Widlöcher argues that the theme of change is basic yet has had little psychoanalytic attention, except for the studies of its technical aspects. Prior to psychoanalysis, psychology focused on the question of individual differences, whereas psychoanalysis invites us to reflect on the nature of identity and change, which, he believes, are inseparable terms, for there can be no change without a structure which assimilates the change. Psychoanalysis has oscillated between the genetic point of view—a historical, realist view of the past event—and the intellectual perspective in which past events take on the value of a mythical elaboration, as in reconstruction. The genetic approach has come under question: are references to developmental reality relevant to psychoanalytic process? But even its adversaries do not question the pathogenic role of past external reality or the effect of development on the organization of thought. The genetic point of view has not been so much disputed as set aside in application. Widlöcher attempts to close the gap between psychogenesis and the theory of treatment. Perhaps the process of change in treatment might permit us to understand better what happens in life. Such an approach would complement the genetic point of view, for instead of using our knowledge of childdevelopment to understand treatment, we can utilize knowledge of the intrapsychic changes occurring in treatment for a better understanding of development and the cycles of transformation which occur throughout life. Widlöcher takes up a theme of Daniel Lagache: that the fundamental rule of psychoanalysis sets up a new diachronic order in mental functioning, although resistance to the analytic process opposes its establishment. The changes in analysis result from the continuous activity of mental transformations which develop in the real time of the sessions (a view resembling Strachey's 1934 discussion of therapeutic results). The diachronic point of view permits us to describe mental life in a manner different from the spatial metaphors of metapsychology. To think in terms of mechanisms inhering in a synchronic system leads us to forget that this synchrony is a construction and that what we call
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mechanisms are in fact operations of thought and laws regulating the temporal order of these operations. Widlöcher proposes a probabilistic model in place of psychic determinism, suggesting that we understand cathexis as defining the probability of occurrence of a thought. The associative mechanisms in psychoanalysis, he suggests, utilize the tactic of trial and error by which a certain choice is made among possible occurrences. Within a field of uncertainty or in a situation of choice, one mental activity develops to the detriment of other possible mental activities. The path of thought thus reveals great instability, and it is within this field that changes are progressively reinforced over the long run. The regressions, negative therapeutic reactions, etc., seen in treatment show us that numerous associations are possible. All thought results from a choice, and for a given situation a number of solutions exist. Childdevelopment should therefore be seen as the progressive accumulation of forms of thought and action. Processes of selection, both internal and external, lead to choices and reinforce certain systems of thought to the detriment of others. This concept of multiple potentialities could be generalized to all forms of mental activity. The question, then, is not how a phobic or a persecutory position develops and then disappears, but rather how it is maintained and organized to the point of developing a stable structure recognized as pathological. The spatial metaphors of the structural theory help us to understand the probability of occurrence of certain psychic activities. But we should not forget that these spatial metaphors are only models to permit us to conceptualize psychic reality, which belongs to the temporal order.
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Wilson, E., Jr. (1986). Revue Française De Psychanalyse. XLV, 1981. Psychoanal. Q., 55:698-699