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Narcisi, C.E. (2009). Practice and Theory: Promises, Oaths, and Vows: On the Psychology of Promising. By Herbert J. Schlesinger. Hillsdale, NJ: The Analytic Press, 2008, 232 pp., $49.95.. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 57(6):1489-1494.
(2009). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 57(6):1489-1494
Practice and Theory: Promises, Oaths, and Vows: On the Psychology of Promising. By Herbert J. Schlesinger. Hillsdale, NJ: The Analytic Press, 2008, 232 pp., $49.95.
Review by: Calvern E. Narcisi
In his newest book, Promises, Oaths, and Vows, Herbert J. Schlesinger offers us another clinical gem. In his previous two books, The Texture of Treatment: On the Matter of Psychoanalytic Technique(2003) and Endings and Beginnings: On Terminating Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis(2005), Schlesinger has systematically explicated the clinical wisdom he has accumulated throughout a lifetime of clinical work with patients, as well as supervisees and students at all levels.
The earlier books are a masterful attempt to offer first an overall theory of psychoanalytic technique, and then specifically a theory of the technique of termination, with all the complexities of multiple beginnings and endings.
This most recent book breaks new ground. It is a treatise on the psychology of promising, a topic left essentially untouched in the psychoanalytic literature. At 232 pages, and written in Schlesinger's straightforward style, the book is eminently readable. As with all of his writings, I frequently associate to Anna Freud. Both seem to choose every word with great care. Their thinking is clear, concise, and direct, yet the subtle complexities emerge as one reads and rereads the text. Although Promises, Oaths, and Vows appears to be a far more philosophical work than his earlier writings, it is in fact quite clinically grounded. Schlesinger's interest in the topic of promising was initially stimulated by a patient who repeatedly made uncalled-for promises, only to break them.
In the first four chapters Schlesinger lays the groundwork for the clinical application that will follow. He discusses the philosophical links between promising, morality and moral development, and reality testing. He refers to authors from Kant to Piaget, as well as Freud.
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