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Bellak, L. Smith, M.B. (1956). An Experimental Exploration of the Psychoanalytic Process—Exemplification of a Method. Psychoanal Q., 25:385-414.

(1956). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 25:385-414

An Experimental Exploration of the Psychoanalytic Process—Exemplification of a Method

Leopold Bellak, M.D. and M. Brewster Smith, Ph.D.


Clinical psychoanalytic studies need to be supplemented by systematic experimental investigation of the psychoanalytic process. The psychoanalytic situation can be regarded as an experiment in which the attempt is made to study the patient's behavior in interaction with the analyst's behavior as the principal

variables. The analyst behaves in accordance with certain analytic hypotheses and the patient reacts correspondingly. Then the analytic session itself permits one to investigate the power of the hypotheses in helping us to understand, to predict, and to control behavior.

For this purpose a study was conducted in which patients' sessions were recorded for several months. Two analysts were asked to predict the patient's behavior, and two analysts were asked to judge his behavior independently, with reference to the same set of variables, with a number of experimental precautions. The ratings were made quantitatively and qualitatively.

The quantitative results show a high degree of agreement (expressed in correlation coefficients) among the judges themselves, and among the predictors themselves. A high degree of agreement also exists between predictors and judges. These results indicate that all the participants were well able to agree on the nature of the case. The ability to agree on the nature of short-range changes was not unequivocally demonstrated. The changes from week to week may possibly have been too minor to constitute a fair test of predictive power by the method used (though short-range prediction is a necessary and successfully performed aspect of daily analytic work and may be demonstrable in the future). A study of the qualitative results illuminates a number of problems of analytic theory.

The method seems valuable for furthering the statement of psychoanalytic hypothesis in scientifically acceptable forms and definitions. This makes the method useful for teaching and for greater therapeutic effectiveness.

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