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Renik, O. (2011). When Theories Touch: A Historical and Theoretical Integration of Psychoanalytic Thought by Steven J. Ellman, London: Karnac Books, 2010, 736 pp., $65.00.. Psychoanal. Psychol., 28(2):334-335.

(2011). Psychoanalytic Psychology, 28(2):334-335

Book Reviews

When Theories Touch: A Historical and Theoretical Integration of Psychoanalytic Thought by Steven J. Ellman, London: Karnac Books, 2010, 736 pp., $65.00.

Review by:
Owen Renik, M.D.

For anyone interested in studying the evolutionary history of psychoanalytic thinking, Steven Ellman's When Theories Touch offers the most complete, most intelligently selected and organized, most instructive text available. Ellman understands very well that psychoanalysts writing about theory are all too often either sectarians or pluralists. Sectarians, by devoting themselves too exclusively to a single angle of view, remain overly limited and mistake the part for the whole. Pluralists, on the other hand, avoid the necessary scientific work of adjudicating among competing truth claims and resolving category errors by positioning various theories in relation to one another. Ellman steers a course nicely between Scylla and Charybdis. By focusing on the points at which theories touch, Ellman, in effect, invites us to hover over the blind men and take a look at the elephant as a whole.

The psychoanalytic thinking of Freud, Hartmann, Klein, Fairburn, Winnicott, Mahler, Kohut, Kernberg, the American ego psychologists (Arlow, Brenner, et al.), and relational analysts (Mitchell first and foremost) is examined thoroughly and in rich detail. There is a great deal of information—enough so that one might say without exaggeration that the book could stand alone as an institute curriculum on theory—but Ellman's clarity and personal style make for an easy read. The choices in each chapter concerning which principles to expose and consider are judiciously made. When necessary, Ellman has used well informed collaborators. Lacan is the one major psychoanalytic contributor whose ideas are not discussed, an omission for which Ellman apologizes, claiming ignorance. However, it could be argued that while the authors whom Ellman does discuss, despite their differences, share enough common ground that they touch one another to a significant degree, Lacan's methodology is sufficiently separate that an interface between his thinking (and the thinking of much of French psychoanalysis that has sprung up in reaction to Lacan) and that of the others hardly exists. In any case, Ellman promises to take up the question at a later date.

The thoughtful and rigorous historical review of psychoanalytic thinking that Ellman provides prepares the reader for the final chapter of the book, in which Ellman offers his own, integrative developmental theory.

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