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Gedo, J.E. (1989). An Epistemology of Transference. Ann. Psychoanal., 17:3-15.

(1989). Annual of Psychoanalysis, 17:3-15

I Theoretical Studies

An Epistemology of Transference

John E. Gedo, M.D.

It was in the concluding chapters of “Studies on Hysteria” (Breuer and Freud, 1895) that Freud first reported his astonishing discovery that neurotic patients, when seen in psychotherapy on a daily regimen, tend to reexperience certain aspects of their past in relation to their physician. Within a few years, Freud (1900) realized that it is the childhood past that clamors for repetition in such a transference. Moreover, he soon concluded (Freud, 1909) that the transference consists in repeating both sides of a childhood conflict—in other words, that resistance phenomena are just as revealing about pathogenesis as are direct expressions of infantile wishes.

In 1914, when he prepared his rebuttals of the criticisms of his theories by skeptics such as Adler and Jung, Freud specified that pure “transference neuroses” can only be expected to develop in the course of analyses with patients whose childhood development had culminated in an “infantile neurosis.” Whenever the vicissitudes of early life led to alternative possibilities—the contingencies Freud then conceptualized as an excessive shift in the direction of “narcissism”—he conceded that psychoanalytic treatment could not succeed, precisely because the availability of the analyst would fail to evoke infantile love and hatred and the defenses against them.


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