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Sandler, A. (1992). Developmental Perspectives on Psychoanalysis. Bul. Anna Freud Centre, 15(4):351-362.

(1992). Bulletin of the Anna Freud Centre, 15(4):351-362

Developmental Perspectives on Psychoanalysis

Anne-Marie Sandler

When I accepted the invitation to contribute a paper on what might be called the ‘developmental perspective’ in psychoanalytic work, I thought it would be an easy task, but in fact it has proved quite the opposite. I found it difficult to formulate what I wished to convey by the developmental perspective, perhaps because throughout my work I had taken the developmental viewpoint absolutely for granted and had never stepped back to define it at all precisely. I am not sure that I have succeeded in doing so now, but I hope that, one way or another, I will be able to convey what I understand by a developmental perspective in relation to clinical psychoanalysis.

Imagine an adult patient coming into the consulting room, lying down on the couch, and remarking, ‘I thought you looked angry today when you opened the door of the waiting room.’ What can the analyst make of this, for clearly this single statement can have a number of meanings? It can be that her patient is simply a good observer and that she was indeed irritated for one reason or another. It can signify that the patient is angry and is projecting his irritation on to the analyst. Alternatively, it might mean that the patient is feeling guilty about something and expecting the analyst to be critical - and this might be because he has had some thoughts about her that he expects will evoke her anger, or he might be feeling guilty about something else he has thought or done, and has externalized an internal reproachful superego figure onto the analyst. He might be feeling ashamed (rather than guilty) about something and be expecting the analyst to criticize him. He might feel, in the very presence of the analyst, a person who might get too close to him, and experience this as a threat. The feeling that the analyst is angry with him helps him to distance himself from her and thus protect his sense of self; and so on.

Obviously the analyst has certain expectations as to what might be going on in the mind of the patient (I refer here to a range of possibilities which are for the most part entertained preconsciously), and as the patient produces his further associations we can focus more on one possibility than another.

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