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Satow, R. (2003). Transference: Shibboleth or Albatross? By Joseph Schachter. Hillsdale, NJ: Analytic Press, 2002, 267 pp.. Psychoanal. Rev., 90(5):761-763.

(2003). Psychoanalytic Review, 90(5):761-763


Transference: Shibboleth or Albatross? By Joseph Schachter. Hillsdale, NJ: Analytic Press, 2002, 267 pp.

Review by:
Roberta Satow

Joseph Schachter begins with a quote from Jack Streit's obituary. “Why is Streit's Matzoh different from all other domestic brands? Because Streit's bakes only Streit's Matzoh in our own ovens.” Jack Streit considered the tradition inviolable. Schachter credits Streit with understanding that tradition keeps the business alive. Similarly, Schachter argues that the core principles of transference and transference interpretation distinguish psychoanalysis from other brands of therapy—it is the shibboleth of psychoanalysis. He contends that the traditional concept of transference is neither theoretically viable nor clinically useful, but it keeps the business alive. The only reason psychoanalysts do not give up is because it is a common belief system that protects us from uncertainty and doubt about the efficacy of our work.

Schachter does an exhaustive critique of Freud's concept of transference. Freud believed that transferences were psychological experiences that originated in childhood and are revived in psychoanalysis and experienced toward the psychoanalyst. Schachter rejects the etiological theory of the cause of these feelings and fantasies. He accepts the notion that patients experience unrealistic and/or irrational feelings and fantasies about the analyst, but he does not know the cause. Rather than calling these feelings and fantasies “transference,” Schachter calls them “habitual relationship patterns.” He feels the name change is important because transference implies childhood etiology. He wants to rid us of the shibboleth of “transference” because, he argues, it is actually an albatross.

Schachter painstakingly reviews studies that do not lend credence to the hypothesis of infant or child determinism. For example, he reports the results of a study by De Bellis (2000, p. 79) that reports that forty-two to forty-eight percent of children who were sexually abused developed posttraumatic stress disorder, but the majority did not. Schachter points out that there are confounding factors such as parental alcohol or substance abuse, socioeconomic status, and intelligence.

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