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Joseph, B. (1983). On Understanding and not Understanding: Some Technical Issues. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 64:291-298.

(1983). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 64:291-298

On Understanding and not Understanding: Some Technical Issues

Betty Joseph

This paper is about understanding and being understood. It concerns ways and motives our patients have for making themselves understood or not understood, and the problem for the analyst in gaining understanding as well as tolerating not understanding.

We could describe the beginnings of psychoanalysis as the attempt to make the incomprehensible in mental life comprehensible, and the tools used as free association and listening. Freud started by listening to his patients, taking everything that they said extremely seriously, and from this building up the unconscious meaning of their communication, using, of course, not only words but also tone, gesture and the like. Following Freud's discoveries Melanie Klein explored the very early period of the child's life, of object relationships, anxieties and defences, and began to make more comprehensible areas which had previously been beyond our understanding. It is about some of the consequences of her findings on our technique that I want to talk today.

I think that we, as analysts, need to approach the question of understanding our patients, in a sense, differently, depending on whether they seem to be operating more within the paranoid-schizoid or in the depressive position. Broadly we can include under the latter, patients who are able to relate to themselves as whole people and to feel some responsibility for their own impulses and themselves, as well as relating to the analyst as a whole person. Those who are still caught up in the paranoid-schizoid position are necessarily splitting off and projecting a great deal of themselves and their impulses and are unable to relate at all fully to either themselves or the analyst.

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