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Siegert, M.B. (1990). Reconstruction, Construction, or Deconstruction—Perspectives on the Limits of Psychoanalytic Knowledge. Contemp. Psychoanal., 26:160-170.
(1990). Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 26:160-170
Reconstruction, Construction, or Deconstruction—Perspectives on the Limits of Psychoanalytic Knowledge
Mark B. Siegert, Ph.D.
PSYCHOANALYSIS BEGAN WITH a look towards history. At many points throughout Freud's career, he likened psychoanalytic work to archaeology. Initially, psychoanalysts engaged their patients in a search (or excavation) for a lost history, an event or series of events which were so disturbing to psychic equilibrium that they could not be assimilated into conscious thought. The therapeutic factor was recovering lost traumatic memories and abreacting their affect. Once memories were recovered, and the attendant affect abreacted, the patient was symptom free. There was an elegance to Freud's connection between history and symptom, a formulation which, to borrow a cliche, captured the imagination of the Twentieth Century. What his theory offered, and therapeutic effect seemed to prove, was that lost experience led to psychopathology and if one reversed that process by recovering the lost memory (or clinically reconstructed it), pathology gave way to cure.
Soon enough, however, actual traumatic events didn't seem adequate to explain pathology. Freud began to suspect that he was learning of more traumatic seductions than he thought possible. As a result, he came to one of the major crises which have characterized the development of his theory. If there hadn't been an actual trauma, how could recovering a lost memory and how could abreacting that memory's affect prove therapeutic? Why did patients recall false traumas, recalling them in such an evocative manner that they seemed totally true? The solution to this crisis, like so many other theoretical crises, led Freud to a new, and in