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Spence, D.P. (1981). Psychoanalytic Competence. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 62:113-124.

(1981). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 62:113-124

Psychoanalytic Competence

Donald P. Spence


Psychoanalytic competence can be defined as the knowledge and background necessary and sufficient to understand a therapeutic encounter. We can distinguish between normative competence, which belongs to all members of the psychoanalytic community, and privileged competence, which belongs only to the treating analyst at a particular time in a specific clinical situation. The two kinds of competence are frequently confused; as a result, the author of a clinical paper unwittingly assumes that he and the reader share all important information. In fact, the typical piece of clinical writing is largely inaccessible to anyone with only normative competence and because the reader does not have all necessary information, he is tempted to fill in the gaps and clarify the ambiguities with his own private set of meanings. Each paper in the literature runs the risk of generating as many 'texts' as there are readers. To prevent this kind of misreading, we argue for the systematic clarification (naturalization) of each clinical encounter to make it accessible to anyone with normative competence. Systematic naturalization provides the link between normative and privileged competence and allows the reader more complete access to the clinical issues at stake.

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