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Greenberg, J. (1999). Analytic Authority and Analytic Restraint. Contemp. Psychoanal., 35(1):25-41.

(1999). Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 35(1):25-41

Analytic Authority and Analytic Restraint

Jay Greenberg, Ph.D.

AFTER PRACTICING PSYCHOANALYSIS for more than forty years, Freud declared that he had spent his career pursuing an “impossible profession.” He had many reasons for thinking this, all of them still with us today. Like Freud, we struggle with the daunting task of helping people to know what they have spent an eternity avoiding, and to change their lives in ways that seem terrifying. But as we begin the second psychoanalytic century, we no longer have the props that Freud believed were crucial to his project. We have lost his certainty that the work is grounded in objective knowledge about what people want or fear most, or about how minds work. And we question our technical canon, doubting that we have a procedure that allows us to communicate that knowledge to all patients, no matter how reluctant they are to receive it. It seems, then, that in the sixty years since Freud said it was impossible, the work of analysis has actually gotten more difficult. But I believe that it has also gotten more interesting.

In this essay I address two aspects of doing the work of psychoanalysis that have become more difficult in recent years. First, I discuss the analyst's position as an authority in the analytic setting. Next, I turn to the role of the rules of technique that historically have been seen as the guarantors of analytic restraint. Both authority and received technique have been criticized effectively in recent years, leaving us with large areas of uncertainty. In my discussion I address these problems in related ways. I begin with the problem of analytic authority.

One of my favorite documents in the history of psychoanalysis is Edward Glover's “The Therapeutic Effect of Inexact Interpretation.” Glover wrote this paper in 1931, a tumultuous time for psychoanalysis. Within the previous decade, Freud had revised three of the main pillars of his thinking: the dual instinct theory, the model of the mind's structure, and the theory of anxiety.

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