joel_gold's picture
Psychiatrist; Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry, NYU School of Medicine; Coauthor (with Ian Gold), Suspicious Minds

ARISE, or Adaptive Regression In the Service of the Ego, is a psychoanalytic concept recognized for decades, but little appreciated today. It is one of the ego functions which, depending on who you ask, may number anywhere from a handful to several dozen. They include reality testing, stimulus regulation, defensive function and synthetic integration. For simplicity, we can equate the ego with the self (though ARISS doesn't quite roll off the tongue).

In most fields, including psychiatry, regression is not considered a good thing. Regression implies a return to an earlier and inferior state of being and functioning. But the key here is not the regression, but rather whether the regression is maladaptive or adaptive.

There are numerous vital experiences that cannot be achieved without adaptive regression: The creation and appreciation of art, music, literature and food; the ability to sleep; sexual fulfillment; falling in love; and, yes, the ability to free associate and tolerate psychoanalysis or psychodynamic therapy without getting worse. Perhaps the most important element in adaptive regression is the ability to fantasize, to daydream. The person who has access to their unconscious processes and can mine them, without getting mired in them, can try new approaches, can begin to see things in new ways and, perhaps, can achieve mastery of their pursuits.

In a word: Relax.

It was ARISE that allowed Friedrich August Kekulé to use a daydream about a snake eating its tail as inspiration for his formulation of the structure of the benzene ring. It's what allowed Richard Feynman to simply drop an O-ring into a glass of ice water, show that when cold the ring is subject to distortion, and thereby explain the cause of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. Sometimes it takes a genius to see that a fifth grade science experiment is all that is needed to solve a problem.

In another word: Play.

Sometimes in order to progress you need to regress. Sometimes you just have to let go and ARISE.