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A brief history of psychoanalysis: From Freud to fantasy to folly


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Psychoanalysis has had a long gestation, during the course of which it has experienced multiple rebirths, leading some current authors to complain that there has been such a proliferation of theories of psychoanalysis over the past 115 years that the field has become theoretically fragmented and is in disarray (Fonagy & Target, 2003; Rangell, 2006). In this paper, Kenny surveys the past and present landscapes of psychoanalytic theorizing and clinical practice to trace the evolution of Freud’s original insights and psychoanalytic techniques to current theory and practice. First, the article sketches the evolutionary chronology of psychoanalytic theory; second, it discusses the key psychoanalytic techniques derived from clinical practice, with which psychoanalysis is most strongly identified; third, it interrogates whether Freud’s original theoretical conceptualizations and clinical practices are still recognizable in current psychoanalytic theory and practice, using four key exemplars – object relations theory, attachment-informed psychotherapy, existential/ phenomenological and intensive short-term dynamic psychotherapy; and fourth, the article discusses recent disintegrative developments in psychoanalytic scholarship. To this end, the article critiques the cul-de-sacs into which some psychoanalytic scholars have directed us and concludes with the hope that the current state of affairs can be remedied.
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Kenny, D.T. (2016). A brief history of psychoanalysis: From Freud to fantasy to folly. Psychotherapy
and Counselling Journal of Australia.
Dianna T Kenny PhD
The University of Sydney
The genesis of psychoanalysis
Psychoanalysis has had a long gestation, during the course of which it has experienced
multiple rebirths, leading some current authors to complain that there has been such a
proliferation of theories of psychoanalysis over the past 115 years that the field has become
theoretically fragmented and is in disarray (Fonagy & Target, 2003; Rangell, 2006). In this
paper, I survey the past and present landscapes of psychoanalytic theorizing and clinical
practice to trace the evolution of Freud’s original insights and psychoanalytic techniques to
current theory and practice. First, I sketch the evolutionary chronology of psychoanalytic
theory; second, I discuss the key psychoanalytic techniques derived from clinical practice, with
which psychoanalysis is most strongly identified; third, I interrogate whether Freud’s original
theoretical conceptualizations and clinical practices are still recognizable in current
psychoanalytic theory and practice, using four key exemplars object relations theory,
attachment-informed psychotherapy, existential/phenomenological and intensive short-term
dynamic psychotherapy; and fourth, I discuss recent unhelpful, disintegrative developments
in psychoanalytic scholarship. To this end, I critique the cul-de-sacs into which some
psychoanalytic scholars have directed us, and conclude with the hope that the current state
of affairs can be remedied.
Psychoanalysis is simultaneously a form treatment, a theory, and an “investigative tool”
(Lothane, 2006, p. 711). Freud used each of these three facets of psychoanalysis iteratively to
progress our understanding of human mental functioning. Among Freud‘s unique theoretical
insights into the human condition was the historically new idea that humans are primarily
animals driven by instincts (Freud, 1915a, 1920) who undergo growth via universal
developmental (psychosexual) stages that are influenced by family and social life. This was in
opposition to the prevailing view of his time that humanity was God’s highest creation. Freud
(1908) challenged the cherished belief that humankind is rational and primarily governed by
reason, replacing it with the disturbing notion that we are in fact driven by unacceptable and
hence repressed aggressive and sexual impulses that are constantly at war with the “civilized”
Freud himself and Freud scholars (Jones, 1953; Strachey, 1955) consider that the Studies on
Hysteria (Breuer & Freud, 1893) mark the beginning of psychoanalysis as a theory and a
treatment. These early papers place the causes of the symptoms of hysteria firmly in the
psychological, not the neurological domain (although such a distinction is no longer
sustainable), thus moving thinking about the cause of hysterical1 and other psychological
symptoms from the brain to the mind. This insight underpinned a paradigm shift in thinking
about the mental functioning of human beings, for which there was a scant vocabulary and
embryonic conceptualizations. The theory that organized early clinical observations gradually
unfolded, many precepts of which have entered the psychological lexicon as givens, concepts
that are now taken for granted. Three of these bedrock concepts are the existence of the
Unconscious, the notion of hidden meaning and the idea of repression.
The Unconscious, hidden meaning, repression and the affect-trauma model
The central tenet of Freud's psychoanalytic theory is the concept of the unconscious, from
which he derived two corollary concepts: hidden meaning and repression2. The concept of
repression is essential, not only to an understanding of the Unconscious but to psychoanalysis
itself. Freud described it as the “cornerstone” of psychoanalysis (Freud, 1914g, p. 16) and
viewed repression as “the prototype of the Unconscious” (Freud, 1923a). In fact, Freud viewed
repression as the mental process that creates the Unconscious.
1Hysteria was the term given to the presentation, mostly by women, of a constellation of unexplained physical
symptoms that included paralysis, muscle contractures, pseudo seizures, pain, fatigue, tics, aphonia and food
aversions, inter alia. Charcot believed that the symptoms arose as a result of an emotional response to a
traumatic incident in their past. He called hysteria with an emotionally traumatic origin ‘traumatic hysteria’.
2Repression is a defence mechanism identified by Freud. It is a process whereby mental content is removed from
awareness. Madison, P. (1961). Freud's concept of repression and defense, its theoretical and observational
language. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
The aim of Freud’s psychoanalysis was to support expression of the affect associated with a
traumatic memory, a process later termed catharsis, and to bring the repressed trauma into
conscious memory, a process called abreaction. The Unconscious refers to the existence of
thoughts and feelings of which we are not aware that motivate our strivings and behaviour. It
is the locus of dynamic psychic activity the place where wishes, impulses and drives reside,
a place not beholden to the realities of logic or time or the constraints of socially acceptable
behaviour. The contents of the Unconscious are usually experienced as painful and/or
forbidden and have therefore been repressed, that is, excluded from consciousness, in order
to reduce the associated anxiety, guilt or conflict. Repression is a defence mechanism that
keeps unconscious material out of conscious awareness. However, the excluded material
continues to influence behaviour because it is so emotionally charged that it demands
expression. Individuals express their repressed thoughts or feelings in subtle, symbolic or
disguised ways, such as in dreams, slips of the tongue, jokes, and symptoms manifestations
that Freud called “the return of the repressed” (Freud, 1915b, p. 148), a process that today is
called enactment (Cambray, 2001; Chused, 2003; Eagle, 1993; Friedman & Natterson, 1999;
Ivey, 2008). The hidden meaning of symptoms must be uncovered and consciously re-
experienced, together with their associated affect3 in order to effect a “cure.This was the
first of Freud’s models of the functioning of the mind that became known as the affect-trauma
model, a model that resonates strongly with current psychoanalytic approaches that address
early relational trauma through a holding therapeutic relationship that resembles the mother-
infant dyad (Holmes, 2011).
Freud’s theorizing was greatly affected by his observations of the post-traumatic stress
disorders in soldiers returning from World War 1. Prior to 1920, Freud believed that most
neurotic symptoms were related to the repressed experiences of infantile sexuality. After this
time, Freud gave primacy to the experience of trauma, a position that became a central tenet
of subsequent psychoanalytical theorizing and speculation (Miliora, 1998; Mills, 2004; Muller,
2009; Naso, 2008; Oliner, 2000). The traumas of war and the constant imminent threat to
3 The use of the term “affect” requires clarification. In his early writing, Freud defined affect as the quantity or
force or energy of an instinctual drive. In the Studies on Hysteria, Freud refers to “strangulated affect” that has
not found release or discharge. The term “affect” later assumed a much broader definition and incorporated a
range of emotions that included anxiety, mourning, guilt, love and hate (Appelbaum, 2011).
survival must surely come closest to repeating the feeling of infant helplessness and its
associated anxiety. The proximal trauma triggers the distal archaic infant anxieties, resulting
in a traumatic neurosis. Freud understood the symptoms, including repeated nightmares and
reliving of the war trauma as an attempt to master the trauma psychologically. Freud had
identified the phenomenon of the “compulsion to repeat” (Freud, 1893b, p. 105) both in
actual life and in the transference relationship with the analyst in his earliest cases (Freud,
1914g) and understood this as a form of remembering. In Remembering, Repeating and
Working-Through, Freud (1914g) came to the conclusion that psychopathology (neuroses) is
a “magnification of universal human phenomena” (Van Haute & Geyskens, 2007, p. 33). The
helplessness and dependency that we all experience as infants are re-activated in subsequent
experiences of threat, anxiety and loss.
Unlike subsequent theorists like Donald Winnicott and John Bowlby who argued that infantile
trauma could be avoided or mitigated by “good enough mothering”, Freud believed that the
original infant trauma could not be avoided because the felt helplessness of the infant is
helplessness in relation to its own instincts. Freud thus proposed that infantile traumas are
universal and differ only in their intensity between individuals and that such traumas have an
impact on all subsequent development. According to this model, the child “attaches” to its
mother out of fear of this feeling of helplessness and the attendant fear that it will not survive
without assistance from caring adults. Thus the desire for contact and attachment is born of
fear and is thus a secondary instinct. This position was subsequently challenged by the
attachment theorists (Bowlby, 1940, 1958).
In summary, the affect-trauma model proposed that the symptoms of hysterical patients had
hidden psychological meaning related to major emotional traumata that the patient had
repressed (Freud, 1893a, 1893b, 1893c, 1893d). The struggle for expression of this trauma
resulted in the presenting symptoms, which constituted a symbolic expression of the
“strangulated affect” related to the trauma. Freud believed that the processes of abreaction
and catharsis related to this trauma would resolve the patient’s symptoms and cure them of
their hysteria.
The topographical and structural models
In The Unconscious, Freud (1915) revisited and reworked his ideas. He proposed ‘psychical
systems’ that he named Conscious, PreConscious and Unconscious; he referred to these as
the psychical topography.’ He coined the term ‘depth psychology’ to indicate that he had
advanced the field beyond the ‘psychology of consciousness’ (p. 173). Freud subsequently
renamed his depth psychology, metapsychology, in which all psychological phenomena were
examined from three different perspectives: topographical, economic and dynamic. The
topographical analysis identified the system in which the psychic action was occurring; the
economic analysis assessed the quantity of psychic energy being expended and the dynamic
analysis explored the conflict between the pressures from instinctual drives (wishes, strivings)
and the ego defences that are deployed to prevent the release of the forbidden material from
repression (Quinodoz, 2005).
According to Freud’s structural model, which he introduced in 1923, our personality is an
organized energy system of forces and counter forces whose task is to regulate and discharge
aggressive and sexual energy in socially acceptable ways (Gramzow et al., 2004). This model
re-focused attention on the importance of the social environment and the role of relationships
with primary caregivers (Mayer, 2001). Freud proposed three structures, which he termed id,
ego, and superego. At birth, we are all “id” - a series of sexual and aggressive impulses that
seek gratification (Freud, 1923a). The id, the home of unconscious drives and impulses,
operates according to a primary process that is very different from conscious thought, or
secondary process thinking. It has no allegiance to rationality, chronology or order, and is
fantasy-driven via visual imagery.
As the child develops, so does the ego, the reality tester, the rational part of the personality.
Freud actually used the German word Ich to denote this ‘structure’ in his structural model.
‘Ego’ was the English translation of this word, but its meaning denotes ‘I’ that part of the self
that a person recognizes as ‘me.’ It is the role of the ego to regulate the primitive impulses of
the id, the relentless and punishing superego and the demands of external reality. The ego
protects itself from the Unconscious by developing repressing forces (defences mechanisms)
that keep repressed material from breaking through to consciousness (Freud, 1937). Gradually
the child learns to delay immediate gratification, to compromise, accept limits and cope with
inevitable disappointments. Freud defined the ego in two ways; firstly, as the structure
needing protection from the Unconscious; secondly, as the repressing force that keeps
disturbing material at bay. Since the process of repression is itself unconscious, there must be
an unconscious part of the ego.
With this understanding came a change in the understanding of the role of anxiety. In his early
theorizing, anxiety was understood to be related to the fear of discharge of unacceptable
sexual or aggressive drives. Subsequently, Freud (1926) understood anxiety to be,
simultaneously, an affective signal for danger and the motivation for psychologically
defending against the (perceived) danger. Freud believed at first that repression caused
anxiety; he subsequently came to the view that it was anxiety that motivated repression
(Freud, 1926). Freud proposed four basic danger situations - the loss of a significant other; the
loss of love; the loss of body integrity; and the loss of affirmation by one's own conscience
(moral anxiety). When an individual senses one of these danger-situations, motivation for
defending against the anxiety is triggered.
Freud distinguished between traumatic (primary) anxiety, which he defined as a state of
psychological helplessness in the face of overwhelmingly painful affect, such as fear of
abandonment or attack, and signal (secondary) anxiety, which is a form of anticipatory anxiety
that alerts us to the danger of re-experiencing the original traumatic state by repeating it in a
weakened form such that measures to protect against re-traumatization can be taken. He also
revised his view about what was repressed, concluding that it was not traumatic experiences
or memories but conflicted impulses, wishes and desires with their attendant anxiety that
motivate repression. Hence, Freud shifted his focus from external trauma to a focus on inner
conflict as the core of psychoanalytic theory and psychoanalysis (Eagle, 2011). Contemporary
psychoanalytic theory reversed this shift, re-focusing on external (mostly interpersonal)
trauma as the locus of psychopathology.
According to Freud, the superego develops between the ages of four and six years. The
superego is formed out of the internalized or introjected values of parents (or significant other
caregivers) (Freud, 1923a) and society and becomes the person's conscience from which an
ego ideal, the standard by which one measures oneself, is formed (Kilborne, 2004).
Subsequently, psychoanalytic scholars tried to integrate the topographical and structural
models, but a discussion of this is beyond the scope of this paper - see Sandler and Sandler
(1983) for a detailed exposition. The schematic representation (Figure 1) below captures the
essential elements of the integrated topographical and structural aspects of this
psychoanalytic meta-theory.
Figure 1: Freud’s model of personality structure (from Kenny, 2014)
Many of the ideas that were later to form the bedrock of psychoanalytic theory were present
in these early writings; they were clearly evident in The Psychotherapy of Hysteria (Freud,
1893d) in which the concepts of the Unconscious, resistance, defence, transference and the
notion of the analytic attitude were introduced. Freud’s technique was not derived from
theory. His technique was intuitive and evolutionary; theory followed to explain the observed
clinical phenomena. We will now turn our attention to a brief overview of the essential
elements of his technique, which I will later argue are the enduring aspects of Freud’s
contribution to current psychotherapeutic practice.
Psychoanalytic technique
If one were asked to identify the most profound clinical contribution of Freud’s
psychoanalysis, transference would be a worthy candidate. Freud himself viewed this
discovery as pivotal to the psychoanalytic process. Freud (1905a) defined transference as
new editions or facsimiles of the impulses and phantasies which are aroused and
made conscious during the progress of the analysis…they replace some earlier person
by the person of the physician… psychological experiences are revived, not as
belonging to the past, but as applying to the person of the physician at the present
moment” (p. 116).
In this passage, Freud presages the concept of ‘preverbal trauma’ - a lynchpin in current
psychoanalytic theorizing - which, while not available to episodic memory, has been stored
affectively and is available to the analysis via the transference (Knoblauch, 1997; Slochower,
… the part of the patient’s emotional life which he can no longer recall to memory is
re-experienced by him in his relation to the physician (Freud, 1910, p. 51).
In the transference the analyst-patient relationship comes to resemble the mother-child
relationship (Freud, 1912). Transference phenomena are unconscious and from the outset,
serve both the functions of resistance and revelation. Transference is encouraged in the
analytic situation through the adoption of an accepting and non-judgmental stance.
Free association
Free association was not Freud’s invention. It has a long history in the arts beginning with its
first recorded appearance in a comic play (The Clouds) by the ancient Greek playwright,
Aristophanes, in which the subject was instructed (by the character playing Socrates) to lie on
the couch and say whatever came into his mind (Rogers, 1953). Free association became the
first “fundamental rule” of psychoanalysis (Freud, 1923a). In the second stage of technique
development, Freud abandoned both hypnosis and abreaction, replacing them with a new
focus on free association and the analysis of the resistance. The German freie Einfälle has the
meaning “spontaneous thoughts” by which Freud meant utterances that were not goal-
directed or self-critical (Lothane, 2006). The analysand is instructed to allow a free flow of
associations, emotions, and images to emerge. When a defensive blocking of those
associations occurs within the analysand, this blocking is called repression. When it is
motivated by the analyst-analysand dyad via the transference, it is called resistance. Freud
hoped that the technique of free association would simultaneously expose and undo both
repression and resistance (Boag, 2010). Free association required the patient to say whatever
came into his mind, with no attempt to censure or organize his thoughts, thereby becoming a
passive observer of his own stream of consciousness. Freud instructed his patients to “Act as
though…you were a traveller sitting next to the window of a railway carriage and describing
to someone inside the carriage the changing viewsyou see outside” (Freud, 1913, p. 135).
Freud (1923b) was so impressed with free association that he thought the material arising
from its outcomes warranted a new name psycho-analysis. Freud found that the material
produced from free association “hinted at hidden meaning” and that it was the analyst’s task
to discover these meanings. To do so, the analyst was required to “surrender himself to his
own unconscious mental activity, in a state of evenly suspended attention... and by these
means to catch the drift of the patient’s unconscious with his own unconscious” (p. 239).
The technique of interpretation was developed to explain the influence of primary process,4
which is accessed via free association. It has many functions, including making connections
between seemingly disparate utterances of the patient, confirming, clarifying, confronting
patients with their contradictions, correcting misrepresentations, pointing out omissions or
distortions, giving insight, synthesising, asking occasional, judicious questions and interpreting
dreams. The type and complexity of the interpretation, ranging from “holding” (Slochower,
1996a, 1996b) to “symbolic decoding,” depends on the level of pathology (Aguillaume, 2007,
p. 239), the perceived readiness of the patient to hear the interpretation and the strength of
his or her ego to manage it. Silence is also part of the process of interpretation. It is applied to
increase the frustration of the patient to an optimal level. Too little frustration is too gratifying
and is likely to prevent the patient from reaching repressed, unconscious material; if it is too
much, the analyst is perceived as persecutory (Arlow, 1961).
Freud believed that two conditions must be met before an interpretation is given the
patient’s repressed material must be judged to be close to consciousness and he must be
firmly attached to the analyst via the transference to prevent flight, either from the repressed
4 Primary process is defined as the logic and rules of the Unconscious (Freud, 1926).
material or from the analysis itself. Guntrip (1993) similarly observed that “[p]sychoanalytic
interpretation is not therapeutic per se, but only as it expresses a personal relationship of
genuine understanding(p. 140), thus highlighting the importance of the therapeutic alliance
(transference, attachment to the analyst) as the bedrock of the psychoanalytic process,
without which psychoanalytic technique cannot be effective.
The aim of all psychoanalytic interpretation is to strengthen the ego via self-knowledge
through the demonstration of the activity of the defences that prevent the gaining of insight
(Sandler, Dare, & Holder, 1973). Interpretations may be directed at the resistances
(Castelnuovo-Tedesco, 1986), content (Blomfield, 1982) or transference (Schafer, 1982;
Stewart, 1987). In all forms of interpretation, the task of the analyst is to help the patient
become aware of the repressed aspects of his mind (Freud, 1917). However, this may involve
change and “[c]hange is seen quite routinely as involving loss of control and a danger of losing
one's identity, separateness, and wholeness(Castelnuovo-Tedesco, 1986, p. 262). Thus, the
patient resists this process; s/he tries to avoid becoming conscious of his or her own wishes
and impulses. Transference interpretations are directed to the unconscious, with the aim of
making unconscious sources of pain conscious and thus available for scrutiny. Freud believed
that the emotional aspects of insight and working through could only be developed and
interpreted in the transference, in the immediacy of the here-and-now, which, during the
course of the analysis “becomes a condensed, co-ordinated, and timeless version of past and
present” (Schafer, 1982, p. 77).
The concept of counter-transference, defined as the effect of the patient on the analyst’s
unconscious feelings (Castelnuovo-Tedesco, 1986, p. 262), and considered such a centrally
important part of the analytic relationship today (Armony, 1975; Bernstein, 1993; Opdal,
2007) was infrequently mentioned in the writings of Freud. However, Freud was aware of its
existence; his recommendation that all analysts undergo analysis and self-analysis implies that
the analyst’s self can intrude on the therapy in unhelpful ways (Freud, 1910k).
Resistance and defence
Freud was intrigued by the phenomenon of resistance - it appeared early and frequently in his
writing. He emphasized that although psychoanalytic technique had undergone major
revisions, the
…aim of these different techniques has, of course, remained the same. Descriptively
speaking, it is to fill in gaps in memory; dynamically speaking, it is to overcome
resistances due to repression (Freud, 1914g, p. 148)… [the analyst] employs the art of
interpretation mainly for the purpose of recognizing the resistances which appear
there, and making them conscious to the patient (p. 147).
Patients enter psychoanalysis with both hope and dread (Mitchell, 1993). The psychoanalytic
situation is somewhat seductive in its invitation to say whatever is on one’s mind to a receptive
and non-judgmental other. Most analysands welcome the opportunity to unburden
themselves, as a confessant with his/her priest, and experience the relief of confession (i.e.,
catharsis/abreaction). As the analysis proceeds, the patient’s communications begin to
include material that s/he may not understand or initially did not feel the need to discuss.
Guilty secrets and aggressive and sexual fantasies emerge that arouse fears of retaliation and
punishment, or loss of self-esteem and the esteem of others. The patient thus experiences
ambivalence the pull to continue with self-exploration and the push to retreat into previous
modes of adjustment for which s/he had developed coping strategies. The patient is now in a
dilemma; s/he must choose between the known psychological discomforts of his/her current
life or anxiously plunge into exploration of dangerous possibilities for change. The hesitation,
doubts, and fears that this situation creates is the essence of resistance (Castelnuovo-Tedesco,
1986; Menninger & Holtzman, 1973; Sterba, 1951). Resistance and defence manifest in many
forms including concealment of known facts, forgetting, tardiness, absences, prolonged
silences, intellectualization and rationalization, somatization, acting out, erotization,5
sublimation, projection and displacement (LeCroy, 2000).
Regression (transference neurosis)
Regression is a highly contested concept within psychoanalysis, as Bion’s quip illustrates
Winnicott says patients need to regress; Melanie Klein says they must not regress; I say they
are regressed” (Bion, in Britton, 1998, p. 71). Psychoanalytic treatment involves the induction,
via free association and the uncritical and unobtrusive presence of the analyst, in a setting of
introspection and understanding, of a regression (also called the “transference neurosis”), in
which the analysand becomes “childlike” (i.e., returns to more primitive ways of feeling,
experiencing and behaving, including a preoccupation with the self) and emotionally
5 The patient experiences the analysis as if it were an erotic experience deriving from infantile wishes relating to
his/her parents. The analytic relationship may be sexualized (eroticized) in any of the ways that the developing
child experienced physical pleasure oral, anal, phallic, genital (from Brakel, Shevrin, & Villa, 2002).
dependent on the analyst, so that s/he can grow up again with a more benign parent/analyst,
having recollected, understood and mastered repressed experiences.
Winnicott (1954) reconceptualized the analytic setting as a reparative mother/infant
relationship, in which the therapist provides some of the maternal functions missing in the
original mother/infant dyad and becomes a new object or secure base, in attachment theory
terms. The experience of a maternal presence that is unobtrusive, reliable, and highly attuned
to the patient’s inner experience so that the patient may find a “transformational quasi-
maternal object relation in the analytic experience” (White, 2006, p. 139), allows a re-working
of the original object relation that is “...known not so much [as] an object representation, but
as a recurrent experience of being a more existential as opposed to representational
knowing (Bollas, 1979, p. 14). Because the analyst cannot fulfil the patient’s anachronistic
wishes, the patient becomes increasingly frustrated and angry with the analyst. The anger may
be expressed directly or in the form of resentment, depression or discouragement. Although
Freud believed that frustration, of itself, was not an effective form of treatment, he viewed
frustration as the main source of action in effective psychoanalysis.
All of the patient’s symptoms may be viewed as attempts to simultaneously suppress, repress
or express anger (rage) and helplessness. All of the patient’s unconscious strivings, impulses
and neurotic patterns are expressed in the transference relationship and thus become evident
to both analyst and patient and thereby available for examination and verbal communication.
The constancy of the therapist through all the oscillations in the mood and behaviour of the
patient is reassuring, stabilizes the patient and gradually frees him/her from transference
distortions, which in turn reduces the extreme fluctuations in the patient’s mood. All the while
the unregressed, healthy part of the patient’s ego (the observing self) forms an alliance with
the therapist to assist in overcoming resistance to treatment, to become aware of the
transference distortions and to remain motivated in the task of self-exploration
(introspection) (Bion, in Britton, 1998, p. 71).
Subsequently, Winnicott and Balint understood regression as the process whereby the patient
connects with a deeply buried part of the mind Winnicott’s “true self,” or Balint’s “basic
fault.Winnicott (1955) paid particular attention to making the analytic setting predictable,
reliable and constant - “…the setting represents the mother… and the patient is an infant” (p.
20). The setting may be understood as an extension of the analyst’s mind and as a container
of early emotions (Sterba, 1951). Winnicott (1955) distinguished regression and reassurance,
which he considered should rarely form part of psychoanalytic technique. “The patient comes
into the analytic setting and goes out of it, and within that setting there is no more than
interpretation, correct and penetrating and well-timed (p. 25)”.
Winnicott (1955) and most who came after him, argued that in the transference, the past
comes into the present of the analytic relationship; in regression, the present becomes the
past. For other writers, regression signals the need for a change in psychoanalytic technique,
such as a withdrawal from active intervention and interpretation “in order to give the patient’s
self-experience sufficient time and space to unfold” (Spurling, 2008, p. 527). Similar
descriptions of this process appear in, for example, Ferenczi’s “principle of relaxation,”
Winnicott’s “regression to dependence,” Balint’s notion of life becoming “simpler and truer
(Balint, 1968, p. 135; Carpelan, 1981; Gilmore, 2005); Slochower’s (1996a, 1996b) “holding”
in which the “otherness” of the analyst is minimized in order to prevent impingement on the
patient’s unfolding process; or Bollas’s (1996b) use of the analyst as a “transformational
object” (p. 247) rather than a transference object that facilitates the patient’s struggle to know
his true self. The purpose of this process of regression is to provide the basis for the
emergence of hope and a new beginning (Winnicott, 1955).
We will complete this brief overview of Freudian analytic technique with a few words about
termination. Termination has always been a vexed issue (Ekstein, 1965; Klein, 1950), even
today (Awad, 2006; Ferro, 2008) and although many areas of psychoanalytic theory, technique
and practice are contested, issues related to termination remain among the most problematic.
Freud’s scepticism about the efficacy of psychoanalysis as a therapeutic or prophylactic agent
grew over the course of his life. Towards the end of his life, Freud (1937) wondered whether
there was ever “a natural end to an analysis…” (p. 219); he thought not, speculating that the
strength of the instincts and the defences that arose in the struggle to contain them may make
the analysis ineffective or the duration interminable(p. 220). He described psychoanalysis
as the third impossible profession after education and government in which one can be sure
beforehand of achieving unsatisfying results” (p. 248). Nonetheless, Freud (1937) imagined
that a satisfactory outcome of psychoanalysis would fulfil two requirements:
first, that the patient shall no longer be suffering from his symptoms and shall have
overcome his anxieties and his inhibitions; and secondly, that the analyst shall judge
that so much repressed material has been made conscious, so much that was
unintelligible has been explained, and so much internal resistance conquered, that
there is no need to fear a repetition of the pathological processes concerned (p. 219).
These goals are much less ambitious than the early hope of attaining a “…perfect Freudian
man6, the post-ambivalent genital character” (Ekstein, 1965, p. 58-59). In Analysis Terminable
and Interminable, Freud (1937) concluded:
Our aim will not be to rub off every peculiarity of human character for the sake of a
schematic ‘normality’, nor yet to demand that the person who has been ‘thoroughly
analysed’ shall feel no passions and develop no internal conflicts. The business of the
analysis is to secure the best possible psychological conditions for the functions of the
ego (p. 250).
Beyond Freud’s Psychoanalysis
Schisms arose early in the theory and practice of psychoanalysis and there was little love lost
between Freud and his fallen acolytes. There were four main reasons for the schisms:
(i) Interpersonal processes and the role of nurture (i.e., the environment) came to
the fore in contrast to the purportedly intrapsychic focus of the original theory;
(ii) There was disagreement about the primacy that Freud afforded to sexuality and
a shift in emphasis from sexual to social (i.e., interpersonal) causes of
(iii) There were disagreements about technique and the locus of therapeutic action;
(iv) There was a change in focus from pathological development to normal
developmental processes.
Several new theories and therapeutic approaches emerged in rapid succession, which I briefly
review here.
Object relations psychoanalysis
For Melanie Klein, the first proponent of object relations theory, the internal world of the
infant comprises “primitive imagos” defined as the visceral, kinaesthetic, and emotional
6 The perfect Freudian man has the following characteristics: heterosexual potency, and capacity for love, healthy
object relationships, and the capacity for productive work (Opdal, 2007).
experiencing of internal, phantasiedparental figures, in part, whole, or in combination (the
parental couple) that constitute the earliest objects, and which appear from birth. These
phantasies are the psychic representation of the instincts - “the affective interpretations of
bodily sensations” (Isaacs, 1948, p. 88) that are necessarily preverbal and pre-visual, and that
are experienced as either pleasurable (good e.g., satiation at the breast) or unpleasurable (bad
e.g., hunger) (Klein, 1927, 1948, 1975). Phantasies are the stuff from which the ego defences
of introjection and projection arise. For Klein, the child’s inner world is built upon the
introjection of a good and a bad (persecuting and attacking) breast and not on chronologically
continuous memories or images of reality. The quality of these first objects is a product both
of the infant’s perception of its mother and of its projection of its own feelings into the
mother. Thus, these internal objects do not necessarily represent “real” external objects
because they have been transformed by the process of introjection (Riviere, 1952). Through
the process of symbolization, the internal world of phantasy becomes linked to the external
world and eventually to reality testing (King & Steiner, 1991; Klein, 1950).
The infant moves from “symbolic equation” in which the object is omnipotently controlled to
a position in which the object is relinquished, mourned and then symbolized. The new
introjected internal objects become available to the ego and assist, through processes of
identification and assimilation in the child’s negotiation with external reality. Klein introduced
two stages of psychic development i.e., the paranoid-schizoid and depressive positions, and
two defences splitting and projective identification that arise in response to psychic threats,
which constitute “…a configuration of object relations, anxieties and defences that persist
throughout life (Segal, 1973, p. ix) that have had a significant influence on subsequent
psychoanalytic theorizing. Although all four of these concepts took very deep root in
subsequent psychoanalytic theorizing, the proposed developmental stages were later
disconfirmed by infant research (Beebe & Jaffe, 2008; Beebe & Lachmann, 1988).
Klein’s object relations theory, to be applauded for attempting to understand and articulate
the contents of the mind of the preverbal infant, is essentially solipsistic. All the action occurs
in the mind; the paranoid-schizoid position constitutes a world beset by projections and
introjections in which there is no genuine contact with an external other, who is reduced to a
container for projections; in the depressive position, the infant lives in a world of “phantasy”
until the process of integration of the “good” and “bad” breasts begins and the healthy infant
introjects the ‘whole’, ‘real’ mother. The notion of the encapsulated, solipsistic mind of the
Kleinian infant cannot be sustained because the origin of the original contents of the mind
cannot be explained. Further, Klein’s ontological assumptions that emotions and thoughts
constitute entities that can be expelled or introjected i.e., located in space misrepresents the
embeddedness of the infant already being-in-the-world (Heidegger, 1926/1962) of
interpersonal relationships. Enter the phenomenological psychologies…
Ego psychology
Hartmann’s work was foundational for a generation of developmental ego psychologists like
René Spitz (1945, 1950a, 1950b, 1951) whose study of children who failed to thrive in
foundling homes during and after the Second World War left no-one in doubt about the crucial
role that the caregiving environment plays in both physical and emotional development. Spitz
was responsible for critical new conceptualizations of the role of the mother in development,
the reciprocal influence of the mother-infant dyad, and stranger anxiety, all concepts derived
from observations, interviews and longitudinal follow up of mother-infant dyads. Other
influential developmental ego psychologists were Margaret Mahler and Edith Jacobson.
Jacobson (1964), in her book, The Self and the Object World, reworked Freud’s concepts of
inwardly directed sexual and aggressive drives to include the importance of environmental
influences, in particular early relationships, and the importance of interactions between
biology and experience in shaping development.
One of the most influential thinkers to emerge from ego psychology was Heinz Kohut (1913-
1981). His work departs in significant ways from his predecessors in that he conceptualized
human experience, not in terms of forbidden wishes, conflict and guilt, but in terms of self-
experience, of isolation and alienation from oneself and others, that gave rise to a sense of
meaninglessness and an absence of inner vitality or sense of joie de vivre. Kohut (1971, 1977,
1984) gave primacy to the empathic mode of observation, in which the analyst is an active
participant who enters into the subjective world of the patient’s experience. Kohut’s self-
psychology model is founded on three basic needs, or selfobject experiences7, for the
development of a healthy sense of self. These are the need to:
(i) be viewed with joy and approval, to have another who supports the child’s
sense of vigour, greatness and perfection;
(ii) have a powerful other from whom the child may derive a sense of calm and
infallibility; and
(iii) have selfobjects who are like the child, with whom the child can identify and
find a place in which s/he feels at home, like the others there.
Each of these developmental selfobject needs are reproduced in psychoanalysis in three
transference relationships, termed the mirroring transference, the idealizing transference and
the alter ego or twinship transference, respectively. There is empirical support for the
existence and independence of the three types of selfobject needs proposed by Kohut as well
as their association with attachment quality and affect regulation (Bacal, 1994).
Perhaps the greatest shift from classical psychoanalysis in self-psychology is the centrality
assigned to the curative power of attunement and empathy, rather than insight or
interpretation. Kohut (1984) believed that optimal empathic failures - those failures of
empathy in the analyst that can be successfully managed by the patient - contribute to the
development and consolidation of self-capacity, which entails the ability to tolerate the re-
integration of previously rejected or split-off parts of the self. This process constitutes
structural change in psychoanalysis, which is argued to have strong parallels in the
development of psychic structure in the infant.
Attachment-informed psychotherapies
John Bowlby’s (1969, 1973, 1980, 1988) attachment theory represents both a progression and
a major break from contemporaneous psychoanalytic theory. Even though Winnicott (1960)
believed that “Freud... neglected infancy as a state” (p. 587), psychoanalytic theory has always
had a developmental perspective, founded on the principle that early experience, particularly
within the mother-infant dyad, underlies the development of psychopathology, which is
7 Selfobjects are defined as the experience of essential psychological functions that sustain the self, and which
are experienced as part of the self although the functions are provided by another (Kohut, 1971, 1984); that is,
selfobject needs are satisfied (or not) by external figures in one’s life.
understood to be a manifestation, under conditions of stress, of problematic experiences with
primary caregivers during infancy and early childhood.
There are…good reasons why a child sucking at his mother’s breast has become the
prototype of every relation of love. The finding of an object is in fact a re-finding of it
(Freud, 1905b, p. 222).
In his final theorizing, Freud (1940) afforded a central importance of the mother to the child’s
development, stating that the child’s relationship with its mother was “…unique, without
parallel, established unalterably for a whole lifetime as the first and strongest love-object and
as the prototype of all later love-relations - for both sexes” (p. 65). Freud’s view of the
importance of the mother in development and by extension the importance of the therapist
(as mother-like) in psychoanalysis still resonates strongly within current psychoanalytic
theorizing and practice, particularly in attachment-informed psychotherapy.
Attachment theory rejected the libidinal, stage-based and fixation-regression models of
psychopathology that proposed that behaviour was motivated by intrapsychic conflict and
phantasies and that pathology represented a retreat to an earlier stage of development
(Cortina & Marrone, 2003; Holmes, 2010; Slochower, 1996a, 1996b). It also challenged the
psychoanalytic view of the mother as an object of drive gratification [“… love has its origin in
attachment to the satisfied need for nourishment…” Freud (1940, p. 65)], which Bowlby (1969)
famously described as the “cupboard-love theory of object relations” (p. 178). Psychoanalytic
theory viewed infants as unresponsive to external stimuli at birth and imagined an
undifferentiated or narcissistic infant (“...the auto-erotic instincts...are there from the very
first” (Freud, 1914, p. 77)).
While this view remained foundational in the theories of Melanie Klein (1948, 1975), Margaret
Mahler (1967), Thomas Ogden (1989a, 1989b; 1990, 2002), and Frances Tustin (1969, 1986,
1990), such views have not been verified by infant observation and infant research and do not
form part of the understanding of the nature of the relationship between mother and infant
in attachment theory (de Litvan, 2007). The advent of precise methodologies for assessing the
cognitive and perceptual skills of infants (Alfasi, 1984; Bell, Greene, & Wolfe, 2010; Bowlby,
1980, 1988) as well as their capacity for relationship have painted a picture of a much more
capable, relational infant than the classically drawn psychoanalytic infant (Bretherton, 1994;
Kenny, 2013), one who is neurologically equipped to co-construct and make sense of his or
her experiences and relationships and to engage in meaningful social interaction with his or
her caregivers from birth (Beebe, 2000; Beebe, 2006; Beebe & Jaffe, 2008; Beebe et al., 2010;
Feldman, Greenbaum, & Yirmiya, 1999).
Interpersonal, intersubjective and relational psychologies
The concept “relational(for a detailed discussion, see Kenny, 2014) separated post-Freudian
psychoanalytic thinking from classical drive theory and integrated two major theoretical
traditions - the British object relations theories and American interpersonal psychoanalysis.
The latter focused on current interactions between analyst and analysand, rather than
intrapsychic structure, and the analyst's empathic-introspective stance while object relations
theory emphasized the internal world of objects (which resulted in the neglect of actual
relationships beyond the earliest primary relationships between mother/caregiver and
Another key interest in post-Freudian theorizing was the role of the environment in shaping
personality. Hartmann (1939) argued that humans were designed to survive physically and
psychologically in their environments and that infants are born ready, with “conflict-free ego
capacities” to interact with an “average expectable” environment. Harry Stack Sullivan (1953)
also emphasized that personality unfolds in an interpersonal context, in the recurrent
interactions between self and others, that human behaviour could only be understood within
an “organism-environment complex” and that the innate physiological and emotional needs
of the infant could only be satisfied in an interpersonal context, in the first instance, by the
mother. Thus, in therapy, Sullivan sought explanations for psychopathology in a detailed
analysis of the interactions between the patient and his significant others, rather than in
Freud’s intrapsychic conflict or Klein’s projective identifications.
One of Sullivan’s most significant contributions was his understanding of the devastating
effect that an attack via ridicule, mockery, misattunement or other invalidating response on
the “tender emotions,” that is, feelings of love and gratitude or the expression of highly valued
thoughts or memories, has on a child’s development. Repeated failure of validating
experiences of these tender emotions from caregivers results in a chronic sense of personal
devaluation, dysphoria, emptiness, and worthlessness. Future exposure or expression of these
feelings risks the experience of shame, which is felt with devastation. For a detailed discussion,
see Cortina and Marrone (2003).
The increasing importance assigned to the mutual influence of the analyst-analysand dyad as
the locus of therapeutic action became known as the intersubjective field (Stolorow,
Brandchaft, & Atwood, 1987). The importance of interactive mutual influence patterns in
psychological development has been recognized by a number of key researchers, and it
appears in many forms; for example, in Vygotsky’s concept of the “inter-mental” (Atwood &
Stolorow, 1984), in Fairbairn’s “innate interpersonal relatedness” (Vygotsky, Hanfmann, &
Vakar, 1962), Sullivan’s (1953) “interpersonal field”, and in the accounts of both self-
psychologists (Fairbairn, 1946) and relational (Mitchell, 1993) and intersubjective/existential
psychoanalysts (Stolorow, 2005), which in Freudian terms represents the transference-
countertransference constellation. Both the new wave of psychoanalysts and existential
phenomenologists (e.g., Heidegger, Sartre and Merleau-Ponty) argue that we are embedded
(and only exist) within our social/relational context. There is no being; only a “being-in-the-
world” (Kohut, 1971, 1977, 1984); there is no baby, only a “mother/baby couple” (Winnicott,
1960). I have argued elsewhere that this is a somewhat extreme view that is not supported by
research in infant development and the mother-infant dyad that shows the interactive mutual
influence between mothers and their infants as separate agentic beings-in-relationship
(Kenny, 2013).
Fragmentation of psychoanalytic theory
In addition to the major developments offered in the theories discussed in the previous
section, the post-Freudian psychoanalytic landscape became strewn with new theories.
Rangell (2006) deplored this proliferation and the consequent fragmentation of theorizing in
the field. He argued that many post Freudian theories suffered from either one of two
fallacies, the first of which was pars pro toto (substituting a part of the theory and treating it
as a whole). He includes in this group Carl Jung (focus on mysticism and spirituality), Alfred
Adler (focus on aggression and power), and Otto Rank (focus on infancy and the birth process).
Freud described his erstwhile protégés’ (Jung and Adler) contributions to psychoanalysis as
“twisted re-interpretations” of his own theories (Freud, 1918, p. 7). On Jung’s position with
regard to archetypes, Freud had this to say:
I fully agree with Jung in recognizing the existence of this phylogenetic heritage; but I
regard it as a methodological error to seize on a phylogenetic explanation before the
ontogenetic possibilities have been exhausted. I cannot see any reason for obstinately
disputing the importance of infantile prehistory while at the same time freely
acknowledging the importance of ancestral prehistory (Freud, 1917, p. 7).
The second fallacy involves setting up false dichotomies and polarizing camps along those
lines. Rangell cites the very public dispute between Otto Fenichel and Franz Alexander with
respect to the proper analytic attitude. Fenichel advocated adherence to the neutral analytic
stance requiring the analyst to give insights via interpretations while Alexander asserted that
the curative factor in therapy was the corrective emotional experience, in which the analyst
provided what had been missing in the analysand’s early life. A careful reading of Freud’s case
studies shows that such a division is a false dichotomy; the analytic attitude was intended
from the outset to be both insight-producing and emotionally corrective.
The field abounds with “straw man” fallacies. Stolorow (1992, 2006) argued that attempts to
dichotomize human experience as subjective (internal) or objective (external), or intrapsychic
or interpersonal are misguided and constrain genuine understanding of experience. For
example, the initial danger situation that signals anxiety helplessness in the face of
overwhelming affect is an internal experience. When the infant learns that an external
object, such as a parent or other caregiver can alleviate his distress, the danger situation
becomes one of fear of the loss of the love object or fear of the loss of love from the love
object, which are interpersonal experiences. When the love object is internalized, that is, a
mental representation of the caregiver is constructed ‘in mind’ as primarily nurturing or
punishing, available or unavailable, predictable or unpredictable, the experience once again
becomes internal. Mitchell (1993), a relational psychoanalyst, likewise agrees that all personal
motives have a long relational history.
The very capacity to have experiences necessarily develops in and requires an
interpersonal matrix…there is no experience that is not interpersonally mediated. The
meanings generated by the self are all interactive products (p.125)…If the self is always
embedded in relational contexts, either actual or internal, then all important motives
have appeared and taken on life and form in the presence and through the reactions
of significant others (p. 134).
Dissolution of psychoanalytic theory: the descent into folly
Arguably worse than straw man fallacies in psychoanalytic theorizing is the wild and
uncontained proliferation of theories based primarily on the use of metaphor and
imagination. I refer here to the work of Frances Tustin (1969, 1986, 1990), Jeanne Magagna
(2016), Judith Mitrani (2008, 2011), Thomas Ogden (1989a, 1989b; 1990, 2002, 2007), Anne
Alvarez (1992), Dana Amir (2013), and Michael Eigen (2014) to name a few. I preface my
comments with a statement about the judicial use of metaphor in psychotherapy, eloquently
elaborated by Jeremy Holmes (2010).
…[there are] formal similarities between poetry and psychoanalysis…both regularly
arouse suspicion and incomprehension, yet people often turn to them in states of
heightened emotion… since the appropriate image or metaphor can mirror or evoke
feelings in the listener in a way that facilitates empathic attunement…metaphors are
an indispensable means by which we reach into another’s inner world (p. 87).
Notwithstanding, metaphor is not science. Although there are different modes of observation
empirical, introspective, philosophical - the continued reliance on metaphorical concepts in
psychoanalytic theory and practice that are not grounded in rigorous observation, specifically
empirical research, are problematized because the discipline now has a firm basis upon which
to theorize infant development, inner states of mind, and psychic functioning. Perusal of
recent psychoanalytic writing reveals an a(nti)-scientific stance. Indeed, the offerings of some
contemporary psychoanalysts are fanciful, at times confused, self-contradictory, and frankly,
incomprehensible. I present below some examples of this problematic trend.
Frances Tustin, who ignored 40 years of co-extensive scientific research into infant
development and the autism spectrum disorders, spawned a generation of adherents of her
theories on infant development and childhood autism andautistic states” which, she
claimed, occurred in all of us. Tustin (1991) defined autistic states as “endogenous auto-
sensuality…sensation-dominated reactions…that swathe children in a sensual protective
shell” (p. 588) which Esther Bick called “a second skin” (Bick, 1968). Autistic states, according
to Tustin, are a form of “auto-generated protection” comprising “autistic sensation objects
which make the child feel strong and safe, and autistic sensation shapes (i.e., endogenous
swirls of sensation) which are calming and tranquillizing” (p. 588).
Tustins many acolytes embraced these concepts and her unverifiable conception of infants
uncritically. For example, Thomson-Salo (2014) advises that “…observers need to develop a
sensitivity for possible unconscious processes… and subtle projections…” in infants (p. 11).
Magagna (2016) alerts us to “…the baby’s fears of dissolution…” (p. 30) and asserts a baby’s
rashes are the “…the container…for baby’s intolerable anxieties…” (p. 33). When baby moves
and cries loudly, “…he is attempting to hold himself together… to prevent terror of a dead
end… of spilling out… Mother’s touch derives its power from its significance as an adhesion…”
(p. 36). In like manner, Dubinsky (2010) interpreted the rhythmic finger movements of a six-
week-old infant as “…an urge to identify with the flow of milk by projective identification…
(p. 6). Autistic behaviours purportedly protect the child from “sensing the unthinkable dread”
and the “unbearable awareness of bodily separateness” (Mitrani & Mitrani, 2015, p. xxx).
Each of these statements assume a level of cognitive development in the infant that could not
have occurred indeed, many adults never reach the required level of abstract thought
needed to grasp these assertions about the meaning of one’s behaviour. For example, to have
a fear of dissolution implies that infants have implicit or acquired ontological concepts of
existence and non-existence; to prevent the terror of arriving at a dead end, infants would
need concepts of space and the ability to locate themselves in space and time, as well as the
capacity to think metaphorically (a “dead end” is both a physical possibility and a complex
metaphor). What does it mean to “identify with the flow of milk by projective identification?”
Identify in what way and with what precisely? Such comments rely too heavily on speculative
claims and indeed, are so ungrounded as to lack meaning. Why is awareness of bodily
separateness unbearable? The development of body awareness begins at birth, is part of
normal development, and is an exciting process for infants (Sokol, Müller, Carpendale, Young,
& Iarocci, 2010). Mother’s touch does not derive its significance “as an adhesion” but as a
means of bonding with and soothing her infant. Mother’s touch assists with stress modulation
and reduction of emotional reactivity. Attuned touching is an important precursor to the
development of self-regulation (Jahromi, Putnam, & Stifter, 2004). Depressed mothers show
heightened interactive discordance with their infants with respect to gaze and touch, which
represent early forms of intrapersonal and dyadic discordance that may have lifelong adverse
effects (Beebe et al., 2012). These are much more helpful and meaningful ways of talking
about the significance of mother’s touch to her infant than resorting to nebulous concepts
such as “adhesion” and “adhesive identification” which have no psychobiological referent.
Many catastrophic interpretations of infant behaviour (e.g., primitive dread, terror, fear of
falling, disintegrating, dissolving, spilling out, leaking etc.) have been co-constructed
retrospectively in clinical, psychoanalytic settings with adult patients, many of whom are
struggling with early relational trauma. The narratives that emerge from this process may be
helpful to the adult patient, but they have little to offer a nuanced understanding of normal
infant development. The translational process - moving from narratives derived from adult
psychoanalysis to theorizing normally developing infants - has given rise to conceptual
fallacies regarding infant development, including the “adultomorphization” of infants (i.e., the
process of ascribing capacities to infants that developmental neuroscience has demonstrated
do not exist at the age/stage of development asserted by Tustian theories); and the
pathologization of early states of normal infant development (Seligman, 2009; Seso-Simic,
Sedmak, Hof, & Simic, 2010; Stern, 1994).
Why do apparently intelligent, highly educated clinicians adopt and endorse empirically
unsubstantiated theories? I have long suspected a type of “groupthink (Janis, 1972) among
psychoanalysts that supports and amplifies illogical thinking. One recent example illustrates
the point: Jeanne Magagna (2016) describes her experience in an infant observation group
seminar supervised by Esther Bick.
We are afraid to speak our thoughts, afraid to disagree with the thoughts of Mrs Bick.
It is not only respect for Mrs Bick’s understanding that causes this passivity. It is also
that we have settled for peaceful conformity with her thoughts for we are afraid that
if we are different, if we have separate identities, we might end up being the unwanted
baby. (p. 35)
In a highly critical paper on the current state of psychoanalysis in the UK and USA (and indeed
Australia), Kirsner (2004) references Kernberg’s (1986) various characterizations of
psychoanalytic institutes as monasteries, trade schools, art academies and universities.
Kirsner identifies a religious, cult-like fervour in psychoanalytic circles and describes what he
…an odd religious element that suffuses psychoanalysis, even at scientific meetings,
which so often has a sense of a religious observance as ritualistic…There is often an
element of prayer, even incantation, at presentations… (p. 341).
It is not surprising, then, that in these circles, there remains an uncritical acceptance of the
notion that even normally developing infants pass through autistic, symbiotic, autistic-
contiguous, undifferentiated, fused, or merged states before developing a differentiated
sense of self and other (Kenny, 2013). Symington (2008) similarly asserts that infants are born
in an unintegrated state as “…a messy array of bits” (p. xix). Ogden (1989) has built the edifice
of his psychoanalytic theory on the assumption that there must be an autistic-contiguous
stage of development, which he describes thus: “[A]nxiety in [the autistic-contiguous phase]
consists of an unspeakable terror of the dissolution of boundedness resulting in feelings of
leaking, falling or dissolving into endless, shapeless space” (p. 127). There is no evidence to
support this claim and indeed, there is evidence to the contrary (Beebe, Jaffe, & Lachmann,
2005; Beebe et al., 2010; Beebe, Knoblauch, et al., 2005; Beebe & Lachmann, 1988; Beebe &
Lachmann, 1994) that the autistic-contiguous phase precedes the equally empirically
unsupported paranoid-schizoid and depressive positions of Melanie Klein.
The concept of “adhesive identification” has been enthusiastically adopted by those analysts
who find themselves working with primitive mental statesin patients who have failed to
grow a “psychic skin” (Tustin, 1990), a state in which the afflicted individual has no concept of
“…an internal space, no sense of separate identity… Out of catastrophic anxieties of
unintegration, the patient adheres to the analyst, through adhesive identification, for
example, by taking over some of the analyst's external characteristics…”(Bergstein, 2009, p.
616). Symington (2002) described this phenomenon asglue-like attachment” between
analyst and patient that “goes to make up the inner pattern of madness” (p. 121). I wonder
whether this “inner pattern” has external representations or manifestations? Symington does
not enlighten us.
What are these authors talking about? Are they talking about the same phenomena? How can
we know? Dare we speak our thoughts about these analysts’ experiences and their
interpretations of these experiences? Or do we remain passive and unquestioning while the
theorizing becomes more and more incomprehensible and indeed, bizarre? There is now an
abundant literature on the psychological effects of early trauma and the types of relationship
impairments that accrue to early relational traumata. When we speak of insecure attachment
(Pauli-Pott & Mertesacker, 2009), in particular, avoidant (Fraley & Marks, 2011) and
disorganized attachment (Diamond, 2004), there is a shared understanding based on rigorous
observational studies and other empirical research about the relational phenomena of
interest. This in turn informs the therapeutic approach, including the nature of the attachment
(i.e., transference) that the patient forms with the analyst (Muller, 2009; Schafer, 1982;
Stewart, 1987) as part of the therapeutic dialogue.
Amir (2013), in a paper titled, The psychic organ point of autistic syntax, describes his aims in
similarly surreal terms. Again, metaphor takes precedence over logic, coherence, meaning
and empirical evidence.
This paper deals with autistic syntax and its expressions both in the fully fledged
autistic structure and in the autistic zones of other personality structures. The musical
notion of the organ point serves as a point of departure in an attempt to describe how
autistic syntax transforms what was meant to constitute the substrate for linguistic
polyphony into a one-dimensional, repetitive score, devoid of emotional volume.
Autistic syntax denies the recognition of the human characteristics of both self and
other, turning the other into an autistic object, which blocks, with his or her concrete
presence, the hole created by his or her own absence as a psychological subject (p. 3).
What are autistic syntax and autistic structure? How can syntax be a transitive verb? What is
the psychic substrate of linguistic polyphony? What is the metaphor of the “organ point”
meant to communicate in psychoanalytic terms?
Michael Eigen’s work similarly enters the realm of the surreal. In his book, Faith (Eigen, 2014),
chapter seven is titled “Variants of mystical participation.” In the opening paragraph, Eigen
tells us that he does not know what he means by this phrase, perhaps it “loosely refer[s] to
something sensed…[that] may occur in varied affective keys: dread, awe, love, heaven, hell,
joy, ecstasy, horror, hope, hate” (p. 77). Mystical participation, he says, may be destructive or
creative. By way of example, he reported that an episode of intense pain made him feel
invaginated (i.e., turned inside out; “vaginal”) - the aftermath of which was a “sense of
Faith.” He also tells us that he was once mesmerised by a hyena with whom he held eye
contact for hours; at another time he was “meshed” i.e., “interpenetrated” (p. 79) with a
young woman who had a “crush” on him; at yet on another occasion, he described an
“umbilical sensation” with a disturbed young patient after which he felt “free-floating
radiance” (p. 82) and his patient reported “a radiant inner I-light” (p. 81), thereafter
experiencing a miraculous cure from alcoholism and despair. Would that he could teach the
secrets of mystical participation to us all so that we too can experience such ecstatic subjective
states and such outstanding successes with our patients!
Are paradigm plurality and theoretical synthesis possible?
Although arguably inevitable in the era of postmodernism and paradigm plurality, failure to
achieve consensus with respect to basic concepts compromises not only the scientific status
of a discipline, but also, in the case of psychoanalysis, its therapeutic practices. Rangell (2006)
summed up the concerns of many in the field of psychoanalysis today: “Do we have many
theories, hundreds of psychoanalyses or even in the opinion of some, guided by the
democratic ideal, a theory for every analyst or even for every patient?” (p. 218). There have
been many attempts to integrate and clarify psychoanalytic concepts into a coherent theory
(Kenny, 2014). Otto Kernberg (Kernberg, 1969, 1974, 1976, 1995, 2001; Kernberg, Yeomans,
Clarkin, & Levy, 2008) proposed a synthesis of instinct theory and the structural model with
object relations models and ego psychology. Westen (2002) also attempted a synthesis of
basic psychoanalytic concepts and the language used to described them. He wanted to clarify
“…the implicit rules that guide psychoanalytic thought and discourse… avoiding [issues] that
lead to theoretical imprecision and confusion of theory and metaphor” (p. 857). Frosh (2002)
has likewise offered a set of generic definitions of the key concepts in psychoanalysis in an
attempt to bring clarity to an increasingly diverse and complex theory. One of the most helpful
attempts at synthesis was offered by Pine (1988), who argued that psychoanalysis has
produced four “psychologies” - the psychology of drive, ego, object relations and the self.
(i) The psychology of drive is concerned with instinctual urges, wishes, fantasies,
defence and conflict.
(ii) The psychology of ego is concerned with adaptation, reality testing, and “ego
defects” (Hartmann, 1939), defined as developmental failures in adaptation that
have resulted in diminished capacities for affect regulation, impulse control, or the
attainment of object constancy.
(iii) The psychology of object relations (Fairbairn, 1944, 1946) is concerned with the
internal images and dramas of the early object relations that are embodied in
conscious and unconscious memories, which are repeated or acted out in current
relationships and within the transference. Fairbairn proposed that children who
had not experienced good enough mothering in early life increasingly retreated
into an inner world of fantasy objects, which were used as substitutes for absent
real objects, in order to satisfy the need for nurturing relationships.
(iv) The psychology of the self is focused on the ongoing subjective experience of the
self (Kohut, 1977) and issues related to boundaries, feelings of fragmentation,
continuity and self-esteem, and capacity to manage frightening self-states.
All four psychologies of psychoanalysis bring about change through interpretation (i.e.,
meaning-making) that resonates with the patient as “real” or “true”, occurs within the
immediacy of a mutually meaningful analytic relationship including transference and
countertransference and the experience-near contact between patients and a
phenomenologically present therapist, and which manages areas of ego defect or deficiency
by holding, reconstruction, affective discharge, and explanation/interpretation that allows the
patient to understand, verbalize (i.e., “mentalize) and gain some mastery over the areas of
deficit. The question remains: is there an integrative glue that binds these four psychologies?
One could argue, with Emde (1990), that the common denominator is the empathic availability
of the therapist. Even in drive theory, the therapist is non-judgmentally and calmly available
to hear the shameful confessions of their patients with respect to their taboo sexual and
aggressive impulses. Reliable availability, that engenders the therapeutic alliance and positive
transference, is a pre-requisite for the experience of empathy. Empathy is creative,
generative, affirmative and transactional. It is properly exercised from a “prepared mind,
involves “vicarious introspection” and depends on “cognition, perspective-taking and a
knowledge about the [patient] and the situation(Emde, 1990, p. 887). Empathy shares the
analytic space with interpretations, whose function is to guide the patient to his or her next
step; good interpretations arise out of therapeutic availability and are expressed creatively
through metaphor, paradox and even irony (Segal, 1980).
Since Alexander and French (1946) (“corrective emotional experience”) and Kohut (1971,
1977) (“corrective empathic experience”) made therapist empathy the linchpin of successful
therapy, and infant research has confirmed the importance of maternal attunement for
healthy development, empathic attunement has become a key concept in many
psychoanalytically orientated therapies. Analytic empathy and emotional availability are now
understood to have a developmentally enabling role in adult psychoanalysis (Beebe &
Lachmann, 2002). More recently, analysts talk of the “corrective relational experience” in
interpersonal psychoanalysis (Fiscalini, 1994; Piers, 1998; Rotenberg, 2006), in which the “...
actuality or "reality" of the analyst's personality plays a crucial role in the patient's clinical
expression of his or her transference, and the patterning of its subsequent analytic life, thus
forming an integral part of analytic data and process” (Fiscalini, 1994, p. 125).
Psychoanalysis need not be defined by a particular metapsychology, personality theory,
developmental model or clinical theory. Stolorow, Brandchaft, & Atwood (1987) defined the
aim of psychoanalysis as “the unfolding, illumination, and transformation of the patient's
subjective world (p. 10).” Stolorow (1992) requires the concepts of psychoanalytic theory to
meet two criteria in order to be relevant to therapeutic work: firstly, they must be
“experience-near…that is, [they] pertain to the organization of personal experience” (p. 160);
secondly, they must [occur] within a relationship, that is, they must be relational (Mitchell,
1988). Although the language of “experience-nearness” is relatively recent, the concept and
its therapeutic focus have certainly been present in psychoanalytic thinking from its early days.
See, for example, Freud’s references to the importance of direct affective knowing:
To have heard something and to have experienced something are in their
psychological nature two quite different things, even though the content of
both is the same (Freud, 1915c, p. 176).
Instead of searching for seemingly illusory connections between the theories and practices of
psychoanalysis, Fonagy (2003) advocates a radical decoupling of analytic theory from analytic
technique in order to allow clinical practice to develop empirically and theory to evolve out of
newer patterns of clinical practice. “The evidence that exists is for a theory of mind that
contains unconscious dynamic elements. Evidence is, however, lacking for the translation
rules for moving from psychological theory to clinical practice” (p. 24). Concerns about
privileging theory over practice have echoed through the decades from Freud to Fonagy for
example, from Guntrip (1975) : “Theory…is a useful servant but a bad master…Therapeutic
practice is the real heart of the matter” (p. 145) and Wallerstein (2006) who sees the task as
“…reconcil[ing] the search for meanings and reasons through the individual exploration of a
unique human life with the effort also to fit the findings derived from that search into the
explanatory constructs of a general theory of the mind...(p. 307). Recently, Appelbaum
(2011) offered the following radical reformulation of psychoanalysis as “a clinically based
interpretive discipline” (p. 1) in which the core of psychoanalytic practice is unashamedly
humanistic and where practice is “guided by the individuality of the dyadic encounter” (p. 1).
Psychoanalytic clinical practice was founded on trial-and-error; basic techniques like free
association were derived empirically rather than deduced from pre-existing theory.
Consequently, Kleinian analysts have learnt to be more circumspect in interpreting envy and
destructiveness; Winnicottian analysts are more cautious about encouraging regression; and
modern analysts are more focused on understanding mental states than forbidden drives and
impulses. In this sense, current technique appears to remain more recognizably Freudian than
the kaleidoscope of contemporary theories (Fonagy, 2003).
In this paper, I have traced the evolution of Freud’s psychoanalytic theory and technique in
the psychoanalytic scholarship of the past 115 years. Many of the early theories and
techniques of psychoanalytic psychotherapy were identified, with modifications, in the early
offshoots of “classical” psychoanalysis; in particular, object relations theory and attachment-
informed psychotherapy, and in later developments in self-psychology, phenomenological/
existential/interpersonal, intersubjective, and relational psychotherapies. I have also
identified problematic trends in contemporary theory and practice that eschew science or any
form of empirical observation in favour of personalized accounts of the therapeutic process
that privilege the use of intuition, metaphor, idiosyncratic language, and the invention of
psychic processes and theories that do not appear to have any basis in the psychobiology of
human functioning.
It is my view that it is time the psychoanalytic community took stock of the current state of its
practice to reverse this detrimental descent into theoretical and therapeutic disarray.
Undisciplined theorizing and the creation of unsubstantiated concepts and neologisms have
not advanced the cause; indeed, they obfuscate the value of psychoanalysis while confirming
the views of the general public that it is an obscure and anachronistic art with no foundation
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... Myśląc o wnętrzu istoty ludzkiej, możemy przywołać obraz domostwa, pełnego różnorakich zakamarków, skrywających przed światłem naszej świadomości treści znaczeniowe, których istnienia nigdy byśmy nie podejrzewali. Odkrycia Zygmunta Freuda i jego następców, w tym Carla Gustava Junga, sprawiły, iż -uwzględniając ogół koncepcji psychoanalitycznych -nie można już traktować psychiki człowieka jako jednorodnej całości (Kenny 2016). Oczywiście same koncepcje psychoanalityczne, dzisiaj w psychologii istotne przede wszystkim ze względu na ich historyczną wartość, można wykorzystać w celu zgłębienia delikatnej materii umysłu, przyjmując perspektywę sensu stricto filozoficzną. ...
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Niniejszy tekst podejmuje kwestię bogów i bohaterów mitów greckich, odnosząc ją do obecnej w psychologii głębi koncepcji archetypów i nieświadomości zbiorowej. Główny cel badań sprowadza się tym samym do bacznego przyjrzenia się potencjalnej korelacji pomiędzy zewnętrznymi (względem „ja”) w rozumieniu starożytnego Greka postaciami bogów i bogiń (wpływających na niego podobnie jak na bohaterów homeryckich), a wewnętrznymi przejawami nieświadomości zbiorowej, które mogą stanowić – według Carla Gustava Junga – istotę antycznych bóstw. Ponadto został poddany namysłowi problem wpływu „wewnętrznych bogów” na sposób myślenia, odczuwania i działania jednostki, wpływu zarówno pozytywnego, jak i negatywnego. Wynikająca z przeprowadzonych badań konkluzja zwraca uwagę na wartość sfery irracjonalnej – źródła pochodzenia zapomnianych, politeistycznych bogów, zamieszkujących psychikę współczesnego człowieka. ---------------------- Zgłoszono: 14/04/2022. Zrecenzowano: 11/05/2022. Zaakceptowano do publikacji: 30/05/2022.
... The technological history of psychoanalysis is often overlooked; it was birthed during rapid technological advancement. Freud was theorising through the technological upheavals of the late 1800s and early 1900s, including the first world war (Kenny, 2016). While an extensive networking of Freud's sociocultural historical locatedness and his theorising is beyond the scope of my research, the technohistory of psychoanalysis through the 18 th and 19 th centuries is significant for the uncanny and its return to technology in the 21 st century. ...
This research embodies Donna Haraway’s (1991) feminist cyborg as a potent political figure for women and their bodies in the 21st century West. The violences done to women all too often define them (Malabou, 2011), confining them to the heterosexual matrix characterised by their objectification and ‘excesses.’ The multiplicities and pluralities of ‘woman’ disrupt traditional psychological science that counts and categorises. Re-routing psychology through the hybridity and non-fixity of the science fiction genre, new possibilities for psychological knowledge production emerge, including figures (such as cyborgs), art installations and hyperdimensional arachnids through which to think new thoughts (Haraway, 2016). Through the figure of a feminist cyborg, ‘woman’ can be understood as politically potent through her multiplicities, partialities, simultaneities and contradictions. After rendering Haraway’s feminist cyborg through the science fiction genre, the thesis takes on a creative form to re-think the notion of apocalypse, re-theorise the uncanny, then explore a potently networked series of figures, internet users and movements (such as Human Barbies, internet folklore, pro-rape forums) that structure women’s bodies in ways that re-assert the heterosexual matrix, as well as in ways that re-build women outside of the heterosexual matrix. Re-figuring ‘woman’ outside of the heterosexual matrix could perhaps open new spaces in which to think women’s body politics differently in perpetually networked, ever-expanding technoworlds. See:
... According to Kenny (2016) in her article A Brief History of Psychoanalysis: From Freud to Fantasy to Folly, the basis for the distinctive viewpoint of Sigmund Freud is his focus on the unconscious dimensions of the human psyche. Freud presented compelling evidence through his many carefully documented case studies that the majority of our acts are guided by psychological forces over which we have very little control. ...
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Freud’s psychoanalytic approach has been one of the most controversial approaches to many fields of interest. Relating to education and educational psychology, this approach plays a significant role in modifying and enhancing one’s behavioral relationship among the educational elements like educators, parents, and students. Therefore, in many things, this approach has contributed a lot of inspiration in the development of education. In literary works, there seems to be a mutual fascination between psychoanalysis and literature whereas theory and approach, psychoanalysis explains literature and literature itself exploits psychoanalysis for creative purposes and works. Here, as a creative work, movie is considered literature because it can be interpreted and analyzed just like other written works of literature. As a learning instrument, movie evokes an affective domain that leads to changes in learning behavior and attitudes. Experiencing certain-themed movies can trigger particular reflective memories and reference toward events occurring on a daily basis and it can further strengthen the foundation for learning complex concepts like psychoanalysis.
... The German philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860), was greatly influenced by them. Alcorn [105] believes that Paul Carus [106] derived his theory of the unconscious from the Upanishads. The Upanishads, particularly Māndūkya Upanishad [107], set forth quite clearly the four states of self. ...
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Mind and intelligence are closely related with the consciousness. Indeed, artificial intelligence (AI) is the most promising avenue towards artificial consciousness (AC). However, in literature, consciousness has been considered as the least amenable to being understood or replicated by AI. Further, computational theories of mind (CTMs) render the mind as a computational system and it is treated as a substantial hypothesis within the purview of AI. However, the consciousness, which is a phenomenon of mind, is partially tackled by this theory and it seems that the CTM is not corroborated considerably in this pursuit. Many valuable contributions have been incorporated by the researchers working strenuously in this domain. However, there is still scarcity of globally accepted computational models of consciousness that can be used to design conscious intelligent machines. The contributions of the researchers entail consciousness as a vague, incomplete and human-centred entity. In this paper, attempt has been made to analyse different theoretical and intricate issues pertaining to mind, intelligence and AC. Moreover, this paper discusses different computational models of the consciousness and critically analyses the possibility of generating the machine consciousness as well as identifying the characteristics of conscious machine. Further, different inquisitive questions, e.g., “Is it possible to devise, project and build a conscious machine?”, “Will artificially conscious machines be able to surpass the functioning of artificially intelligent machines?” and “Does consciousness reflect a peculiar way of information processing?” are analysed.
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In this article, I explore two epistemologies for theorizing infancy and treating autism—infant and child psychoanalysis expounded by Frances Tustin and colleagues and developmental psychology and developmental neuroscience. I address two main issues: (a) how early psychoanalytic insights informed empirical developments and theoretical scholarship in both infant psychoanalysis and developmental psychology, and (b) how the study of infant development within psychoanalysis has been derailed by faulty theorizing and failure to incorporate scientific scholarship on infant development into their theories and practice. First, I review current research on infancy including psychoanalytic contributions that have incorporated scientific methods and evidence. I then juxtapose this work with Frances Tustin’s theory of autism as an exemplar of the problematic theorizing about infant development that remains unchallenged, even today, in some psychoanalytic circles, and how that theory is operationalized in treatment. I discuss possible reasons for the failure to revise theory and therapeutic practice and the adherence to faulty perceptions of “successful” therapeutic outcome. Despite these derailments, I conclude that a marriage of science and psychoanalysis (that is convergent with developmental research) is not only possible; indeed, it has produced talented progeny who have immeasurably advanced our understanding of human functioning across the life span by further illuminating the mysteries of infant experience.
Book synopsis: Over 100 years since its origins, psychoanalysis continues to be a key source of insights across the humanities and social sciences. Being well-versed in psychoanalytic concepts is a crucial element in cultural literacy today. Key Concepts in Psychoanalysis accessibly introduces the core psychoanalytic concepts. In contrast to existing dictionaries, the volume does not simply offer cursory definitions, and it is not overly entrenched in a particular psychoanalytic tradition. Providing short, reader-friendly descriptions of each concept, Key Concepts in Psychoanalysis shows both its place in the field as well its more general cultural usage. It is not simply a reference book, but can be read cover to cover to provide an overview of the therapeutic and cultural uses of central terms. Concepts are introduced in ways which make them truly available to a non-expert readership and to beginning students. Examples of concepts introduced include: unconscious, repression, projection, Oedipus complex, interpretation, resistance, and transference.