Questioning the Psychoanalyst’s Authority

(2001) Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 49:2, pp. 491-513.

Photo by: Suzy Hazelwood

Abstract: Sources of the trend to question not just the analyst’s authority to interpret, but the analyst’s use of authority in general, are explored. Out of a wish to circumvent the potentially detrimental effects an analyst’s interpretations can have on patients, certain psychoanalysts have modified their analytic techniques with an eye to downplaying the role of their authority. When taken to extremes, this has led analysts to act as if they have little to offer patients in the way of an alternative point of view, and to privilege patients’ accounts and interpretations by treating them as if they were objectively true. It is argued that one need not go so far in order to protect patients from the analyst’s less than careful use of authority. It is argued further that the judicious use of authority remains an indispensable tool in helping to ready the patient’s mind for a consideration of constructs different from those on which the patient has always relied. Finally, becoming comfortable with the aggressive aspect of the use of one’s authority may determine the extent to which one is willing to employ one’s authority with patients.