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Cohen, J.A. (2004). On: Institutional responses to boundary violations: The case of Masud Khan. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 85(3):752-753.

(2004). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 85(3):752-753

On: Institutional responses to boundary violations: The case of Masud Khan

Jonathan A. Cohen

Dear Sirs,

The outrageousness of Masud Khan's behavior rightly impugns psychoanalysis, raises grave questions about individual and institutional morality, and calls for serious rethinking, as Sandler (2004) amply recognizes. Her proposed recommendations for institutional change, however, rely exclusively on legalistic and educative remedies within the framework of existing knowledge. Notably, the idea of psychoanalytic boundaries and boundary violations, as elaborated by Gabbard and Lester (1995), is relied upon uncritically as a conceptual framework. The implicit premise is that we have an adequate theoretical understanding of such matters; the practical problems can be handled by better screening, supervision, communication, monitoring etc.

I challenge this premise. For a variety of reasons having to do with the failure of psychoanalysis to grasp the crux of moral problems, the boundary concept, as presently formulated, is inadequate for the task.

The concept is suitably applied to physical or mental states when the territories on either side of a putative dividing line are well delineated—for example, phase-state diagrams in physical chemistry. In the case of psychoanalysis' theory of moral consciousness, this condition does not apply—not because moral consciousness is an obscure or relative concept, but because the theory itself clouds its essential properties.

As discussed in Cohen (1997, 2001), the boundary notion is inadequate because it is rooted in a dubious theory of moral development, the oedipal theory, in which repression of incestuous sexuality is a sine qua non of moral character.

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