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Weissberg, J.H. (1992). The Psychoanalytic Envelope. J. Amer. Acad. Psychoanal., 20:497-508.

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(1992). Journal of American Academy of Psychoanalysis, 20(4):497-508

The Psychoanalytic Envelope

Josef H. Weissberg, M.D.

In view of the many new external changes that profoundly affect psychoanalysis, it is imperative to discuss the psychoanalytic envelope, that is, the sum of external factors that impinge on and influence the practice of psychoanalysis today, the radically changing environment in which psychoanalysis continues to evolve. By psychoanalysis, I include the body of personality theory, the therapeutic modality, and the research technique. All these are rather confusingly referred to as “psychoanalysis.” To perplex further, there are those who include in their definition of psychoanalysis as a therapy only traditional psychoanalysis, that intensive therapy in which the development and resolution of a regressive transference neurosis is encouraged. Others include some or all dynamic psychotherapies that are informed by psychoanalytic personality theory. The more inclusive definition is consistent with what psychoanalysts actually do. The great majority of graduates of psychoanalytic training programs spend some–if not most, or all–of their time performing psychotherapy of a type other than traditional psychoanalysis.

The idea that psychoanalysis in any of its meanings is fixed and impervious to environmental change is fundamentally antipsychoanalytic; the very essence of psychoanalysis lies in the study and understanding of change and of interacting variables. To deny that psychoanalysis itself changes in response to its environment–much as the phenomena studied by psychoanalysis does–is utterly untenable. It has been said facetiously that psychoanalysis is the only scientific discipline that can still use textbooks 100 years old. This speaks to the enduring stamina of psychoanalytic theory. It also, however, reflects an unfortunate resistance to change that has often made psychoanalysis slow to incorporate new knowledge from other scientific disciplines, not to mention changes in the culture at large. Although we should identify and refuse to commit


* Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, Columbia University.

Presented as the Presidential Address to the 36th Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Psychoanalysis in May 1992.

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