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Wolff, P.H. (1996). Commentaries. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 44:464-474.

(1996). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 44:464-474


Peter H. Wolff

I would like to thank the discussants for their generosity of time and effort in preparing their thoughtful comments, and the editors of JAPA for making this exchange of ideas possible. Rather than responding to each of the critiques individually, I will briefly summarize the major issues raised in the original paper and use these as a basis for responding to the major critiques on which discussants more or less reached consensus.

To define what exactly psychoanalysis is appears even more difficult today than it was in Freud's time. To forestall possible misunderstandings, I stated my biases up front, but the various discussions suggest I was not entirely successful. On the basis of Freud's claim (1931) that free association is the methodological key of psychoanalysis, I took the position that the proper concern of psychoanalysis is the exploration of unconscious ideas, hidden motives, and remembrances about the past in the present as they emerge during the psychoanalytic discourse (Wolff, 1988). I took that position for several reasons: (1) It seemed to me that this “narrow” perspective most clearly articulates Freud's unique epistemology and his radical challenge to conventional, rational, or empirical theories of human psychology. (2) At the same time, the narrow perspective is probably at greatest risk for being overturned by current revisions that regard psychoanalysis as a therapeutic tool for helping subjects reconcile themselves to real or imagined psychological traumas from the past, and to adapt to current psychological, social, and physical realities. (3) Finally, I considered these revisions to be a pusillanimous retreat from Freud's revolutionary discoveries and his admittedly stark method of self-discovery in the psychoanalytic discourse.

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