The Vagaries of Psychoanalytic Interpretation: An Investigation into the Causes of the Consensus Problem in Psychoanalysis

Philosophia 42 (3):779-799 (2014)
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Though the psychoanalytic method of interpretation is seen by psychoanalysts as a reliable scientific tool for investigating the unconscious mind, its reputation has long been marred by what’s known as the consensus problem: where different analysts fail to reach agreement when they interpret the same phenomena. This has long been thought, by both practitioners and observers of psychoanalysis, to undermine its claim to scientific status. The causes of this problem, however, are dimly understood. In this paper I attempt to illuminate one important cause of the consensus problem by investigating the role which reliance on ‘associative evidence’ has in generating consensus failures. Various options for overcoming the difficulties with this form of clinical evidence are then examined. It is argued that these problems can be mitigated by the notion of overall associative fit, though they are exacerbated by certain loose standards used for what counts as acceptable associative evidence. The possibility of using more rigorous standards is discussed.

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Kevin Lynch
Huaqiao University


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