Article

Addressing and interpreting defense mechanisms in psychotherapy: general considerations.

Institute of Community and Family Psychiatry, Sir Mortimer B. Davis–Jewish General Hospital and McGill University, Montreal, QC.
Psychiatry Interpersonal & Biological Processes (Impact Factor: 3.18). 06/2011; 74(2):142-65. DOI: 10.1521/psyc.2011.74.2.142
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Defense interpretations are commonly used techniques that clinicians employ more frequently than transference interpretations. How and when clinicians interpret defenses, however, has received little empirical examination. In an effort to facilitate the empirical study of defense interpretation, we reviewed 15 works by noted authors who gave a prominent role to interpreting defenses in discussing clinical work in general patient populations. Our goal was to identify and systematize distinct themes from these authors that might be testable hypotheses. We identified 74 themes related to the interpretation of defenses in psychotherapy-for example, "interpreting too frequently diminishes the emotional impact of interpretation"-which we organized into 17 distinct categories (e.g., factors associated with positive outcome). We subsequently selected 19 themes that were readily operationalizable as hypotheses and examination of which would advance clinical practice. These hypotheses address issues such as when, in what order, and how to interpret defensive material and what successful outcomes would be. We then describe prototypes of research designs, employing naturalistic observation, randomized controlled trials, or experimental laboratory studies, which could investigate these important hypotheses. Overall, this report codifies current clinical maxims and then provides future research directions for determining how clinicians can most effectively address defenses in psychotherapy.

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