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Binstock, W.A. (1974). Psychoanalysis, Psychotherapy and Surprise: The Impact of Words. Int. R. Psycho-Anal., 1:363-371.

(1974). International Review of Psycho-Analysis, 1:363-371

Psychoanalysis, Psychotherapy and Surprise: The Impact of Words

William A. Binstock


The basic idea of psychotherapy is implausible, for everything rests on the notion that something or other can be cured by talking. Psychoanalysis has illuminated the depths of the processes involved, and it has done so mostly by scrutinizing specimens of verbal communication, but it is not entirely clear that even psychoanalysis has quite defined the place of words. This presentation will offer a generalization about how the words of one person influence another. The resulting hypothesis will then be applied to psychotherapy, with special reference to the concept of 'support'.

It might appear best to relegate such problems to the narrow confines of a purely cognitive psychology. Some elementary questions concerning communication pertain so largely to the conflict-free sphere of ego functioning that they seem at first glance far afield from psychoanalysis—they are relatively superficial, intellectual and adynamic. Yet only the comprehensive perspective of psychoanalysis, which keeps both motivation and impact in view, is likely to solve them.

Language is so uniquely and characteristically human that it naturally has the proudest place in behavioural inquiry. Various disciplines have tried and failed to produce a phenomenological psychology of words. The dominant group in contemporary linguistics, led by Chomsky (1965), (1968), is convinced that it has the key to human psychology, yet psychopathology remains astonishingly resistant to linguistic investigation, which has yet even to differentiate brain damage from psychogenic disorders (Vetter, 1969).

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