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Bowlby, J. (1979). Psychoanalysis as Art and Science. Int. R. Psycho-Anal., 6:3-14.

(1979). International Review of Psycho-Analysis, 6:3-14

Psychoanalysis as Art and Science

John Bowlby


Two aspects of psychoanalysis are distinguished, the art of psychoanalytic therapy and the science of psychoanalytic psychology. Both are valuable but are to be judged on different criteria and call for different mental outlooks. The practitioner must deal with complexity, the scientist strives to simplify. The practitioner uses theory as a guide, the scientist challenges theory. The practitioner's modes of enquiry are inevitably limited whereas progress in science requires that data obtained by one method be cross-checked by data obtained by others. The direct observation of parent–child interaction is advocated as one indispensable type of cross-check.

As illustration, the aetiology of the condition known as false self (Winnicott) or borderline personality (Kernberg) is considered. Winnicott's hypothesis that the condition arises from 'not good enough mothering' during early years is shown to be supported by (a) the memories of childhood reported by patients during therapeutic analysis and (b) observations of young children separated from and/or rejected by mothers. This suggests that the child, and later the adult, becomes afraid to allow himself to become attached to anyone for fear of a further rejection, with the anxiety and anger that would ensue. As a result a massive block develops against his expressing or even feeling his natural desire for a close trusting relationship. Systematic observations by analysts to test this hypothesis are suggested.

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