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Sternbach, O. (1989). Problems of Insight in Psychoanalysis. Mod. Psychoanal., 14(2):163-170.

(1989). Modern Psychoanalysis, 14(2):163-170

Problems of Insight in Psychoanalysis

Oscar Sternbach

The question of “insight” in psychoanalysis is related to the primal psychoanalytic aim of seeking to make the unconscious conscious again. For the classical analyst “insight” is the essence of psychoanalysis. Practically the term insight has in America come to be used to indicate that one is conscious of one's unconscious. A classical psychoanalyst “gives insight” to the patient by interpretation or reconstruction. The analysand then “arrives at insight” as a consequence of being given insight by his analyst. Occasionally the patient himself has an insight independently or autonomously. In this connection the questions “what does it mean to be conscious” and “when can one say that the unconscious has become conscious” are legitimate enough to justify a serious investigation, although at the first glance they may seem to be utterly superfluous. The terms conscious and unconscious are used by everybody with a nonchalance that denies they could be problematic. If we know anything-don't we know it when we are conscious of something?

In 1952, Gregory Zilboorg, then a somewhat controversial author in the forties and fifties, discussed the meaning of insight in an article published in the Psychoanalytic Quarterly, “The Emotional Problem and the Therapeutic Role of Insight.” He says there that:

Among the unclarities which are of utmost clinical importance and which cause utmost confusion is the term insight. It came from nowhere, so to speak. No one knows who employed it first, and in what sense … in the course of the last thirty or forty years it has undergone so many changes and shifts that the concept has become even less clear….

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