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Greenbaum, H. (1979). The Learning Process in Combined Psychotherapy. Am. J. Psychoanal., 39(4):303-310.

(1979). American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 39(4):303-310

The Learning Process in Combined Psychotherapy

Henry Greenbaum, M.D.


The purpose here is to discuss combined psychotherapy from the point of view of learning theory. Learning is an important factor in the biological adaptation of all living organisms to the natural environment; in man, learning is a psychological organizer and modifier of his behavior in his adaptation to the human environment. It is interesting to note to what extent the word “learning” has been used in everyday conversation, in the press, in lay periodicals, and also in the scientific writing of psychoanalysis, psychiatry, and psychology—not only in the common language sense of acquiring knowledge or skill by study and practice, but also in the “… general term for the reorganization of behavior as a result of individual experience.”

Learning is a biological process that is active in all living organisms. Self-preservation and species survival are essential to all living organisms. In order to survive, they must be able to adapt to the conditions of their changing environment, and adaptation is not possible without learning. Learning is the capacity of organisms, from unicellular to multicellular, to sense favorable or unfavorable factors in the environment, to record them in memory, and to respond with a course of action which leads to comfort and alleviates distress. Memory is an integral part of learning.

More than other species, man's survival depends rather on mastery of both inner and outer nature and on adaptation to both interpersonal relationships and the culture that regulates them. Here the changes are rapid, enormous, and continuous, during the course of an individual's lifetime and, to a greater extent, from generation to generation. Genetic programming is impossible under such rapidly changing conditions. Flexibility is of cardinal importance. Learning, in contrast to instinct, provides this flexibility. Parents teach their children the lessons of their own life experiences for better or for worse.


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