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Rycroft, C. (1958). An Enquiry Into the Function of Words in the Psycho-Analytical Situation. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 39:408-415.

(1958). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 39:408-415

An Enquiry Into the Function of Words in the Psycho-Analytical Situation

Charles Rycroft

In this paper I shall attempt to formulate certain ideas about the function of words in the psycho-analytical situation. In doing so I shall continue a line of thought that I began in my paper on symbolism (9), in which, following Milner (7) and Kubie (3), I took the view that it is misleading to restrict the analytical concept of symbolism to the use of symbols by the primary process, and suggested that words should be included within the general category of symbols even though they can be differentiated from other symbols on the grounds: (a) that their immediate symbolic connexions remain conscious, (b) that the displacement of cathexis from the thing-representation is only partial, the word remaining linked to and yet distinguishable from its referent, and (c) that they are conventionalized. These differentiating characteristics enable words to be used by the secondary process for purposes of communication even though they also continue to carry cathexes derived from instinctual sources. In the last paragraph of my paper on Symbolism I suggested that it is this dual function of words that makes psycho-analytical treatment possible.

Before coming to the main argument of this present paper I must mention that my contribution to the Freud Centenary Symposium on the Theory of Technique (10) was based on an earlier draft of this paper and that several paragraphs and sentences are common to both. However, my contribution to the Symposium was designed for a specific purpose and occasion and was limited to a period of 20 minutes.

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