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Nydes, J. (1966). Interpretation and the Therapeutic Act. Psychoanal. Rev., 53C(3):145-157.

(1966). Psychoanalytic Review, 53C(3):145-157

Interpretation and the Therapeutic Act

Jule Nydes, M.A.

Some years ago Marie C. Nelson, John L. Herma and I conducted a research seminar at the NPAP institute. Our main endeavor was to attempt some definition of a psychoanalytic interpretation and to distinguish it, if possible, from other kinds of verbal and non-verbal behavior which (by design or other-wise) yield positive therapeutic effects. The latter we termed “therapeutic acts.” Since traditional therapeutic intervention has been in the form of interpretation, some of our group contended that all therapeutic acts were ipso facto interpretations. My own view (the implications of which I will attempt to explore in this essay) was and remains, that while all interpretations are or should be therapeutic acts, not all therapeutic acts are necessarily interpretations. Silence or a cordial greeting, to use simple illustrations, often have undeniable therapeutic effects and may have an unformulated interpretative significance, but in and of themselves are no interpretations.


Interpretations take many forms, but all of them, it seems to me, involve the reduction of diversity to uniformity. Such reduction is clearly implied in the very name, “Psychoanalysis.” By discovering motives, patterns of character and defense and inner relationships; by relating particulars to general determining principles, the highly diversified material presented by a patient is reduced in some measure to a statement which is uniform in that it is applicable to many patients. One may say, in truth and triviality, to almost anyone, for example, “You are in need of approval.” A diagnosis such as schizophrenia is another example of a brief interpretation which reduces a complex array of psychological data to a single word or label if you will. I am not suggesting that diagnostic categories be abandoned. They are the ciphers of psychological stenography.

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