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Brenner, C. (2000). Observations on Some Aspects of Current Psychoanalytic Theories. Psychoanal Q., 69(4):597-632.

(2000). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 69(4):597-632

Observations on Some Aspects of Current Psychoanalytic Theories

Charles Brenner, M.D.

The competing theories in the psychoanalytic marketplace today should be judged on their merits, not on the basis of the authority of whoever first proposed them. What is valid in each theory should be included in any formulation of a psychoanalytic theory of mental development and functioning. Since psychoanalysis, as part of psychology, is a branch of natural science, pluralism in theory is to be avoided in psychoanalysis as in every branch of science. The psychoanalytic method is a valid one of studying a particular aspect of brain functioning. The method and the theories based upon it are as “organic” as is the case with any of the other neurosciences. Any valid psychoanalytic theory of mental functioning and development should include the following conclusions: (1) Unconscious mental processes are omnipresent and of great importance in mental functioning; (2) Thoughts are as causally related to one another as are other events in the universe; (3) Mental functioning is a developmental phenomenon with describable, sequential features; and (4) A major role in mental functioning and development is played by conflicts over the sexual and aggressive wishes that characterize mental life during the period from three to six years of age, and by the compromise formations that result from those conflicts.

The last of these conclusions, though disputed by many, is abundantly supported by evidence that is not dependent on the use of the psychoanalytic method, as well as by evidence furnished

by the use of the psychoanalytic method. There is also much evidence to support the assertion that any psychoanalytic theory that attributes language-dependent thoughts to a child whose brain is not yet mature enough to be capable of language is to be considered invalid, as are any observations made by the psychoanalytic method (= clinical observations) that are influenced by such an invalid theory. In psychoanalysis, as in every other branch of science, an observer—no matter how astute and how experienced—who subscribes to an invalid theory will be led astray by that theory, sooner or later, in one way or another.

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