On: The Definition of Psychoanalysis

By Migone, Paolo | International Journal of Psychoanalysis, October 2011 | Go to article overview

On: The Definition of Psychoanalysis


Migone, Paolo, International Journal of Psychoanalysis


Dear Editors,

Psychoanalysis is well into its second century, and the definition of its identity seems still unclear. Recent articles in the Journal show this embarrassing problem. In the ''Psychoanalytic Controversies'' section of issue 1, 2010 on the difference between psychoanalysis and psychotherapy, the discussants show disagreements. If we are not clear on what psychoanalysis is not, we cannot say what psychoanalysis is. In another paper, Blass 2010 advocates for the need of a definition of psychoanalysis but, prudently, does not define it. In the Letters section of issue 5, 2010, four authors argue that the assertion ''That's not psychoanalysis!'' is dangerous because it could exclude from the field important contributions.

Those who claim that it is better not to define what psychoanalysis is, confuse theoretical with political issues. Theoretically, it is indispensable to have a position, otherwise we can't even think, and an important issue we might need to discuss is precisely the identity of psychoanalysis. If it means too many things, it risks becoming synonymous with 'psychotherapy' (in fact one might arguably say that some 'psychoanalytic' theories-especially today-are identical with some 'psychotherapeutic' theories).

Politically, one simple solution is that everyone should feel part of the psychoanalytic movement. The accusation ''That's not psychoanalysis!'' could simply be considered a good opportunity for discussion.

There is no danger of ''exclusion''. Even the membership to a psychoanalytic organization cannot be an issue: there are many organizations, and it would be not only illegal, but impossible to consider one of them the ''true'' psychoanalytic association; most importantly, the reduction of the identity of a discipline to a membership issue would imply the loss of its scientific status. Furthermore, it is not necessary to be a member of an association in order not only to feel part, but to be part of the movement (with articles, books, etc., like in any discipline). And today a psychoanalytic association cannot allow itself to expel a member on theoretical grounds (the risk is the expulsion of virtually all members!). If we look at recent notable expulsions, they were not due to theoretical but institutional issues Lacan, for example, was expelled because of divergences on training, and Kohut, who changed fundamental tenets of psychoanalysis, was not expelled.

By choice, I am currently not a member of any psychoanalytic association. In the past I was a Fellow of the American Academy of Psychoanalysis, but I preferred to resign because I was uncomfortable with the fact that psychologists could not be members (to me this is not consistent with psychoanalysis, and also with Freud's position, as well known). However, my 'independent' status never constituted an impediment (years ago I sent a paper to the Journal and appeared as a lead-article and target paper, I was invited to IPA Congresses, and so on). If there are situations in which nonmember status interfered with equal opportunities, they should be made public and condemned, in the interest of the scientific status of the association itself.

Paradoxically, if our goal is to create a 'home' for psychoanalytic activity that is maximally supportive (2010, p. 1284), the four colleagues who in issue 5, 2010 so strongly criticized Blass' paper witness that the Journal functioned well as one room of such ''home''.

Psychoanalysis should be defined as a theory, not a technique. Different techniques are applications of that theory, according to ego structure, defences, development, etc. (as was conceived by Ego Psychology). The link between theory and technique is very loose in contemporary psychoanalysis, undermining its scientific status (many analysts, for example, employ the same technique without considering that it was devised by Freud as strictly linked to a theory of treatment which itself has changed). …

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