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Thompson, M.G. (1996). Freud's Conception Of Neutrality. Contemp. Psychoanal., 32:25.

(1996). Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 32:25

Freud's Conception Of Neutrality

M. Guy Thompson, Ph.D.

PERHAPS NO TECHNICAL TERM more aptly distinguishes psychoanalytic technique from other forms of psychotherapy than the word "neutrality." Yet, Freud didn't even introduce the term until 1915—some twenty years after his basic theory and treatment philosophy were established. Since its introduction in the last of Freud's six papers on technique, "Observations on Transference-Love" (1915), the application of neutrality has gradually assumed the defining moment in what we now call "classical" technique.

My purpose in this article is to explore how Freud's conception of neutrality informed his treatment of Ernst Lanzer, more familiarly known as "the Rat Man." The case is prominent for two reasons. First, nowhere is there a clearer depiction of Freud's views on the nature of obsessional neurosis; and of Freud's major case studies, the Rat Man was the only one whom Freud actually treated that was successful (the other two—Dora and the Wolf Man—ended in failure). The fact that the Rat Man's analysis was successful offers a unique opportunity to examine the specific elements that account for the treatment's success and the part that Freud's conception of neutrality contributes to it.

In spite of this singular qualification, a mounting controversy has evolved over the last forty years concerning Freud's technical handling of the treatment, published in 1909. The most frequently invoked criticism about the technique Freud employed with the Rat Man concerns the relative absence of neutrality in his analysis. I believe that these criticisms demonstrate just how far analytic technique has evolved over the course of this century and how dramatically it has diverged from Freud's conception of it. The term "classical technique, " as it is conceived today only vaguely depicts Freud's clinical behavior.


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Copyright © 1996 W. A. W. Institute

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Contemporary Psychoanalysis, Vol. 32, No. 1 (1996)

1 Earlier versions of this paper were presented at the Fifth Annual Conference of the International Federation for Psychoanalytic Education, October 8, 1994, The Palmer House Hilton, Chicago, and at the Centre for Psychoanalytic Studies, University of Kent, Canterbury, England, October 27, 1994.

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