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Mayes, L.C. Spence, D.P. (1994). Understanding Therapeutic Action in the Analytic Situation: A Second Look at the Developmental Metaphor. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 42:789-817.

(1994). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 42:789-817

Understanding Therapeutic Action in the Analytic Situation: A Second Look at the Developmental Metaphor

Linda C. Mayes, M.D. and Donald P. Spence, Ph.D.


A root metaphor for the psychoanalytic therapeutic process is the mother-infant caretaking relationship. This developmental metaphor has assumed a dominant role for some analysts in how the psychoanalytic process and therapeutic relationship are conceptualized. In this paper, a distinction is made between two uses of the developmental metaphor—naïve and informed. The naïve view as commonly applied constrains our view of the unique relationship between analyst and analysand. The informed view takes into account current research in early social development that has emerged in the last decade of empirical studies with infants, young children, and their parents. While the parent-child relationship may be an inexact model for the analytic connection, some of the implications of the former, as they become more clearly understood in the course of careful research, may provide useful information about how change does or does not occur as a result of the analytic process, and how an analytic process needs to be in place in the analysand before that change can occur.

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