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Akhtar, S. (2014). Psychoanalytic Treatment of Trauma and the Analyst’s Personality. Psychoanal. Inq., 34(3):204-213.

(2014). Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 34(3):204-213

Psychoanalytic Treatment of Trauma and the Analyst’s Personality

Salman Akhtar, M.D.

In his delineation of guidelines for conducting psychoanalytic treatment, Sigmund Freud (1912) explicitly declared that what he was recommending suited his character and that others might find their own ways of acting upon these principles. Before the reader winces and begins to question the veracity of my statement, allow me to quote the master himself.

The technical rules which I am putting forward here have been arrived at from my own experience in the course of many years … I must, however, make it clear that what I’m asserting is that this technique is the only one suited to my individuality; I do not venture to deny that a physician quite differently constituted might find himself driven to adopt a different attitude to his patients and to the task before him. (p. 111)

Despite Freud’s acknowledgment that different psychoanalysts might be differently constituted and despite his clear permission for others to be innovative and tailor the therapeutic technique to their personal styles, most practitioners of psychoanalysis took the opposite path. They clung to his guidelines and assiduously attempted to craft a proper or standard or mainstream or classical technique.

Kurt Eissler’s (1953) concept of parameters, i.e.. temporary and clinical need-based departures from a standard technique, strengthened the belief—widely-held at that time—that a correct way of conducting psychoanalysis did exist. Heinz Hartmann’s (1960) pronouncement that “the analytic therapy is a kind of technology” (p. 21) put a further seal of dignity on the elimination of subjectivity, variation, and nuance from our clinical enterprise. The fact that variations in the character styles (e.g., brooding, sunny, methodical, playful) of individual analysts could impact upon their manner of practice was banished from the profession’s awareness.

Privately, however, no one believed that all analysts worked alike. Certainly the cautious Anna Freud, the incisive Melanie Klein, and the playful Donald Winnicott were not the same in their clinical interventions. To be sure, all three subscribed to the “trio of guideposts” (Pine, 1997, p. 13) of anonymity, abstinence, and neutrality but, in the end, they worked quite differently.

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