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Mitchell, S.A. (1992). Introduction. Psychoanal. Dial., 2(3):279-285.

(1992). Psychoanalytic Dialogues, 2(3):279-285


Stephen A. Mitchell, Ph.D.

The last several decades have witnessed dramatic innovations in many different areas of psychoanalytic thought. New perspectives have been introduced on virtually all the traditional questions that have occupied psychoanalysts since Freud's earliest forays into the workings of the mind. What does the patient want? What does the patient need? How is mind structured? What are the crucial dimensions and benchmarks of child development? What are the balance and interplay between constitutional and environmental factors? How might the analytic process produce profound change in a patient's experience? What is the nature of the analyst's participation?

One of the most important and far-reaching areas of intellectual ferment has centered around the question, What does the analyst know?

This question seems like an odd one for psychoanalysts to be asking themselves. Freud and his contemporaries were pretty clear on what they knew. Psychoanalysis was regarded as a domain of scientific knowledge, the particular domain that studies the inner workings of the human mind. Some sectors of the natural world are directly accessible; some require a special instrument. The telescope allowed scientists access to the stars; the microscope allowed scientists access to the subvisual world. Freud and his contemporaries regarded psychoanalysis as an instrument that, when used correctly, exposes the latent structure of mind and reveals its energy source, its components, its joints, its inner processes. Psychoanalytic theory, as traditionally understood, provides a map of mind that enables the analyst to know how the patient is put together, where they have been heading, and how they might usefully reroute their course.

Challenges to this conventional understanding of what the analyst knows have sprung up in many very different sectors of the psychoanalytic world; they do not, in any way, constitute a consensus. They represent a large, complex conversation.

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