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What Do Our Terms Mean?

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Theoretical and clinical progress in psychoanalysis continues to develop new concepts and to reconsider old ones, often in contradiction with each other. By confronting and opening these debates, we might find points of convergence but also divergences that cannot be reconciled; the ensuing tension among these should be sustained in a pluralistic dialogue. What Do Our Terms Mean? is the latest book in the suuccessful International Psychonalytical Association series, 'Controversies in Psychoanalysis'.

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Chapter One - Some Thoughts on the Inner World and the Environment

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CHAPTER ONE

Some thoughts on the inner world and the environment*,

The original version of this paper “set the scene” for a conference held on the topic of problems of interpretation in clinical work, concerning issues to do with the interrelation of the inner world and the environment. To set the scene in that respect, some brief comments were made, on what the concepts of “the inner world” and of “the environment” can include, and about aspects of their interrelationship. But before these points were reached, another piece of “scene-setting” was required. The conference was presented by members of the Group of Independent Psychoanalysts of the British Psychoanalytical Society, so it could have been expected that the papers would illustrate the psychoanalytic theories specific to that Group; except that the essence of membership of the group of Independent Psychoanalysts is indeed “independence”. The members of that group are all psychoanalysts, so it would be correct to call us “Freudians”, but we are not a subgroup adhering to one particular set of psychoanalytic ideas. While there are inevitably fashions, with people being interested and influenced by powerful bodies of thought that are current at any one time, the aim of the “independent” psychoanalysts of the British Society is to respect diversity of theoretical views, as an essential part of the scientific attitude. Recognising the unique position of Freud's monumental work, we share his view that revision and reassessment of theories and technique is called for from time to time. Later contributions to the science and practice of psychoanalysis, from whatever source, “should be examined and criticised reasonably, and accepted if their value seems proved” or, it could be said, if they seem useful.

 

Chapter Two - Ideas Stirred by “On Communication: A Comment on ‘Catastrophic Change’”

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CHAPTER TWO

Ideas stirred by “On communication:
a comment on ‘Catastrophic change’”
by W. R. Bion*

(The essence of the “comment” below, has far less to do per se with psychoanalytic theories propounded by Wilfred Bion, and far more with a particular problem in certain modes of psychoanalytic communication. Focussing on a paper that Bion had recently presented to the British Psychoanalytic Society, it ran as follows:)

Dr. Bion has produced a work in which many examples are given to support the idea that a specific pattern has meaning that is discernible in many different situations. This pattern or configuration is of a relationship of things being respectively a “container” and the “contained”, and this is first illustrated by descriptions taken from psychoanalytic situations, where “container” or “contained” may be feelings, thoughts, ideas, functions, situations, people, and abstract concepts. The same configuration is then applied to certain social or sociological situations: and to all these areas are then applied certain ideas as to a catastrophic change that occurs if this “container” fails to contain the “contained”. It is an awe-inspiring presentation, packed with vivid pastiches and many meaningful comments; yet as a whole, this attractive simplification suggested by the configuration does not seem to hold. At first sight, this may appear to be because the ramifications of this simple pattern are by no means simple. Indeed, one is almost overwhelmed by the mass of complex material that has to be digested to arrive at the theme; but once this is done, what seem vital flaws in the reasoning emerge. I think these are due to the fact that the distinction, essential to clear reasoning, between causal and associative thinking, is not maintained.1

 

Chapter Three - What do we Mean by “Id”?

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CHAPTER THREE

What do we mean by “id”?*

This paper grew out of questions that arose during investigation of a different metapsychological field. I had been asked by a research group with which I am associated to prepare a list of ego functions, which seemed a request for a description of a group of clinical events, either observed or assumed from observations. My first step had been a search through the literature for relevant quotations. Apart from a few authors who have offered listings of ego functions, this involved a wider search through the writings of others, to extract from them what seemed to be “ego functions” implied though often not so named. I knew before I started that I would find the term “ego” used in a variety of ways, a point made by a number of writers, (for example, Rapaport, 1959, pp. 5–17); and I knew that many, especially the older publications, would need a lot of thought in translating what the authors refer to when they use the term “ego”, as clarity in the definitive concept of it would seem an essential prerequisite to deciding what functions could validly be attributed to this instance. (One might put it the other way around, and end up by offering the list of “ego functions” as a way of defining what is meant by “ego”.) This seemed a big enough task, but as I read and abstracted, it became clear that another problem of definition was involved. If, as Freud states, “the id can be described only as a contrast to the ego”, then clearly definitions of “id” and “ego” correlate and sustain each other; so an essential problem emerging in attempting to list functionings was where to draw the line, that is, which “functionings” should be regarded as “id functions” and which as “ego functions”; and this essentially involved deciding on what basis this line was being drawn: which implied also defining “id.” Thus the field of inquiry underwent a double shift; of subject, from “ego” to “id”; and of aim, from description to definition.

 

Chapter Four - Muddles and Metaphors: Some Thoughts about Psychoanalytic Words

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CHAPTER FOUR

Muddles and metaphors: some thoughts about psychoanalytic words*

Words are a major tool in the practice of psychoanalysis, and are just about all that is available for constructing our background theories. It is true that Freud (1923) offered some diagrams to illustrate his views about the “psychic apparatus” (Sandler and Joffe (1969)—to mention two of our Members—also did this). But overall, words are all that have been available for constructing our background theories. Even though illustrations have been used, putting into a spatial context things that were not in any sense thought of as spatial, ultimately, all our theoretical formulations are entirely verbal. When we examine them, we find that they can be as misleading as the diagrams would be if those diagrams were taken to represent something that does have spatial qualities. I believe this is because our psychoanalytic theoretical formulations are neither exactly descriptive nor truly explanatory, but illustrations achieved by a series of metaphorical sketches. In 1915, Freud (1895), talking about instincts, (which he often described as “our mythology”) said, about the abstract ideas “that one cannot avoid applying to the descriptions and classifications of phenomena”, that such ideas “must at first necessarily possess some degree of indefiniteness.” In a very real way, many of our most basic purely abstract ideas, like those described in words like “id”, “ego”, “superego”, remain sufficiently indefinite for the words to mean many different and sometimes incompatible things. In a similar way, the words we use clinically have a range of meanings that renders them extremely inexact.

 

Chapter Five - On Marjorie Brierley

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CHAPTER FIVE

On Marjorie Brierley*

It is customary in this society to hold memorial meetings when respected colleagues have died, to describe their work and remember them. There was no such meeting after Dr. Marjorie Brierley died on 21 April 1984, because practically no-one remembered or missed her as a person, as she had been away from London for about thirty-five years. But while I never met her, I asked for a meeting in her memory, because I think her contributions should not be forgotten. What I know about her comes from her publications, her contributions to the Controversial Discussions, and some unpublished material from the archives, for which I am much indebted to Pearl King.

Brierley started psychoanalytic training in 1927, the year before her medical qualification. She already had a first class honours degree in psychology from University College, and she had had four years’ analysis, two from Flugel and two from Edward Glover, between 1922 and 1927. She was “passed for practice” and appointed to the House Committee of the Clinic in 1929, while still in training. She became a full Member of the Society in 1930, and a training analyst, a control analyst, and a lecturer to students in 1933.

 

Chapter Six - What do we Mean by “Phantasy”?

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CHAPTER SIX

What do we mean by “phantasy”?*

“Phantasy”1 is a term in constant use in psychoanalysis, both in descriptions of clinical practice and in discussions of theory. Although it is quite often used loosely, to denote either conscious imaginings or anything unconscious not in accord with our rational assessment of facts, those using the word seriously usually do so as if in no doubt that their listeners or readers will understand the word exactly as it is meant.

However, this assumption may well not be justified, as the word “phantasy” can mean different things to different psychoanalytic thinkers. This chapter considers some of the differences between the notion of “phantasy” as held by Melanie Klein and those abiding by her theoretical models, and the notion as held by what are sometimes called “the more orthodox psychoanalytic thinkers”. These differences were first clearly aired during the “Controversial Discussions”, which were conducted by the British Psychoanalytical Society during the war, and much of what is to follow is a highly abbreviated and incomplete selection from the minutes of those Discussions.

 

Chapter Seven - Some Remarks about the “Controversial Discussions”

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CHAPTER SEVEN

Some remarks about the “Controversial Discussions”*,

In 1943–44, the British Psychoanalytical Society held the “Controversial Discussions” in an attempt to resolve various disagreements then current in the theory, practice, and teaching of psychoanalysis. This chapter selects and assesses in some detail some of the arguments that emerged around the concepts of “unconscious phantasy” and “unconscious conflict”. Inter alia, they included arguments about assumed early events, about ways of interpreting and assessing evidence, about modes and different levels of conceptualisation, about interpretations of Freud and about changes in psychoanalytic theory. Attempts to achieve mutual understanding existed side by side with total and sometimes rancorous disagreement. Attention is given to sometimes irresolvable communicative and conceptual difficulties that arose, from differences in meaning that different psychoanalytic thinkers assigned and still assign to each of the two conceptual terms, “unconscious phantasy” and “unconscious conflict”.

 

Chapter Eight - What do our Terms Mean?

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CHAPTER EIGHT

What do our terms mean?*

For more than fifty years, Pearl King has played an increasingly vital part in the world of psychoanalysis, working her way from student to President of the British Psychoanalytical Society, contributing vastly to work in the IPA and to every existent aspect of organisation and functioning of the British Society; and outstandingly, in creating new projects, of which the British Society Archives are perhaps only the most important and significant among many contributions. Given the extent and range of her creative activity, she may possibly differ from many outstanding psychoanalysts in being more renowned for things she has done than for things she has written, with perhaps the one exception of the volume mentioned below. But the distinctive originality that made her think of doing things no one else had thought of doing has also made her think and say and write down things that no one else has managed to say and write. I shall report at a little length on something she wrote of this nature—not to discuss it, but to give an indication of her capacity to notice and then bring theory to bear, on a difficult and potentially contentious clinical issue.

 

Chapter Nine - A Psychoanalyst Looks at Some Problems Concerning Evidence and Motives

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CHAPTER NINE

A psychoanalyst looks at some problems concerning evidence and motives*

My interest in the problems I'll discuss derives from having once been subpoenaed to give evidence, about someone alleged to have been a patient of mine.1 I had to consider the issues involved, and from them to work out what I thought appropriate to a psychoanalyst in this position: and to convey this to the judge in non-technical language. Later, I thought of other issues, not strictly related to this very limited field, but upon which I thought psychoanalysis might cast a little light.

My statement to the judge concentrated on presenting my ethical stand, with some examples to explain the need for special confidentiality by a psychoanalyst. I noted that in my work it was essential that people should feel free to discuss everything that concerned them, including matters of great intimacy that they wouldn't mention if they felt there was any chance that I would talk about them elsewhere. One of these might be the very fact that they had sought my help; and neither then nor since have I revealed whether or not I had ever seen the person before. I went into some detail to justify this confidentiality: the patient's being able to trust his psychoanalyst's discretion completely, is part of the very fabric of the treatment, without which it must fail. I contrasted this with a physician, whose treatment of a physical illness might be perfectly successful, despite any ethical lapse.

 

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