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Wachtel, P.L. (1980). Transference, Schema, and Assimilation: The Relevance of Piaget to the Psychoanalytic Theory of Transference. Ann. Psychoanal., 8:59-76.

(1980). Annual of Psychoanalysis, 8:59-76

III Clinical Theory

Transference, Schema, and Assimilation: The Relevance of Piaget to the Psychoanalytic Theory of Transference

Paul L. Wachtel, Ph.D.

I

The Freudian concept of transference originated in observations of disturbed adults, obtained in the context of therapy, and was an attempt to account for certain distortions in their perception of reality. The Piagetian concept of schema derived from observations of healthy children, obtained in the context of research, and was an attempt to account for their increasingly accurate perception of reality. Two more disparate origins would be hard to find. Yet, I will argue, the Piagetian concept can provide a very useful and clarifying perspective on the phenomena to which Freud directed our attention.

Freud's first reports of transference phenomena were published in the “Studies on Hysteria” (Breuer and Freud, 1893-1895). There he referred to the patient establishing a “false connection” (p. 302) between the doctor and a figure from the past. Transference reactions were “a compulsion and an illusion, which melted away with the conclusion of the analysis” (p. 304; italics added).

In his discussion of the Dora case Freud (1905) elaborated somewhat on the concept and introduced an interesting complexity, related to the major theme of the present paper. Though transferences were generally to be regarded as “facsimiles” which “replace some earlier person by the person of the physician,” some were found to be “more ingeniously constructed” and “may even become conscious, by cleverly taking advantage of some real peculiarity in the physician's person or circumstances and attaching themselves to that” (p. 116).

In

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