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Fonagy, P. (1982). The Integration of Psychoanalysis and Experimental Science: A Review. Int. R. Psycho-Anal., 9:125-145.

(1982). International Review of Psycho-Analysis, 9:125-145

The Integration of Psychoanalysis and Experimental Science: A Review

Peter Fonagy


The present paper aims to examine the uses and limitations of empirical, psychoanalytically based research carried out in order to improve the scientific standing of psychoanalysis as a psychological theory. Freud's own conviction that psychoanalysis was a natural science was recently illustrated by Bowlby (1981). Critics of psychoanalytic theory, however, almost invariably discuss the aspirations of psychoanalytic psychology in this field in extremely disparaging terms. These assessments are numerous and so well publicized that yet another review seems unnecessary (the interested reader is referred to Cioffi, 1970; Jurievich, 1974; and Slater, 1975 for a recent representative sample).

The critics tend to take issue with two major components of the work of psychoanalytic writers. They stress first that the nature of the evidence used in psychoanalytic expositions is either private data or evidence drawn from non-scientific fields (folklore, mythology etc.). They claim that evidence obtained from patients' responses in treatment might be attributable to suggestion and that factual information (e.g. recovered memories) provided by them can achieve only a very low level of historical accuracy. They demand empirical validation of psychoanalytic contentions. The status of attempts made to meet this demand will be considered in the first section of this paper.

The second area of criticism concerns the quality of theorization. Critics claim that the scientific discipline, which psychoanalysis aspires to be, should not admit loosely defined terms and should abandon analogical, anthropomorphic thinking.

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