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Atterton, P. (2007). “The Talking Cure” The Ethics of Psychoanalysis. Psychoanal. Rev., 94(4):553-576.

(2007). Psychoanalytic Review, 94(4):553-576

“The Talking Cure” The Ethics of Psychoanalysis

Peter Atterton

Nothing takes place in psychoanalytic treatment but an interchange of words between patient and the analyst.

—Freud, Introductory Lectures

The relation with the Other, or Conversation, is… an ethical relation.

—Levinas, Totality and Infinity

What is the ethics of psychoanalysis? The question is likely to be viewed with suspicion by many analysts who see ethics, as Freud did, as representing the unrealistic and overly severe demands of culture that psychoanalysis is frequently obliged to oppose (Freud, 1930, p. 143). According to the classic Freudian picture, psychoanalysis has no ethics, or at least it has none in intent. The relation between analyst and patient (or analysand)1 should be ethically neutral. The analyst must not allow his or her personal values to intrude into the analysis, nor attempt to force his or her own ideals upon the patient (Freud, 1919a, pp. 164-165). The analyst should have a professional interest in the mental health of the patient, while resisting the urge to play the role of guide, mentor, or parent. Freud (1912) made the recommendation that the psychoanalyst should follow the model of the surgeon “who puts aside all his feelings, even his human sympathy, and concentrates his mental forces on the single aim of performing the operation as skilfully as possible” (p. 115). The analyst, in order to promote the transference phenomenon, should be relatively anonymous to the patient (pp. 117-118), which requires limiting the amount of talking one does (Freud, 1913, p. 124), and sitting out of sight, behind the patient (pp. 133-134).

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