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Greenberg, J. (1996). Psychoanalytic Words And Psychoanalytic Acts—a Brief History. Contemp. Psychoanal., 32:195.

(1996). Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 32:195

Psychoanalytic Words And Psychoanalytic Acts—a Brief History

Jay Greenberg, Ph.D.

THROUGHOUT THE HISTORY OF PSYCHOANALYSIS there has been a profound although often unspoken tension between two competing visions of what we as analysts can and should do with our patients. This tension grows out of a fundamental ambiguity about what it takes for treatment to succeed. Bubbling beneath the surface in the daily work of every clinician, it is the essential issue underlying our most important debates about technique. The terms of these debates have shifted somewhat over the course of history, but the central theme lingers. Over and over again we focus on a tension growing out of the relationship between psychoanalytic words and psychoanalytic acts.

Consider a few examples of the way the problem has emerged in public discourse. First there was the debate over the claimed differences between analysis and suggestion. Next came Freud and Ferenczi arguing over whether "insight" or "experience" was the driving force in therapeutic action. Alexander's simplistic and overdrawn theory of "corrective emotional experience" implied a sharp distinction between what he was doing and the traditional emphasis on the centrality of transference analysis. And, more recently, there has been a great deal of polarized discussion about the relative impact of interpretation on the one hand and the analyst-analysand relationship on the other.

Uneasiness about psychoanalytic technique began at the beginning, with Freud's ambivalence (almost always kept hidden from the public) about how analysts should behave. Commentators have frequently noted that the way Freud acted as an analyst (as indicated by the reports of his analysands and by his own notes on the Rat Man case) departed greatly from the rules of procedure articulated in his formal technical writings.

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