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Wilson, E., Jr. (1992). Psyche. XL, 1986: On the Relationship between Psychoanalysis and Systems Theory. Tomas Plänkers. Pp. 678-708.. Psychoanal Q., 61:139-140.
Psychoanalytic Electronic Publishing: Psyche. XL, 1986: On the Relationship between Psychoanalysis and Systems Theory. Tomas Plänkers. Pp. 678-708.

(1992). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 61:139-140

Psyche. XL, 1986: On the Relationship between Psychoanalysis and Systems Theory. Tomas Plänkers. Pp. 678-708.

Emmett Wilson, Jr.

Plänkers is critical of various attempts that have been made to reduce psychoanalysis to systems theory. These attempts implicitly claim a logical priority for systems theory. Plänkers reviews the development of systems theory and various interpretations

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that have been proposed. The basic position emphasizes hierarchical organization, with the variation of elements within the system determined by the invariant overall structure. The impetus to link psychoanalytic theory to systems theory is the hope that there would then be a common language with non-analytic disciplines, and psychoanalysis would be freed of the stigma of being unscientific. The development of psychoanalytic thinking about adaptation and affect regulation (Hartmann, Rapaport, Joffe and Sandler, among others) led to a concept of psychic structure that seemed analogous to a systems-theoretic structure. The author examines in detail the work of Peterfreund, Bowlby, and Rosenblatt and Thickstun, among English speaking authors; and König, Ciompi, Stierlin, and Fürstenau, among German theorists. All these writers have attempted to integrate psychoanalysis and systems theory. None have broken with psychoanalysis, but have seen this attempt at integration as an improvement of the epistemological and scientific status of psychoanalysis.

Plänkers summarizes these various positions in general terms: they all seem to derive from Freud's position in the Project; they all attempt to link psychoanalysis with general psychology, that is, to develop hypotheses of high-level generality concerning structure and function of the human psyche; and finally, they (Fürstenau, Stierlin) attempt to establish external links to sociology or (Peterfreund, Sandler, König, Ciompi) links to other, internal intrapsychic processes. The goal of this systems-theoretic approach is to place psychoanalysis on a par with other sciences and to open up new fields of possibility for psychoanalytic research. Conclusions of its proponents vary between the claim that psychoanalysis is a mishmash of theories that systems theory can improve, or that systems theory is a better paradigm than the outdated scientific paradigms previously employed in psychoanalysis. Finally, none of the authors believe that their work in any way modifies the basic tenets or practice of psychoanalysis. Plänkers, however, is very critical of these grandiose claims and he argues that the conclusions are incorrect. In particular, he challenges the claim that systems models do not disturb the basic tenets of psychoanalysis. He attempts to show just how disturbing, revisionistic, and unfaithful to psychoanalysis these proposals are. For Plänkers, systems theory and psychoanalysis are incompatible, and attempts to reduce psychoanalysis to the former do not do justice to its insights and theoretical innovations.

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Article Citation

Wilson, E., Jr. (1992). Psyche. XL, 1986. Psychoanal. Q., 61:139-140

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