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Classical theory

During the 1890s, the cornerstones of Freud's "discovery" were set in place. Freud moved away from his interest in hypnosis and cathartic techniques to encouraging "free association" and listening. Through his researches in treating hysterics (all the early patients of "psychoanalysis" were female hysterics), a new method emerged, with a new significance attached to "phantasy", often seen as coterminous with Freud's abandonment of the "seduction hypothesis" around 1897. With these changes we see the formation of the new domain of psychoanalysis, christened "the talking cure" by Anna O., the first patient, as it were, of the new approach. For our purposes, in this brief excavation of psychoanalysis, we shall refer to Freud's topographical understanding of the mind and his leading metaphor of archaeology, his notion of resistance and the transference, and, by extension, the special, surgical-like stance of the analyst.

The archaeology metaphor

An archaeological metaphor is used frequently by Freud to describe mental life—a psychology of "depth", whereby later stages of development are overlain on earlier ones, just as the archaeologist unearths traces of earlier civilisations. History, in Freudian theory, is governed by endogenous drives, with treatment aiming to resolve the deeper "infantile neurosis", thus restoring the patient, and to "fill the gaps in memory". The reality produced by psychoanalysis is "discovered" or "recovered" in the archaeological metaphor; Wolberg (1976) likens the classical view of treatment to that of a mining operation, aimed at reaching the psychic core and latent content. The Freudian "self" was based on the idea of a self-enclosed subject, organised predominantly around sequential intrapsychic structures and driven by instincts. Second, the perspective is a vertical one, from top to bottom, with the analyst, as psychic archaeologist, presiding over the treatment, over the patient, as it were; ". this aligned the patient closer to the primitive and overemphasised the neutrality and imperturbability of the analyst" (McLaughlin, 1981). Stolorow (Stolorow, Branschaft & Atwood, 1987) indicates that the intersubjectivity concept is in part a response to the tendency within classical analysis to view pathology "in terms of processes and mechanisms located solely within the patient" (p. 3).

The resisting patient

I had explained the idea of "resistance" to him at the beginning of the hour ... (Freud, 1909, p. 166)

The concept of resistance was there from the beginning and was integral to understanding psychoanalytic treatment and obstacles to it; overcoming resistance is a "law of treatment" (ibid.) and failure to do so is the factor which "finally brings treatment to a halt" (Freud, 1905, p. 71). Importantly, and this fact may help throw light on Freud's own subjectivity, not only did he use the term to refer to obstacles in gaining access to the unconscious, but he used it also to refer to resistance to psychoanalysis by its critics, those who had encircled his "embattled science". It linked into Freud's own myth of the isolated hero.

The concept of transference is tied to the concept of resistance. Freud writes: "This transference alike in its positive and negative form is used as a weapon by the resistance; but in the hands of the physician it becomes the most powerful therapeutic instrument ." (1923a, p. 247).

Consider briefly Freuds (1905) case of Dora. Freud makes several references to the "incompleteness" of that case, to what was left unanalysed, its omissions. In his postscript to the case, we are told of the one central omission to explain this incompleteness, this being the concept of transference. In a phrase which might reveal a lot about Freud's own position and desire, he writes that in the case of Dora "I did not succeed in mastering the transference in good time" (1905, p. 118, my emphasis). In psychoanalysis, from this time on, what was previously regarded as the biggest obstacle to treatment (the "un-welcome" factor which Joseph Breuer alluded to; Breuer & Freud, 1895), became "its most powerful ally", if sufficiently mastered. Transference is the "carrying over" of the past, stimulated, but not invented, by the treatment. Linked to libido theory, it is understood within conflictual terms, with the analyst representing the figure on to whom libidinal wishes are transferred, the focus of a transferred, inner "battleground".

In 1919, Freud distinguished "the pure gold of analysis" from the "copper of direct suggestion"; what distinguishes psychoanalysis from other psychotherapies, is the role of interpretation and, increasingly central, interpretation of resistance and the transference. The vertical perspective is clear, with the analyst making the interpretations (because he is in charge) to the patient (who resists). In Strachey's (1934) famous contribution, he argues that only transference interpretations have mutative power. Hearst (2000) comments on Strachey's language of trench warfare and summarises the outlook then as one where "it is the task of the analyst to penetrate step by step through the minefield of the analysand's resistance to the source of the neurosis. The analyst's weapon in the correct, and correctly timed, transference interpretation" (p. 2). Foulkes (1975a), in his writings, never agreed with "the monopoly conceded in certain techniques to the transference and its interpretation" (p. 116).

Intersubjectivity theory, by contrast, views the analytic situation with greater mutuality, but not naive equality, where the patient is seen as co-constructing his treatment and who "interprets" the analyst's behaviour as much as the analyst interprets him. "The concept of transference as displacement (or regression or projection) has perpetuated the view that the patient's experience of the analytic relationship is solely a product of the patient's past and psychopathology and has not been determined by the activity (or non-activity) of the analyst" (Stolorow, Branschaft & Atwood, 1987, p. 33). It now becomes possible to think that some of the very concepts used by the early analysts, and the treatment ambiance they fostered, helped to create some of the resistance they claimed to have discovered. And, far from being neutral, the stance of the analyst entailed an assumption of a superior point of view or epistemology. There was then, a silent metanarrative of truth and power, operating at the heart of psychoanalysis (Foucault, 1978b).

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