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Hough, G. (2004). Does Psychoanalysis have Anything to Offer an Understanding of Terrorism?. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 52(3):813-828.

(2004). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 52(3):813-828

Does Psychoanalysis have Anything to Offer an Understanding of Terrorism?

George Hough

There is an effort within psychoanalysis to bring psychoanalytic understanding and technique to a variety of important social issues. The panel has taken upon itself the task of attempting to answer one of our presently most pressing and complex questions: Does psychoanalysis have anything to offer an understanding of terrorism?

Stuart Twemlow began the discussion by noting that the format of this panel discussion is experimental, using brief “talking points” presentations rather than formally presented papers. He noted that in the past analysts have often commented on the similarities among panelists' views; for this panel, he announced, the effort would be to sharpen the differences between opinions to encourage broader and deeper discussion. We live with the problem that terrorists usually consider their acts justified and that today's terrorist becomes tomorrow's hero.

Salman Akhtar, the first panelist to speak, noted that the topic of terrorism is controversial. Moreover, it is among those difficult and hybrid areas where the study of individual mind meets the study of group processes. At this conceptual juncture, he said, psychoanalytic theory is at its humblest. Akhtar emphasized that our understanding of the principles of mental functioning relates to the “average expectable environment” postulated by Hartmann, an idea underscored by Rapaport when he stated that psychic structure depends on stimulus nutriment from external reality; it does not exist without reference to external reality.

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