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Hoffer, A. (1985). Toward a Definition of Psychoanalytic Neutrality. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 33:771-795.

(1985). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 33:771-795

Toward a Definition of Psychoanalytic Neutrality

Axel Hoffer, M.D.


The word and concept of neutrality play an important but confusing role in the history of psychoanalysis. Does neutrality imply indifference? The origin of this ambiguity is traced to the fact that Freud himself never used the word "neutrality" (Neutralitaet) in his own writings. (His term Indifferenz was translated as "neutrality" by Strachey.) The essence of the controversy that has simmered in the psychoanalytic literature ever since is contained in the question: "Is remaining true to the concept of neutrality somehow antithetical to the analyst's genuine involvement with the patient?"

In this paper, I examine the feeling and power aspects of the word and suggest that the concept of neutrality becomes clinically useful when the analyst asks himself the question, "Neutral to what?" The analyst's awareness of his motives for recognizing and addressing certain conflicts and for overlooking others is heightened. With three clinical vignettes as illustrations, I explore the role of the concept of neutrality in deepening our understanding of (1) the analytic relationship; (2) The influence, on the conduct of the treatment, of the analyst's goals and theoretical persuasion regarding how the goals are to be achieved. As examples, I use the current debates over the relative value of the analyst's focusing his attention on: (a) the patient's mind in the hour rather than his life outside the hour and, (b) transference over nontransference interpretation.

Finally, I emphasize the far-reaching implications of adding an explicit concept of "external reality" to A. Freud's exclusively intrapsychic definition of the "objective" analyst's position of neutrality as equidistant from id, ego, and superego. The

addition of this fourth point to the analyst's "compass" widens the analytic field toward which the analyst is neutral. The concept of neutrality with respect to specifiable conflicts is thereby also broadened to include (a) interpersonal conflict within the psychoanalytic relationship and (b) conflict within the analyst. With these explicit additions, the concept of neutrality with respect to conflict becomes congruent with the current emphasis on the nonauthoritarian two-person aspects of the psychoanalytic relationship, without detracting from the primary analytic goal of deeper understanding of intrapsychic conflict.

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