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Myers, P. (2000). Unconscious perception in the story of psychoanalysis: a vignette. Free Associations, 7(4):76-97.

(2000). Free Associations, 7(4):76-97

Unconscious perception in the story of psychoanalysis: a vignette

Piers Myers

… like a text, human action is an open work, the meaning of which is “in suspense”. (Paul Ricoeur)


During The Course Of 1932, shortly before his death, Ferenczi (1933, 1939, 1988) developed the thesis that psychoanalytic patients represent in symbolic form accurate unconscious perceptions of the analytic situation itself (Smith 1991; Myers 1996). This ran counter to psychoanalytic orthodoxy. In both Freud's (1900) first model of the mind, and his (1923) revised metapsychology, perception had been decisively linked to consciousness. Despite that, the concept of unconscious perceptiveness had been intermittently foreshadowed within psychoanalysis. In 1913, Freud himself expressed the conviction that ‘…psychoanalysis has shown us that everyone possesses in his unconscious mental activity an apparatus which enables him to interpret other people's reactions, that is, to undo the distortions which other people have imposed on the expression of their feelings.’ (Freud 1912-13: 159).

However, the perspective that Ferenczi set out, notably in his paper at the 12th congress of the International Psychoanalytical Association in 1932, broke new ground. He took the view (Ferenczi 1933) that patients expressed symbolically valid unconscious criticisms of both the analyst and of their conduct of the analysis. He believed that analysts must discern, and learn from, their patients' latent insights.

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