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Mitchell, J. (2004). The importance of sibling relationships in psychoanalysis By Prophecy Coles London: Karnac. 2003. 97 pp + references, index.. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 85(2):557-561.

(2004). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 85(2):557-561

The importance of sibling relationships in psychoanalysis By Prophecy Coles London: Karnac. 2003. 97 pp + references, index.

Review by:
Juliet Mitchell

Prophecy Coles opens her brief study of sibling relationships in psychoanalysis with a pleasant anecdote: a friend of hers recalls his joy when, as a small child, he had tea with his mother at Lyons Corner House. His brother must have been there, but the friend cannot recall or picture this brother's presence at all. For Coles this incident suggests the stance of the psychoanalyst as favoured only child who has forgotten the siblings. Freud whom she repeatedly grants ‘intuition’ is her chief example of someone who omits siblings because of his wish to be the ‘only child’. Hence, writes Coles, my argument throughout this book is that Freud's belief in the importance of these early experiences with siblings and peers drops out of his clinical theory and practice and remains at the stage of intuitive insight (p. 80). Because of this personal basis to observations of siblings in Freud (and Klein to whom she also devotes a chapter), Coles decides that psychoanalysis cannot claim universal ‘truth’ only personal truth. Her thesis consequently is that psychoanalysis should be seen as ‘the theorization of autobiography’.

Siblings raise important but difficult and problematic issues for psychoanalysis as a clinical and theoretical practice. Personal issues arise for all of us; that is the point of the training analysis, of self-analysis and the use of the countertransference. It is a matter of concern when personal issues escape these confines—as to some extent they always do. However, to turn this sine qua non of personal issues into a belief that psychoanalysis is a theory of autobiography is a simplistic resolution which does not confront but, on the contrary, confounds the problems. Coles may have done some service for siblings but in using them this way she has embarked on a disservice to psychoanalysis.

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