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Kaplan, D.M. (1973). A Technical Device in Psychoanalysis and its Implications for a Scientific Psychotherapy. Psychoanal. Contemp. Sci., 2(1):25-41.

(1973). Psychoanalysis and Contemporary Science, 2(1):25-41

2 Clinical Psychoanalysis

A Technical Device in Psychoanalysis and its Implications for a Scientific Psychotherapy

Donald M. Kaplan, Ph.D.


Scientific observation often involves the strategy of obstructing the activity of a phenomenon with a technical device whose activations then reveal something about the phenomenon being studied. When an anemometer, for example, is positioned in the wind, the velocity of the wind can be determined by the velocity of the anemometer's revolving cups. Similarly, when photographic plates are situated in the path of nuclear particles, the streaks imparted to the plates by the activated particles inform the physicist's conception of a whole array of imperceptible entities. The invention of technical devices that will interact informatively with otherwise only grossly identified phenomena is no small part of the praxis we call science.

Freud's psychoanalytic method, as I shall soon describe, is yet another instance of the strategy exemplified by the anemometer and the photographic plate. The technique of clinical psychoanalysis can be regarded as a device for observing mental activity in its resistance to an interposing set of circumstances, which is structured and maintained by the therapist. Freud's method, to be sure, can be regarded in other ways—as a purely hermeneutic venture, for example, belonging to the humanities, as Ricoeur (1970) regards it. And I mention this at the outset to preclude the inference that in viewing psychoanalysis as a species of scientific instrumentation I am claiming for this point of view some ultimate validity that eclipses other conceptions of psychoanalysis. But I must hasten to admit my conviction that psychoanalysis is an embodiment of a scientific procedure before it is anything more, and that a point of view that neglects to take this into account cannot retain a compelling interest for anyone in whose professional life psychoanalysis has achieved a serious priority. At any rate, it is this sense of psychoanalysis as a scientific methodology that I shall be returning to shortly.

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