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Goldberger, M. (1995). Commentaries. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 43:360-365.

(1995). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 43:360-365


Marianne Goldberger

“Working through” is one of Freud's most evocative metaphors, as John Gedo has noted. But its use by Freud and its suggestiveness are not enough to justify its persistence in the psychoanalytic lexicon. I agree with Brenner (1987), who views the literature on working through, beginning with Freud, as a way to address the question, Why does analysis take so long? “Every analyst will agree,” remarked Brenner, “that analysis is slow work, but no one, to date, has given a satisfactory explanation of why it is slow work” (p. 101). Brenner emphasized the significant changes in our knowledge since the term's introduction in 1914: “Working through is not a regrettable delay in the process of analytic cure. It is analysis. … The analysis of psychic conflict in all of its aspects is what should properly be called working through” (p. 103).

It seems to me that working through is a rich, inviting metaphor for expressing what we do not exactly know, but why the term persists is another matter. Analysts have important reasons for wanting to keep a long-used, familiar vocabulary, even when it has lost its ability to define or explain. Rothstein (1980) has written persuasively about analysts' narcissistic investment in their traditional vocabulary: “Practicing analysts derive a sense of security and well-being from performing well within an established narcissistically invested paradigm. The ‘classical’ paradigm provides a framework wherein verbal interpretation, reconstruction and working through of an oedipal conflict and the associated infantile neurosis is most fulfilling to the analyst” (p.

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