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Fordham, M. (1991). The Supposed Limits of Interpretation. J. Anal. Psychol., 36(2):165-175.

(1991). Journal of Analytical Psychology, 36(2):165-175

The Supposed Limits of Interpretation

Michael Fordham, M.D., Hon. FBPsS.


My Point of departure for this paper is the assertion that interpretations become of no use when primitive emotional states emerge, as Spiegelman (in Fordham 3) and Schwartz-Salant (7) maintain. This, it is said, takes place in borderline or psychotic cases, or in relatively normal subjects who have reached archetypal layers of the mind. Then a change of tactics is indicated. It is a proposition reminiscent of Jung's own practice where he changed from reductive analysis to the hermeneutic, synthetic method via an interpretation on the subjective plane, and is probably derived from it without being identical.

I shall maintain that such an essential feature of analytic practice need not be abandoned just because an impasse has been arrived at, but that the nature, meaning, and effect of the interpretations being used needs examining carefully.

The assertions have a psychotherapeutic ring and I will, therefore, differentiate a therapist from an analyst as follows: a therapist has a therapeutic goal controlling his activities, which may be anything from the removal of symptoms to an alteration of character in a desirable direction, such as fostering greater adaptation, increasing consciousness, and so forth. An analyst, though not indifferent to ‘improvements’ in his patient, is primarily concerned to define, in the simplest terms possible, the patient's state of mind in relation to himself. He does his best not to have goals for his patient but, by sustaining his analytic attitude, he lets the patient define his own goals. I consider the method of Spiegelman and Schwartz-Salant to be psychotherapeutic, without, as is sometimes done, implying that this is a derogatory thought. After all, Jung's papers in Volume 16 of the Collected Works are all, with the exception of the Psychology of the transference, concerned with psychotherapy (Jung 4).

I must mention, as it is not made clear by these authors, what is meant by an interpretation.

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