream Judgment" 120 years ago and the surrealist movement in the art world 100 years ago. The dream space can be seen as a virtual reality, and the surrealist movement can be seen as a precursor of virtual reality.

I will describe the connection between psychoanalysis and virtual reality in the next paper.

December 5, 2021

Fusako Takahashi, Clinical Psychologist and Certified Social Worker


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