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Bowlby, J. (1981). Psychoanalysis as a Natural Science. Int. R. Psycho-Anal., 8:243-256.

(1981). International Review of Psycho-Analysis, 8:243-256

Psychoanalysis as a Natural Science

John Bowlby


Despite Freud's unwavering intention that psychoanalysis should conform to the requirements of a natural science, this aim has not been realized. Some analysts hold the aim to have been mistaken. Others believe it can and should be achieved, proposing that traditional metapsychology be replaced by a new conceptual framework utilizing modern concepts not available to Freud.

One such framework is outlined, together with some of the empirical data which gave it birth. These

include data obtained from direct observation of parent-child interaction as well as from the analysis of patients. The role in development of a mother providing a secure base from which her child can explore is emphasized, and the hypothesis advanced that many clinically relevant variations in personality functioning are due to variations in the way that attachment and exploratory behaviour have come to be organized. Individual differences are attributed in large part to differences in the experience individuals have had with their parents.

A conceptual framework is sketched that utilizes principles derived from ethology, control theory and human information processing and designed to provide for explanations of personality development and functioning. Issues considered include representational models, conscious and unconscious processing, developmental pathways, distinctions between the causation, function and goal of behaviour, and the dividing line between the biological and psychological realms.

To illustrate how issues of defence and affect are handled, a brief account is given of the analysis of a patient who complained of being irritable, depressed and emotionally detached.

A sharp distinction is drawn between the science of psychoanalytic psychology, which must proceed step by step and draw on data from all relevant sources, and the art of psychoanalytic therapy which must be inspired by empathy and respect for the individual living his life in his own unique world.

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