Academic journal article Psychologische Beiträge

The Psychoanalysis Interview as Qualitative Research

Academic journal article Psychologische Beiträge

The Psychoanalysis Interview as Qualitative Research

Article excerpt


In what follows I will discuss the potentials of the psychoanalytic interview in providing knowledge of the human situation. I will, on the basis of philosophical analyses of knowledge and qualitative social science research, point to possibilities of a conceptual and methodological refinement of the therapeutic interview as a method of research. I shall further argue that the psychoanalytic interview is relevant for enriching and deepening the use of qualitative interviews in the social sciences today.

I have not myself worked with therapeutic research; I have recently written a book about qualitative interview research, where I draw upon therapeutic interviews as well as postmodern reconceptualisations of knowledge (Kvale, 1996).

Therapeutic Research between Scylla and Charybdis

A therapeutic research project may be a dangerous voyage, cruising between anecdotal case stories with little method and quantified physiological and behavioral measures with little psychological content. Clinical research has produced a long history of rejected articles and shipwrecked dissertations. A therapeutic research voyage may be compared to Odysseus sailing the narrow strait between Charybdis and Scylla on his return from Troy, a passage which he declared to be the most dangerous part of his long research voyage.

On one side of the perilous strait waits the monster Charybdis, swallowing whole ships with their crew. The therapeutic researcher here gets carried away by entertaining and exciting case histories, often with the therapist as the hero. There is seldom any methodical reflection on how the evidence for the story is obtained, nor analyses of the narrative structures involved, nor of the validity of the knowledge presented. After a century of psychoanalytic therapy and knowledge production, the main evidence of the psychoanalytic theory still rests upon knowledge accumulated through psychoanalytic interviews, a research method which has hardly been given systematic thought in the social sciences.

Odysseus attempted so hard to avoid Charybdis that he came too close to the other side of the narrow strait, where the six-headed monster Scylla devoured six of his crew. Contemporary therapeutic researchers may try so hard to avoid therapeutic anecdotes that they get caught on the other side in a positivist straight jacket, losing the lived therapeutic relations in a web of statistical correlations and significances which rarely yield knowledge relevant to the therapeutic situation. In this form of imitative scientism, the clinical researcher may become more Catholic than the pope or, in psychoanalytic terminology, may identify with the aggressor.

The classical psychoanalysts and the statistical experimentalists may remain secure and comfortable behind fortifications on each of their coasts, hardly taking notice of each other. It is the therapists who venture into research who are in trouble, caught in the dangerous waters between the opposing sides.

Vessels sailing the current qualitative research wave in the social sciences may also be caught in the narrow strait, interview researchers blowing back and forth between a nomethod Charybdis and an all-method Scylla, and often fall prey to both monsters. On the one hand, there is hardly any methodical account of or reflection on the production of knowledge in the original conversations. The same applies to the transformations from living conversations to written texts and to the validity of the interpretations of meanings of the text. On the other hand, there is a qualitative hyperempiricism of quantified categorizations and endless quotes from interview transcripts. Such interview reports lose the lived reality of the conversation as well as the human situation portrayed in the subjects' stories.

One way out of this dilemma is to turn to Freud's (1963) writings on the psychoanalytic interview, for which he claimed: "It is indeed one of the distinctions of psychoanalysis that research and treatment proceed hand in hand" (p. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.