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J Am Psychoanal Assoc. 2009 Oct;57(5):1043-69. doi: 10.1177/0003065109343925.

Doublethinking our way to "scientific" legitimacy: the desiccation of human experience.

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  • 1Chicago Center for Psychoanalysis, University of Illinois College of Medicine, NYU Postdoctoral Program in Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis, Chicago, Illinois, USA.


A multifaceted contemporary movement aims to correct alleged weaknesses in the scientific foundation of psychoanalysis. For both pragmatic-political and scientific reasons we are encouraged to do and/or study systematic empirical research on psychoanalytic process and outcome, as well as apparently relevant neuroscience. The thesis advanced here is that the privileged status this movement accords such research as against in-depth case studies is unwarranted epistemologically and is potentially damaging both to the development of our understanding of the analytic process itself and to the quality of our clinical work. In a nonobjectivist hermeneutic paradigm best suited to psychoanalysis, the analyst embraces the existential uncertainty that accompanies the realization that there are multiple good ways to be, in the moment and more generally in life, and that the choices he or she makes are always influenced by culture, by sociopolitical mind-set, by personal values, by countertransference, and by other factors in ways that are never fully known. Nevertheless, a critical, nonconformist psychoanalysis always strives to expose and challenge such foundations for the participants' choices. The "consequential uniqueness" of each interaction and the indeterminacy associated with the free will of the participants make the individual case study especially suited for the advancement of "knowledge"-that is, the progressive enrichment of sensibility-in our field.

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