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On Freud's "Analysis Terminable and Interminable"

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A discussion by several analysts on the length of treatment, based upon Freud's paper, which is also included. Contributors include Andre Green, Arnold Cooper and David Rosenfeld.

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Part One: Analysis Terminable and Interminable (1937)

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PART ONE

Analysis Terminable and Interminable (1937)

SIGMUND FREUD

ANALYSIS TERMINABLE AND INTERMINABLE

I

EXPERIENCE has taught us that psycho-analytic therapy—the freeing of someone from his neurotic symptoms, inhibitions and abnormalities of character—is a time-consuming business. Hence, from the very first, attempts have been made to shorten the duration of analyses. Such endeavours required no justification; they could claim to be based on the strongest considerations of reason and expediency. But there was probably still at work in them as well some trace of the impatient contempt with which the medical science of an earlier day regarded the neuroses as being uncalled-for consequences of invisible injuries. If it had now become necessary to attend to them, they should at least be disposed of as quickly as possible.

A particularly energetic attempt in this direction was made by Otto Rank, following upon his book, The Trauma of Birth (1924). He supposed that the true source of neurosis was the act of birth, since this involves the possibility of a child's ‘primal fixation’ to his mother not being surmounted but persisting as a ‘primal repression’. Rank hoped that if this primal trauma were dealt with by a subsequent analysis the whole neurosis would be got rid of. Thus this one small piece of analytic work would save the necessity for all the rest. And a few months should be enough to accomplish this. It cannot be disputed that Rank's argument was bold and ingenious; but it did not stand the test of critical examination. Moreover, it was a child of its time, conceived under the stress of the contrast between the postwar misery of Europe and the ‘prosperity’1 of America, and designed to adapt the tempo of analytic therapy to the haste of American life. We have not heard much about what the implementation of Rank's plan has done for cases of sickness. Probably not more than if the fire-brigade, called to deal with a house that had been set on fire by an overturned oil-lamp, contented themselves with removing the lamp from the room in which the blaze had started. No doubt a considerable shortening of the brigade's activities would be effected by this means. The theory and practice of Rank's experiment are now things of the past—no less than American ‘prosperity’ itself.1

 

Part Two: Discussion of “Analysis Terminable and Interminable”

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A New Look at Freud's “Analysis Terminable and Interminable”

JACOB A. ARLOW

It would be difficult to imagine a psychoanalytic experience more stimulating or thought-provoking than rereading Freud's “Analysis Terminable and Interminable” and examining from our current perspective the many important issues it raises. The questions Freud posed then are fundamental to controversies in psychoanalysis to this very day. Some of the answers he proposed seem outdated and patently incorrect, while others are penetratingly perceptive, anticipating major lines of development for psychoanalytic technique.

It should be recalled that, only a few years before he wrote this paper, Freud had revised his concept of the psychic apparatus in a radical way. He had ceased trying to understand mental phenomena from a predominantly topographic point of view in favor of a structural approach, an approach which emphasized the interplay of persistent, organized forces in the mind. Whereas the topographic model stressed the pathogenic significance of what was repressed into the system Ucs, the structural model stressed the role of intrapsychic conflict and compromise formation. Obviously, it was not easy for Freud, at the end of his days, to make a clean and decisive break with a model of conceptualization which for so many years he had found so fruitful. In The Ego and the Id (1923), for example, he stated that henceforth he would be using the terms conscious and unconscious in a purely descriptive, rather than systematic, way. Nevertheless, in An Outline of Psychoanalysis (1940), he reverted to discussions of the characteristics of the systems Ucs, Pcs, and Pcpt-Cs. On reexamining “Analysis Terminable and Interminable.” it is both interesting and instructive to observe how concepts from the two different frames of reference are used side by side, sometimes in a contradictory fashion.

 

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