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Spence, D.P. (1995). The Idea of the Past: History, Science and Practice in American Psychoanalysis. By Leonard Jonathan Lamm. New York: New York University Press. 1993. Pp. 310 + xix.. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 76:405-407.
    

(1995). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 76:405-407

The Idea of the Past: History, Science and Practice in American Psychoanalysis. By Leonard Jonathan Lamm. New York: New York University Press. 1993. Pp. 310 + xix.

Donald P. Spence

We have come a long way from viewing the psychoanalytic process as a special brand of archeology, bent on uncovering ever-deeper layers of the patient's mind. It is now possible to believe that what is uncovered during a session is not necessarily a privileged account of before, a fragment of what really happened, but something quite different from the original. Indeed, Lamm tells us that ‘there may well be no robust relationship’ between what happens in the session and what happened in the past (p. 267). Moving to a more abstract level of argument, Lamm suggests that ‘there may well be a disjunction (within psychoanalytic discourse) between the theory of development and the theory of change’ (p. 267) and it would follow that treating a patient may have little in common with raising a child, despite the many current efforts to make this metaphor come true.

Rather than treat psychoanalysis as an excavation of memory which may lead us to the psychic bedrock of the analysand, Lamm wants us to learn how to create an empathic narrative which is ‘the verbal or linguistic medium through which the past is mastered and assimilated, if not exactly abolished and eliminated’ (p. 266). Narrative intervention, he reminds us, is a particular variety of discursive thinking which has close ties to the primary process and, as such, functions as a carrier for our experience and its residue of affective meanings (secondary process accounts tend to strip away the affect and emphasise the underlying logic).

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