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Rubovits-Seitz, P. (1994). The Fallibility of Interpretations. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 42:1310-1312.

(1994). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 42:1310-1312

The Fallibility of Interpretations

Philip Rubovits-Seitz, M.D.

August 14, 1993

In his otherwise informative article, "Interpretive Fallibility and the Psychoanalytic Dialogue," Cooper (1993) states (pp. 95, 107) that Freud "always emphasized the hypothetical, hence fallible, nature of clinical interpretations. He cites one Freud reference in support of that claim: "Analysis Terminable and Interminable" (1937a). That single reference, however, gives an incomplete and misleading impression of Freud's attitude toward clinical interpretation.

A more complete review of Freud's writings suggests that from the outset of his psychoanalytic work he struggled with a methodologic conflict between his positivist preferences for pure observation and objective certainty versus his clinical need for the less objective, less certain methods of interpretation. He dealt with that conflict in various ways, some of which were methodologically productive while others were not. Examples of Freud's eventual, though wavering, acceptance of some limitations regarding the reliability of interpretations appear in the Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis(1915–1916p. 51), "Two Encyclopaedia Articles" (1923pp. 238–241, especially p. 239), and "Constructions in Analysis" (1937bp. 265). Even in the latter essay, however, he expressed the categorical positivist assertion that, far from being fallible, methods of confirming constructions "are in every respect trustworthy" (p. 263).

Throughout his writings, Freud said very little about the methodologic problems and limitations of interpreting clinical data. In fact, he minimized the difficulties and fallibility of clinical interpretation, insisting that free associations provide a "plentiful store of ideas" that put the therapist on the right track of unconscious processes; and that associations contain such "plain and numerous hints" that the therapist is able to guess what is repressed (1924pp. 195–196).

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