Free Association and Analytic Neutrality

Apr 2nd, 20142 Comments

Title: Free association and analytic neutrality: The basic structure of the psychoanalytic situation
Authors: Elliot Adler and Janet L. Bachant

Abstract: This paper re-examines within a contemporary context an essential foundation of classical technique, the psychoanalytic situation. Defined in terms of basic elements of psychoanalytic relatedness which make possible the most profound exploration of human motivation, its core structure is viewed as an extraordinary interpersonal arrangement anchored by two clearly differentiated yet complimentary ways of relating: free-association and analytic neutrality. The patient’s role, organized by the prerequisites of expressive freedom, is counter posed with the psychoanalyst’s, which is structured to empower listening and understanding. Elaborating the parameters of this unique relationship, the authors emphasize the synergic effects of each participants’ activity in creating a vehicle for destabilizing neurotic equilibrium. An extensive discussion of analytic neutrality, conceived as guiding ideal that informs all the analyst’s attitudes and actions in the exploration of psychic reality, is presented. Specifically,
the authors distinguish three essential dimensions which bear upon the interactive process: neutrality with regard to conflict, neutrality with regard to sequence, and neutrality with regard to transference. In contrast to the rigid constraint on human responsiveness often caricatured in the literature, this vision of technical neutrality establishes its vital contribution to the integrity, depth, and tone of any analytic process that unfolds.

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2 Responses to “Free Association and Analytic Neutrality”

  1. David Levine says:

    I welcome this posting. For a long time, it has seemed to me that the idea of analytic neutrality poses a challenge to those of us who would apply psychoanalytic ideas and methods outside the clinical setting. It could be argued, for example, that in the absence of neutrality, there can be no reliable analysis either of transference or counter-transference. It can also be said that the effort to engage in analysis-like relationships in the absence of the conditions for neutrality invites boundary violation and abuse, indeed makes those probable if not inevitable. Groups and organizations do not and, more to the point, cannot provide those in them with anything like an atmosphere of safety, quite the opposite. This is not a defect needing to be corrected, but a dimension of normal social interaction needing our respect. It is also useful to bear in mind that adopting the stance of neutrality is not assured by the presence of certain technical aspects of the therapeutic setting that cannot be reproduced outside. Nor is it assured by a decision on the individual’s part to adopt the stance of neutrality or apply learned techniques for doing so. It also depends on the development in the individual of a special emotional capacity. So, I think it would be very useful for those engaged in application of psychoanalytic ideas outside the clinical setting to take a hard look at the matter of neutrality and what it does and does not imply for the work we have in mind to do. I am therefore very pleased to see the Center highlighting the issue on the website.

  2. Michael Diamond says:

    One needs to be a bit suspicious of what some psychoanalytic writers mean by “analytic neutrality.” In Freud’s early work, particularly around the time of the scientific project and before his social theoretical writings, you get the idea of the analyst as a skillful, if not super-human, practitioner whose heightened self-awareness is the result of the magic of psychoanalytic training, which produces a sharp and precise psychic instrument or tool (as in the mind) for managing and interpreting transference. In some cases, this might not be what Freud had in mind given the linguistic mechanics and twisted interpretations of medical translations of his work. Leaving that aside, however, Freud’s own conflict between psychoanalysis as a positivistic science and psychoanalysis as a humanistic philosophy, a conflict frequently reintroduced, a repetition of sorts, into present day psychoanalytic dialogue on the matter of “analytic neutrality.” Critics will often refer to the factions of classical, scientific psychoanalysis, holding to some ideal of pure objectivity, on the one hand, and the relational and hermeneutic schools of psychoanalysis, emphasizing the construct of subjectivity, on the other. Of course, the actual differences, as I read it, are not that severe. In my mind, the danger in the concept of “analytic neutrality” is simply in objectifying the subject and thus damaging the opportunity for empathy and introspection. The latter derived less from some notion of analytic neutrality and more from identification (or what Kohut called the self-selfobject) in the psychodynamics between subject and object.

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