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Paniagua, C. (1985). A Methodological Approach to Surface Material. Int. R. Psycho-Anal., 12:311-325.

(1985). International Review of Psycho-Analysis, 12:311-325

A Methodological Approach to Surface Material

Cecilio Paniagua


In clinical psychoanalysis, the surface is defined as the level of observables. This is the objective anchorage of psychoanalytic science. Surface material is not synonymous with conscious, with ego work or with the defences.

To understand the psychic realities underlying the clinical manifestations, the analyst uses the algorithmic and heuristic approaches. These are the investigative strategies psychoanalysis has in common with any other scientific discipline. The former involves a direct search for clarifying associations. The latter is characterized by clinical hypotheses (interpretations), whose confirmation lies in the analysand's responses.

The prospective use of psychogenetic formulas as heuristic frames in clinical work seems unnecessary and risky, since they are the vehicle of indoctrination and since the analyst can resort to particular interpretations. For these, the suppositions are needed of the existence of intrapsychic conflict underlying the surface manifestations and of psychic determinism; no other metaclinical assumption is necessary.

The analyst has to steer a course between the danger of an unproductive letting the patient struggle with 'his own analysis' (extreme algorithmic approach) and the danger of disregarding observables. favouring his own aprioristic concepts in an attempt to do 'content' analysis (extreme heuristic approach).

Some aspects or moments of the material (nodal points) are pointed out as lending themselves especially well to the exploration of psychodynamics (workable surface).

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