This paper examines what psychoanalysis can say about migration, and what it means for psychotherapeutic work with migrants and refugees. Topics addressed include trauma, mourning, depression, melancholia and identity formation. The refugee or migrant faces not only traumatic events and loss experiences from their home country and during flight, but also unexpected phenomena in the country of arrival. Desubjectivization, the decoupling of a language and its effect, given the fact that the unconscious is structured like language, mourning work and the risk of melancholy, the interruption of the Name-of-the-Father, being mirrored and the effect on one’s identity. The migrant is challenged to process trauma and to incorporate it into the framework of life. He must perform mourning work, build a new (shared) Symbolic, and achieve social and psychological integrity. In an analysis, there is the opportunity to be heard, to hear yourself speak, instead of being under scrutiny, to face things, convey movement, to break, and to regain one’s own subjectivity.
The aim of the psychoanalytic cure is here considered as the movement which targets the subject’s assumption of its existential guilt, i.e., the guilt resulting from not living up to its destiny as inscribed by the Other. Through the psychoanalytic work the patient is confronted with the unconscious inscription of his being, as well as with the guilt resulting from not being able to meet this inscription. In this way, gradually, the preconditions are laid down for a process of mourning, i.e., for a process of disidentification, that may provoke anxiety. Beyond the assumption of existential guilt, desire is articulated more freely, which enables a different positioning of the subject towards the other, towards love, towards knowledge.