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Title: Agency as a Psychoanalytic Idea
Author: Joseph Caston

Abstract: Competent agency is a basic assumption of psychoanalytic change. Yet as an aspect of health, personal agency has in the main been only intuitively addressed and remains clinically unsystematized. Here experience-near and observer-centered criteria are developed that assess a personas-agent’s competence in particular domains. These ideas, clinically illustrated, stand as an operational framework that helps thinking and talking about agency in everyday clinical events and psychoanalytic outcomes. Three specific criteria are proposed: reversibility, self-observation, and appropriateness. The first is descriptively polar; together the three apply to each given context of action. They can also serve to ground future research. In this regard, several empirical psychoanalytic studies of adults and children that exemplify measurable aspects of agency are reviewed. Once clinical markers of personal agency are articulated, it will not be necessary to resolve the free will debate: pragmatically, we need only put such distinctions to work.

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