Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

Grasping Psychoanalysts' Practice in Its Own Merits1

Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

Grasping Psychoanalysts' Practice in Its Own Merits1

Article excerpt

The central objective of this presentation is to reflect on the obstacles involved in the task proposed by the Chicago Congress, which is to explore convergences and divergences in psychoanalytic practice. The author discusses two major obstacles. First, the epistemological and methodological problems in relation to the construction of theory in psychoanalysis and especially the inaccessibility, in any reliable way, of what psychoanalysts really do in the intimacy of their practice. He proposes to separate, at least in part, theory from practice in psychoanalysis, in an attempt to grasp psychoanalysts' practice in its own merits. He then outlines a phenomenology of the practice of psychoanalysis, which reveals that, in their work with patients, analysts are guided more by practical reasons than theoretical reasons; that is, their interventions are predictions rather than explanations. Since these practical reasons need to be validated constantly in the analytic relationship based on their effects, he discusses the subject of validation in the clinical context of the core theory of therapeutic change in psychoanalysis, that is, the conditions required for clinical practice to satisfy the thesis of an inseparable union between gaining knowledge and cure. He ends by challenging the core of the psychoanalytic theory of change, arguing that it neither does justice to the practice of psychoanalysts nor to contemporary knowledge of processes and mechanisms of therapeutic change. Finally, he proposes that we detach practice from theory, in order to study the former in its own merits, utilising a plurality of methods ranging from systematic investigation to the recent methodology of the Working Party.

Keywords: clinical validation, pluralism, practical reasons, psychoanalysis and truth, psychoanalyst's mind, psychoanalytic phenomenology, psychoanalytic practice, psychoanalytic theory, psychoanalytic theory of change, theoretical reasons, working party

La théorie c'est bon, mais ça n'empÞche pas d'exister.


Psychoanalysis is what is practiced by psychoanalysts.



The panorama of contemporary psychoanalysis is complex. As never before, the controversy surrounding its epistemological status has entered even the psychoanalytic movement. The subject of this Congress speaks for itself. Now, it is not only the theoretical unity of psychoanalysis that is being questioned, but also the unity of its practice. We are therefore convoked to reflect on what unites us and what separates us. In this presentation I hope to show that the task we face is plagued with obstacles difficult to overcome, first, because of the conditions in which theory in psychoanalysis is constructed and, second, because of difficulties for reliably accessing psychoanalysts' practice: what psychoanalysts really do in the intimacy of the therapeutic relationship.

It is true that this issue goes beyond psychoanalysis, encompassing clinical practice in Mental Health. When I was a young psychiatrist dreaming of becoming a psychoanalyst, I felt uncomfortable about the ease with which my colleagues generalized the knowledge they acquired from studying individual patients. However, something else alarmed me even more: the suspicion that, when clinical practitioners give an account of their experience with patients, they tend to bias clinical reality until it fits into established categories, favourite theories or the thinking of the author in fashion at the time. Hence, they speak, not about what they actually do (or say) in their consulting room, but about what they would like to have done (or said), presenting idealized clinical work - which makes exchange among colleagues tremendously difficult (Jiménez, 2005, p. 608). Of course, I am aware in the first place that this is not simply a question of a more or less intentional cover-up by the person presenting clinical material, a product of adhesion to psychoanalytic schools and ideologies, or of submission to the 'technical superego' regulating 'politically correct' public exchange (Figuera, 1994) among psychoanalysts, but also of the impact of implicit theories (Canestri et al. …

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