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Cooper, A.M. (1987). The Changing Culture of Psychoanalysis. J. Amer. Acad. Psychoanal., 15(3):283-291.

(1987). Journal of American Academy of Psychoanalysis, 15(3):283-291

The Changing Culture of Psychoanalysis

Arnold M. Cooper, M.D.

There are at least two significant difficulties in connecting cultural change and psychoanalysis. The first is that at any one time it is hard to know what a significant change in culture is, and the second is that we rarely know what analysts are doing technically. I shall speak first to the problem of assessing culture.

The superficial manifestations of culture change so fast that the Sunday Times, with great confidence, may proclaim a new cultural era about every 5 years. We have gone quickly from the age of conformity to the age of rebellion to the age of narcissism to the age of social concern, and so on. These superficial, newsworthy oscillations seem real enough; people do, for brief periods, behave in accordance with these new cultural descriptions or directives. However, these new eras are reflections of fashion—and are sensitive indicators of the significant currents of the time as all fashion is, whether skirt length or hair length—but these changes in cultural fashion do not reflect the deep changes of culture that could influence character or other enduring human activities, such as literature or science. For example, within the brief life span of these transient cultural revolutions, few serious writers or scientists could conceive and complete a significant project. Furthermore, it now appears that a significant number of the most ferocious, seemingly irresponsible student leaders of the 1960's are the serious academics and politicians of the 1980's. Their behavior in the 1960's reflected a cultural fashion, not a new character as was said at the time.

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