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Frosh, S. (1986). Beyond the analytic attitude: Radical aims and psychoanalytic psychotherapy. Free Associations, 1(7):38-58.

(1986). Free Associations, 1(7):38-58

Beyond the analytic attitude: Radical aims and psychoanalytic psychotherapy

Stephen Frosh

Freud's therapeutic ‘pessimism’ has often been commented upon: his belief that the goal of psychoanalysis could not be to bring about a major transformation of the quality of human existence, but only to change ‘hysterical misery’ into ‘common unhappiness’. In general, Freud seems to have been far less interested in psychoanalysis as a therapeutic system than as an instrument of knowledge, of the archaeology both of the individual and of society. Freud's project was to understand, to develop a system of ideas that could make sense of people, in their individual psychology and in the structures that they create for themselves. Psychotherapy was a secondary project, undertaken ‘to make a living’, involving the watering down of analytic severities in the face of the pragmatics of everyday life. ‘Therapeutic zeal’ was to be avoided, because it interferes with the proper conduct of an analysis, the primary goal of which is knowledge and not cure (Segal, p. 69).

Some of the most enthusiastic supporters of Freudian pessimism, such as Marcuse (1955) and Jacoby (1975), have taken up precisely the idea that theory and therapy are not necessarily integrated concerns and have argued that it is in its theory that the philosophically and politically radical contribution of psychoanalysis resides (see below). In so doing, they have attempted to defend psychoanalysis against the adaptationist compromises that always threaten to engulf it and make it a poor relation in the pantheon of medical treatments, a relatively ineffective item in the structures of diagnosis-treatment-cure.


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