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Abend, S.M. (2001). Expanding Psychological Possibilities. Psychoanal Q., 70(1):3-14.

(2001). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 70(1):3-14

Expanding Psychological Possibilities

Sander M. Abend, M.D.


In my opinion, the essential goal of psychoanalysis can be summed up in a simple phrase: “greater freedom of choice,” given the understanding that “choice” means something more than its common-sense implication of making conscious decisions. What is actually implied by the word choice, and what analysis hopes to help the patient achieve, is an expanded universe of psychological possibilities, in place of the restricted set he or she was constrained to live with before treatment. In this short essay, I shall strive to explain why I prefer this definition of goals, and I will illustrate how I understand its application with short clinical examples. For the sake of clarity, I shall also mention very briefly the time-honored distinction between analytic goals and life goals, and cast a passing glance at the analyst's goals, as he or she engages in the work of analysis.

I first encountered the conception that analysis seeks to expand the analysand's freedom of choice during my analytic training, and I continue to embrace it, even though I have since come to appreciate that the term choice does not refer simply to the realm of conscious, cognitive activities. Greater freedom of choice is meant instead to designate an increased flexibility, a widened spectrum of possible responses to inner and outer stimuli, including, although not limited to, much that transpires outside of deliberate conscious control. I believe that my adherence to this formulation follows logically from my view of what lies at the core of the varieties of human psychological distress that analysis hopes to alleviate.

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