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Shapiro, T. (1970). Interpretation and Naming. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 18:399-421.

(1970). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 18:399-421

Interpretation and Naming

Theodore Shapiro, M.D.


The interpretation of an unconscious fantasy is the first step prior to working through. The analyst provides a shorthand verbal representation of what the patient has formally expressed in nonverbal behavior. The verbalization is viewed in the light of linguistic models of naming. The theory of reference formerly available in Freud's topographic theory is lacking in the structural theory. The linguistic model presented in this contribution is designed to describe the vicissitudes of verbal representation according to what is known about the development of reference. In this way disparate data on the interpretative process are brought together under a single heading known as the ego function of language.

Six examples of patient responses are described in the light of the model. For example, there are patients who can repeat the analyst's words but have no conscious concept of what their meaning is; others have an affective response with a better working alliance, while no new associative uncovering is done. Similarly, some patients intellectually respond to interpretation with increased uncovering and remembering, but no link to the emotions is made. In addition, there are those who use the analyst's words as an explain-all, and others who negate but affirm by opening new avenues of insight. In some, their response to interpretation leads to further recall. They recognize the congruence of

what has been said with the facts of life and finally integrate the interpretation into a system of belief. The latter is insight.

In all instances described the defects in verbal grasp can be viewed according to our understanding of the developmental faults in structuring language.

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