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Caper, R. (1992). Does Psychoanalysis Heal? a Contribution to the Theory of Psychoanalytic Technique. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 73:283-292.

(1992). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 73:283-292

Does Psychoanalysis Heal? a Contribution to the Theory of Psychoanalytic Technique

Robert Caper


In his 'Recommendations to physicians practising psycho-analysis' (1912), Freud admonished psychoanalysts to 'model themselves during psycho-analytic treatment on … a surgeon of earlier times [who] took as his motto the words: 'Je le pansai, Dieu le guérit"' (p. 115).

If he fails to adopt this attitude, Freud warned, the analyst 'will not only put [himself] in a state of mind which is unfavourable for his work, but will make him helpless against certain resistances of the patient, whose recovery, as we know, depends on the interplay of forces in him'. Freud was cautioning his colleagues against a belief that psychoanalysis can, or should, heal the patient. The fate of the analysis is determined ultimately not by the analyst's interventions per se, but by the dynamics of the patient's unconscious. The analyst can only probe the unconscious like a surgeon, while recognizing that the factors governing the patient's ultimate recovery are beyond his control (Dieu le guerit).

Far from being the call for indifference to the patient's pain that it has often been misunderstood to be, Freud's analogy between the psychoanalyst and the surgeon is a piece of technical advice based on a realistic modesty, aimed at putting the analyst into a state of mind that is very important, if not essential, for the practice of psychoanalysis. As I will try to show, this modest state of mind also seems to distinguish the practice of psychoanalysis from that of most psychological therapies other than psychoanalysis.

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