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Greenberg, J. (2007). Therapeutic Action: Convergence without Consensus. Psychoanal Q., 76S(Supplement):1675-1688.

(2007). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 76S(Supplement):1675-1688

Therapeutic Action: Convergence without Consensus

Jay Greenberg

It is seventy years now since Freud announced that the problem of the therapeutic action of psychoanalysis had been solved. Ignoring the heated controversies of the time (well illustrated by the papers at the 1936 Marienbad Conference), he characterized questions of how cure by analysis comes about as “a matter which I think has been sufficiently elucidated” (Freud 1937, p. 21).

Freud was keenly aware that the theory of therapeutic action is the pivot around which much of the conceptual structure of psychoanalysis revolves; more than just the nature of the psychoanalytic situation—crucial in its own right, of course—is at stake. Beyond that, our understanding of the nature of the mind itself hinges on how we think about the ways in which a conversation between two people can change the inner world of one of them (see Lear 2004). In light of this, it is easy to empathize with Freud's strategy, at the end of his life, of declaring victory and withdrawing from the theoretical battles in which he had been embroiled for so many years.

Today, as the papers in this issue richly illustrate, we do not have that luxury. In a psychoanalytic world shaped by a theoretical pluralism that is embraced by some analysts and reluctantly accepted by others, no formulation of the nature of psychoanalytic change is likely to go unchallenged.

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