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Wallerstein, R.S. Sampson, H. (1971). Issues in Research in the Psychoanalytic Process. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 52:11-50.

(1971). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 52:11-50

Issues in Research in the Psychoanalytic Process

Robert S. Wallerstein and Harold Sampson


To summarize the purposes of a discursive journey through the dilemmas posed by the many issues in research into the psychoanalytic process discussed in this essay, we have attempted to confront side-by-side, with reference to both theory and practice, two questions relevant to our central thesis: Is it necessary to conduct more formalized and systematized studies of the therapeutic process in psychoanalysis? And, is it possible to do? We feel, on grounds that we hope are cogent and persuasive, that the answer to both questions today is an emphatic yes. And yet we also hope that we have not sought, however unwittingly, to minimize the manifold real conceptual and technical difficulties encountered by the investigator who seeks to combine clinical relevance with scientific rigour.

Our central conviction is that the informal clinical case study (which is, as we have indicated, something like an 'experiment'), in spite of its compelling power, has certain real and obvious—and very formidable—scientific limitations. The major task for research in the clinical field and into the clinical process is the formalization of this highly artistic method into a disciplined research instrument which transcends our clinically satisfactory operating criteria of inner coherence and plausibility and clinical conviction bred of experience, and approaches the scientific criteria of systematic replicability; i.e. takes us beyond our 'rules of thumb' (Rapaport, 1960) to a theoretically coherent set of canons of clinical correspondence which can then be used to build thoroughly tested accumulating data into logically sustained new knowledge in psychoanalytic science. Psychoanalysis has historically underrated these complex problems of hypothesis-testing and verification. In part this has been because it has not wished a sterile scientism to obstruct genuine exploratory and investigative zeal; but in part this has been out of a historical tradition—and a particular constellation of scientific problems which conduced to that tradition—which has placed exclusive reliance on a single method of naturalistic observation by trained participant-observers. It is our belief that it is appropriate, feasible and very necessary to supplement that tradition now in order to make further progress towards the solutions of the problems which we have here so urgently raised.

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