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Friedman, L. (1996). Overview: Knowledge And Authority In The Psychoanalytic Relationship.. Psychoanal Q., 65:254-265.

(1996). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 65:254-265

Overview: Knowledge And Authority In The Psychoanalytic Relationship.

Lawrence Friedman, M.D.


Psychoanalysts have usually maintained that patients are struggling with obscure problems that become easier to resolve as the analyst points out their elements. At first, the social and scientific community asked whether analysts really knew what those elements were; that was the challenge that most concerned analysts at the dawn of their profession. But even then the issue of proof intersected with the issue of technique, for instance, in the accusation that proof was produced by suggestion: Did the conduct of treatment persuade patients to confirm what their analyst already “knew”? Did analysts' knowledge seem to be authoritative just because they had exercised authority in the relationship?

As analysts became less interested in (and perhaps less hopeful about) establishing the truth of their findings in the scientific community, they became more interested in the authority invested in them or withheld by their patients. What claim were they making on their patients? How did they want patients to regard them? Why should they expect to be seen that way? And (more recently) is it possible to defend that claim? These technical questions have become increasingly insistent.

As is well known, Freud believed that the analyst has the authority of a beloved parent. That sort of authority reflects a relationship. Of course, the other kind of authority—possession of knowledge—that, for Freud, always meant factual rightness.


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