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Erle, J.B. (1990). Studying the Psychoanalytic Process: An Introduction. Psychoanal Q., 59:527-531.

(1990). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 59:527-531

Studying the Psychoanalytic Process: An Introduction

Joan B. Erle, M.D.

The COPE Study Group on Psychoanalytic Process enlisted analysts of substantially similar views. The choice was intended to minimize one variable that can complicate the study of psychoanalytic data and constructs: diverse and conflicting theoretical approaches. Within that common perspective, the approaches to the concept of "the psychoanalytic process" were quite varied (see papers in this issue of The Psychoanalytic Quarterly by Abend, Boesky, Compton, Davison [Davison, Pray, and Bristol], and Weinshel). This resulted in the generation of a number of interesting hypotheses.

Each discussion confronted us with the complexity of the issues. At the same time, we each had a strong conviction of the heuristic and therapeutic value of the psychoanalytic method. We saw the necessity of subjecting that conviction to rigorous study; it was frustrating that it was so difficult to do. In brief, we were confronted with the well-known problems of doing psychoanalytic research, whether the issues are theoretical or technical.

At our last meeting we discussed the tension that seemed to arise out of our frustration that we did not know more: that is, that we did not have a method or criteria for demonstrating the validity of assertions that arose out of shared, convincing clinical experience, or to test differences. The psychoanalytic field seems far more complex than we had realized even a few years ago. In an era that has seen immense gains in knowledge and methods of investigation, it is difficult to be reminded that our efforts to validate our theories may still be in a very early stage.

An analogy to medical practice and research may be useful.

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