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Spence, D.P. (1986). When Interpretation Masquerades as Explanation. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 34:3-22.

(1986). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 34:3-22

When Interpretation Masquerades as Explanation

Donald P. Spence, Ph.D.


The principal goal of the clinical interpretation (and of the larger clinical narrative) is to bring about insight and change in the patient, and not to present a reasoned argument that relies on public data and shared rules of evidence and logic. When the clinical account is transposed to the public domain and presented as a form of explanation, it is no longer designed for the benefit of one individual but must now be accessible to all. We are still under the shadow of Freud's five famous cases which are literary landmarks of exposition and persuasion. As a result, we are less sensitive to what happens when interpretations are substituted for explanations. The time has come to develop a new genre and a new mode of clinical reporting that would allow the reader to participate in the argument, allow him to evaluate the proposed links between evidence and conclusion (instead of relying on the authority of the analyst-author), and open up the clinical report to the possibilities of refutation, disconfirmation, and falsification.

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