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Bergmann, M.S. (2001). Life Goals and Psychoanalytic Goals from a Historical Perspective. Psychoanal Q., 70(1):15-34.

(2001). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 70(1):15-34

Life Goals and Psychoanalytic Goals from a Historical Perspective

Martin S. Bergmann

In ordinary medicine, the goal of treatment is to undo the deleterious effect of the disease, to bring back the status quo before the disease disturbs the equilibrium. In traumatic neurosis, a similar aim can at times be pursued, but even there, if psychoanalysis has not failed, something new that was never there before will emerge. Whatever the aims of psychoanalysis may be, and they have changed significantly during its history, they were never to bring back what once existed. This is so even if psychoanalysts say that they are aiming at giving back to their patients the mental health they lost at a certain stage in their development.

Because psychoanalysis aims at more than restoration, the issue of its goals is both interesting and controversial. In the present climate of opinion, psychoanalysis is pressed to demonstrate its cost effectiveness against other therapies. The outcome of that controversy is still in doubt, but what remains certain is that if the value of “know thyself,” first articulated in the city of Delphi in Ancient Greece, is still important, psychoanalysis has no rival among other forms of psychotherapy.


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