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Int J Psychoanal 2003; 84:1105–1123

Problems with the concept ‘interpretation’

Corazón de María 2, E-28002 Madrid, Spain —
(Final version accepted 10 February 2003)

Consensus on the conceptualisation of ‘interpretation’, the most characteristic feature of

psychoanalytic technique, has proven elusive. Attempts at precising the meaning of this
term are reviewed. The role of intuition and suggestion in interpretation are commented
upon. There seem to exist polarities in interpreting styles. It is the author’s contention that
these are mostly contingent on the practitioner’s adscription to the topographical or the
structural model of the mind. The tendency to interpret deeply unconscious elements would
correspond to pre-structural technique, whereas the tendency to direct the patient’s attention
to preconscious manifestations would be characteristic of the structural orientation. Clinical
material is provided to illustrate the divergence of underlying theories of technique. The
topographical interpreting of Freud and his early followers is different from the interpreting
used in contemporary structural technique. ‘Deep’ interpreting approaches continue to be
used side by side with clariŽ cation-like interpretations. The reasons for this coexistence are
examined. There are powerful motivations for the adherence to pre-structural interpreting. It
seems to gratify the analysand’s dependency wishes and the analyst’s narcissism more directly.
It also provides a less sublimated satisfaction of epistemophilic drives. Maintaining ill-deŽ ned
the concept ‘interpretation’ facilitates the application of the topographical technique with its
irrational gratiŽ cations.

Keywords: interpretation, intuition, suggestion, topographical technique,

structural technique

The word ‘interpretation’ has lately seemed to lose its speciŽ city (Poland, 2002, p. 812).

Why do such wide theoretical differences persist in spite of frequent exchanges of opinion
and discussion? Part of the answer must surely lie in clinical practice and technique (Yorke,
1971, p. 151).

How can so many differences in approach to … interpreting be reconciled with a degree

of commonality of practice and helpful outcome across the wide spectrum we designate
‘psychoanalysis’? (Lichtenberg, 1999, p. 735).

On deŽ nitions
Psychoanalysis is a discipline of interpretation. In his essay ‘On psycho-analysis’
(1911), Freud described how, after abandoning hypnotism and adopting the method
of free association, ‘The development of a special technique of interpretation became
necessary … in order to draw conclusions from the expressed ideas of the person under
investigation’ (p. 208). Interpreting became, indeed, ‘the most characteristic feature of the
analyst’s activity’ (Arlow, in Panel, 1983, p. 237). In Moore and Fine’s Psychoanalytic
terms and concepts, ‘interpretation’ is described as ‘The central therapeutic activity

©2003 Institute of Psychoanalysis

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of the analyst during treatment’ (1990, p. 103). Simon deemed it the ‘quintessential
psychoanalytic activity’ (1993, p. 1063). However, our notions on such an important
concept seem far from clear. Edelson wrote, ‘Psychoanalysis as a method of inquiry
relies upon examination of the effects of interpretation. Yet we have no adequate theory
either of the psychoanalyst’s act of understanding or the psychoanalyst’s act of making
an interpretation’ (1988, p. 78).
In their Vocabulaire, Laplanche and Pontalis (1968) deŽ ned ‘interpretation’ as the
verbalisation by the analyst of the latent meaning of the material. The revelation of hidden
contents in patients’ clinical manifestations re ects an eminently Freudian understanding
of the concept ‘interpretation’ (cf. Freud, 1900, 1905, 1913). This understanding has been
adhered to by many authors from vastly different psychoanalytic traditions, such as Lacan
(1953–4) and Arlow (1979). Recently, Kris wrote, ‘Interpretation in psychoanalysis means
translation from inferred unconscious language (of symptom and dream originally) into
the everyday language of conscious discourse’ (1996, p. 23). It has been stressed that the
word ‘interpretation’ is not an exact translation of the German Deutung, which comes
closer to the concept ‘explanation’. And explaining is what Freud used to do, indeed.
Let’s remember, for example, how he revealed the meaning of tooth-dreams to the Rat
Man (1909, p. 316), or how he interpreted to the Wolf Man his famous dream (1918,
pp. 34–47).
There have been attempts to precise the concept ‘interpretation’. For some, true
interpretations are those analytic interventions capable of producing insight (Loewenstein,
1951). However, non-interpretive interventions (abreactions, clariŽ cations) can
produce insight as well. Insights may even appear spontaneously, without any external
intervention. One of the most important Ž ndings of the Mount Zion Research Group was
that, frequently, patients became aware of mental contents previously warded off without
the beneŽ t of interpretation (Weiss and Sampson, 1986). Etchegoyen (1986) and Sandler,
Dare and Holder (1992) considered it wiser to deŽ ne interpretation by its intention of
producing insight, rather than by the achievement of this effect. Nevertheless, it needs to
be remarked that these views fail to distinguish true insights from those iatrogenic pseudo-
insights resulting from covert suggestion. To complicate matters further, the concept of
interpretation is not restricted only to the psychoanalytic or psychotherapeutic setting.
In reality, fortune-tellers, astrologists and witch-doctors are much more interpretive
than analysts. Artemidorus’s The interpretation of dreams (1989), written in the second
century AD, is enormously more interpretive than Freud’s counterpart.
The metaphorical dimension has been considered an important part of interpretations
(Wurmser, 1977; Levin, 1980; Allegro, 1990). Other authors warn against this. Herrmann
opined that the analyst should attempt ‘to reduce his degree of personal metaphorisation
to zero’ (2001, p. 64). It is widely recognised that interpretations can be excessively
coloured by the analyst’s subjectivity. As a matter of fact, they can be ‘nothing more
than the analyst’s preconceived notion of what he or she expected to Ž nd’, as Tuch stated
(2001, p. 496). One may remember here Wilhelm Fliess’s assessment—‘the reader of
thoughts merely reads his own thoughts into other people’—that so annoyed Freud (letter
of 7 August 1901, Masson, 1985, p. 447). Indeed, interpretations can be too subjective and
Procrustean, although this does not make them necessarily less persuasive. Interpretations
have been considered irreducibly subjective by Renik (1993). This author took exception
to the very use of the term ‘interpretation’, arguing that it indicated an illusory belief in
the objectivity of the analyst’s interventions. Some conceptualisations of ‘interpretation’
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include the patient’s active participation. For Levy and Inderbitzin, ‘The patient’s
corrections, ampliŽ cations, and other contributions to the analyst’s interpretations
must be included in what is considered the interpretive process’ (1992, p. 101). Also,
interpretations in psychoanalysis are supposed to be part of a continuing process and not
‘one shot’ experiences, as Arlow (1987) articulated. He showed how minor one-word
interventions can be part of the logical sequence of an interpretive process.
Sandler et al. (1992) deplored the fact that the term ‘interpretation’ had been used
as synonym for all sorts of verbal interventions in analysis as well as for a particular form
of verbal intervention by the analyst. Summarising their research of the psychoanalytic
literature, these authors concluded that the term ‘interpretation’ had been used to denote:
1) the analytic inferences on the unconscious meaning of the patient’s communications
and behaviour; 2) the verbalisation by the analyst of his/her conclusions; 3) any type of
comment by the analyst to the patient (the most common use of this word); and 4) verbal
interventions speciŽ cally designed to produce dynamic change through insight. Sandler et
al. favoured this last meaning of interpretation as the one most useful, suggesting that this
term could include also confrontations, clariŽ cations, reconstructions etc. conducive to
the achievement of insight (p. 178). For classical authors of technique, like Bibring (1954)
or Greenson (1967), the latter type of interventions should be differentiated from the
concept ‘interpretation’. Menninger (1958) preferred the term ‘therapeutic intervention’
when referring to both interpretations and reconstructions. Interpretations have been
conceptualised as verbalised hypotheses about the functioning and/or contents of the
analysand’s mind (Kubie, 1952; Rubinstein, 1980; Peterfreund, 1983). Interpretations
would not be declarative statements, but questions in search of conŽ rmatory answers.
Several authors (Laplanche and Pontalis, 1968; Brenner, 1982) have stressed the
difference between unverbalised hypotheses (‘conjectures’) and those communicated to
the patient (true ‘interpretations’). Hartmann (1951) was of the opinion that the deŽ nition
of ‘interpretation’ should include the naming of the analysand’s mental functions or
contents at a level that his/her ego could use. Contemporary ego psychologists think that
this is still a valid criterion.
Anyone reviewing the different meanings of ‘interpretation’ throughout the history
of psychoanalytic technique will probably be struck by the blurriness and disparity of
its deŽ nitions. Already in 1934, Strachey remarked that ‘the word [interpretation] is
evidently used in more than one sense. It is, after all, perhaps only a synonym for …
“making what is unconscious conscious”, and it shares all of that phrase’s ambiguities’ (p.
281). Vagueness of technical terms has been one of the plagues of our discipline. Writing
on the deŽ cient functioning of psychoanalytic institutions, Kirsner recently emphasised
the need for ‘much more deŽ nition of psychoanalysis so that analysts are using the same
words to mean the same things’ (2001, p. 210). More speciŽ cally, Rothstein stressed
that ‘the future of psychoanalytic research depends in part on precise deŽ nitions of
fundamental terms such as interpretation’ (in Panel, 1983, pp. 244–5, my italics). Why
then has general consensus on the deŽ nition of this cornerstone term of psychoanalytic
technique proven so elusive? ‘DeŽ nitions are compromise agreements’, in the words of
Moore (1990, p. XXIII). What can be the reasons why we agree so little on the meaning of
‘interpretation’ when, as this same author stated, ‘The standardization of terms is essential
for teaching, research, and the development of theory’ (p. XX)? Some authors favour the
idea of offering a rich family of meanings for psychoanalytic terms. I think that this is
more appropriate for artistic endeavours than for scientiŽ c disciplines. In ours there are
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concepts that seem inherently abstract and, therefore, harder to deŽ ne with speciŽ city,
but there are other factors to account for the general difŽ culty in deŽ nitional consensus
in psychoanalysis, such as unanalysed identiŽ cation with revered Ž gures or theory, and
narcissistic investment in one’s own ideas. I believe, though, that the semantic laxity of
the term ‘interpretation’ deserves special attention, because it seems related to additional
unacknowledged psychological factors.

Types of interpretation
Interpretations can be retrospective, i.e. deductive reasonings concerning the infantile
past (genetic reconstructions) or the recent past. The reconstruction of biographical events
is based on the accumulation of circumstancial evidence, usually following criteria of
‘coherence’. Interpretations can also be prospective. These are hypotheses put forward
for conŽ rmation by the analysand’s responses. There has been great controversy about
what should be considered empirical validation for this type of interpretation (cf.
Paniagua, 1985, 1987, for a review of conŽ rmation criteria). Interpretations can be ‘total’
(Alexander, 1935), ‘small-scale’ (Davison, Pray and Bristol, 1990) or ‘minimalistic’
(Busch, 1999), ‘inexact’ (Glover, 1931), ‘wild’ (Freud, 1910), ‘anagogic’ (Silberer, 1914),
transferential, extratransferential (Strachey, 1934; Blum, 1983), genetic or reconstructive,
countertransferential-disclosing, ‘mutative’ (Strachey, 1934), deep, ‘content’ (Kaiser,
1934), ‘absent content’ (Searl, 1936), experience-near or distant, process and ‘close-
process’ (Gray, 1994) etc., plus different combinations of the above. And there are, of
course, timely interpretations and premature ones, ‘correct’ interpretations and those
that miss the mark. There exist also the patients’ own interpretations. Finally, analytic
interventions can be issued in accordance with Freud’s topographical model, or they can
follow the technique derived from his structural theory.
One of the main problems in the description of the different types of interpretation
is the conceptualisation of how to proceed in order to make conscious that which
is unconscious. What should be touched upon Ž rst? Descriptively unconscious
(preconscious) material? Unconscious drives? Unconscious defences? A common
supposition for many analysts is that interpretations should be used to ‘meet the
patient’s thoughts and emotions half-way’, as Loewenstein (1956, p. 465) put it. But
one may ask rhetorically, why not all the way to the unexpressed depths? I think most
analysts know how tempting this can be. Shapiro reminded us that ‘In order to interpret
correctly one must wait to see the particular meaning at the particular time’ (1970, p.
415). However, who must see it, the patient or the analyst? Does the analyst ‘seeing
it’ mean that the analysand sees it too? Frequently, we fail to remark on who owns the
interpretive discoveries, although this is of the utmost importance for our theory of
technique. Schwaber (1990, 1995, 1996) has written eloquently and repeatedly on the
puzzling tendency to mix the analyst’s perspectives with the analysand’s. Are psychical
truths revealed to the patient? Are these found by him with the assistance of the analyst’s
methodology? Are they co-discovered? Are they co-created? I formulate these questions
to remind us of the hardships in conceptualising interpretation, the most characteristic
designative event of psychoanalysis.
Freud’s initial interest in interpretation referred mostly to the investigation of
dreams or, more precisely, to the elucidation of their latent content in the manifest
narration. Dreams seem to have maintained a special status among the multiform
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clinical phenomena. Their interpretation still seems to hold a privileged position in

the analyst’s technical armamentarium. I think that the reason for this is that dreams
seem more apt than, say, character traits, transference repetitions or diurnal fantasies,
for symbol translation, i.e. they represent an optimal opportunity for the application of
the primitive but attractive decoding method of ‘topographical technique’ (Paniagua,
1998, 2001). In dreams, the unconscious is supposed to be more readable. ‘The dream
… remains a window into the unconscious’, Blum wrote recently (2001, p. 962). On 26
November 1899, Freud wrote to Fliess, ‘Interpreting dreams appears more difŽ cult for
others than I had indicated’ (Masson, 1985, p. 389). However, a few years later, Freud
stated, ‘It is easy to learn how to interpret dreams … and to practise similar explanatory
arts’ (1905, p. 116). One cannot know what made him change his mind, but I believe
that the second opinion re ects a tendency toward wishful thinking that is still common
in modern psychoanalysis. The idea of possessing capacities for an easy unravelling of
enigmas and for the undoing of mysterious symptoms that af ict the human psyche is
highly attractive. The pre-structural theory of technique seems to provide the means for
a far greater gratiŽ cation of our wishes to interpret directly the unknown. This and other
regressive features make topographical interpreting untowardly appealing. I have come
to suspect that the ambiguities in the deŽ nition of ‘interpretation’ may be partly due to
an unconscious wish to maintain this illusory, magical and awe-provoking ability.
Writing on the evolution of the concept ‘interpretation’, Skolnikoff observed
that ‘instead of older concepts being replaced by new ones, a multiplicity of meanings
have evolved’ (1992, p. 117). Newer concepts of ‘interpretation’ should re ect the
accumulation of experience and wisdom of later generations of analysts. Why did modern
concepts fail to replace older ones, as is usually the case in other Ž elds of science?
Skolnikoff stated, ‘The simplest deŽ nition of interpretation refers to the topographic
model … Simple examples would refer to an interpretation of the meanings of slips or
symptoms. The structural model makes the theory of what is interpreted more complex’
(p. 118). Now, why stick with ‘the simplest’, derived from an explanatory model of the
mind that became untenable eight decades ago (Freud, 1923)? What would deter analysts
from interpreting at the higher conceptual level of the compromise formations between
unconscious defence mechanisms and drive derivatives, characteristic of the tripartite
model? I consider the conclusion inescapable that there exist psychological resistances
to update the deŽ nition of ‘interpretation’ in modern technique.

Intuition and interpretation

In his oft-quoted article ‘The genesis of interpretation’, Arlow (1979) stressed that the
subjective aspects of interpretation (introspection, intuition and empathy) were only the
Ž rst part of interpretive work. This needed to be complemented by a second phase based
on cognition and the exercise of reason (see also Basch, 1981). The essentialness of this
second requirement has not always been acknowledged (see, for instance, Reik, 1948;
Anzieu, 1969). In a classical research paper on the consensus problem of psychoanalytic
interpretations, Seitz attributed the failure of participants to reach agreement on the
meaning of small units of clinical material (for instance, Ž rst dreams) to the ‘excessive
reliance upon intuitive impressions and insufŽ cient attention to the systematic and critical
checking of our interpretations’, acknowledging that ‘More and more, we were forced
to the conclusion that intuitive impressions must be tested in more objective ways’
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(1966, p. 216). Of course, this does not mean that this type of impression is necessarily
inaccurate; what it means is that in analysis we can do better than reaching conclusions
based on small perceptual clues. Waelder (1962) stressed that intuition should be
considered immensely relevant for practitioners of short-term psychotherapy. The role
of intuition in analytic technique seems central in those forms of treatment in which
analysts consider their own emotional reactions, fantasies or memories homologous to
the patient’s inner state (cf. Heimann, 1950). In these cases, the analyst’s feelings can
be taken as a credible re ection of the patient’s unconscious projections and, therefore,
deemed useable for interpretation. Contra this interpreting methodology, Gray stressed
the importance of ‘the gathering of data from what the analyst observes, rather than from
what he feels’ (1991, p. 224). The impressionistic listening of a ‘counteridentiŽ catory’
stance (Grinberg, 1956) re ects a philosophy of technique clearly at variance with the
close process attention to those moments when anxiety forces the ego to interfere with
emerging material (Gray, 1986, 1990). Nevertheless, it should be mentioned that the close
following of defensive shifts in analysands’ associations is not exclusive of contemporary
ego psychologists. Contemporary British Kleinians also practise this technique, although
with some dissimilar metapsychological assumptions and with different emphasis on the
transference–countertransference interplay (cf. Schafer, 1994). Interpretations based on
subjective feelings supposedly acquired through the analysand’s projective identiŽ cation
are a far cry from the technique of showing how the analyst’s reactions are a response
to manifestations by the patient that can be ‘objectiŽ ed’ by directing his/her conscious
attention to them.
Listening for what is hidden in the associations is not the same as listening for
what can be read in them (cf. Busch, 1999). Reliance on intuition will tend to decrease
the role of the patient’s ego in the interpretive understanding. Interpreting based on our
intuitive convictions will inevitably make us recruit less of the analysand’s collaboration,
frequently interfering with the task of exploring his/her own pathogenic beliefs. I am in
agreement with Schwaber’s position that
There is a fundamental difference in outlook between an interpretive effort that attempts to
help the patient arrive at a truth, the existence of which the analyst has implicitly [I would
have said ‘supposedly’] pre-existing knowledge, and an interpretation that inherently derives
from a question to which the analyst does not yet have an answer … [T]he latter outlook,
though difŽ cult to sustain, will lead to a methodology which more rigorously focuses on the
patient’s psychic reality as our sole purview (1990, p. 239).
Greenson remarked that ‘By interpreting we go beyond what is readily observable,
and we assign meaning and causality to psychological phenomena’ (1967, p. 39, my
italics). In this rendition of ‘interpretation’, it is the analyst who assigns the meaning
and determines the causality of the patient’s mental productions. By interpreting beyond
that which is readily observable, Greenson referred, of course, to the topographical
formula of telling patients about meanings implicit in the material. Supposedly, the
analyst ‘knows’ the underlying dynamics and verbalises them. Re ecting on issues of
‘unresolved paternalism’ in technique, Hinshelwood asked, ‘If the psychoanalyst knows
for the patient, does this in the long run contribute to the patient knowing better for
himself?’ (1997, p. 105). However, despite this re ection, Hinshelwood translated for the
analysands the transferential meaning of their behaviour and dreams. One of his patients
protested that his interpretive connections were unwarranted, and that he was trying
to include himself in his dream. This did not deter the analyst: ‘I said he was trying to
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convey to me that we should take an interest in the woodenness of this session. I persisted
that he attributes the woodenness to me, since my name has a “wooden end”’ (p. 61).
I mention this example as an illustration of the frequent practice of voicing thoughtful
consideration for the patient’s ego, on one hand, and issuing interpretations according
to the dictates of the old topographical technique, on the other.
‘Why do analysts like to say that the unconscious is what is unknown … when
in reality they act as if it were an old acquaintance[?]’, wondered Herrmann (2001, p.
63). I think that the answer to this intriguing question lies mostly in the gratiŽ cation
of our epistemophilia, our yearnings for omniscience, our wishes to elicit admiration,
and related narcissistic motivations. Seitz remarked, in the conclusion of his research,
‘Narcissistic investment in one’s own interpretive ideas appeared to be a considerable
(some of us believe a formidable) obstacle to progress in improving our interpretive
methods in psychoanalysis’ (1966, p. 213). These driving forces can be so powerful as
to make us forget that deciphering latent contents based on intuition, and without the
patient’s conŽ rmatory participation, is deceptive.

Suggestion in interpretation
In analysis, one of the greatest sources of satisfaction lies in the feeling of explaining
the unexplained, bringing meaning out of chaos. But relating the known to the unknown
can also be accomplished by myths and philosophical theories, complex and simple
alike. Even astrology will do. Interpretive explanations can be accurate, but they can
also be completely off the mark, rationalisations, and even formal delusions. Let’s think,
for example, of the time-honoured exegeses of religion. Through interpreting we can,
as Spence said, ‘exchange the uncertainty and mystery of the clinical happening for a
plausible and compelling explanation—and who would prefer the Ž rst to the second?’
(1982, p. 143). This spells both the attraction and the danger of interpretation, because it
accounts for the constant temptation to resort to creativity instead of observational rigour
in our search for explanations. Indeed, ingenuity and verbal dexterity can paper over
logical inconsistencies, bypassing the demands of scientiŽ city. ‘We can create truth by
statement’, asserted Spence (p. 177); ‘simply by putting something into words gives it a
certain kind of authenticity’ (pp. 137–8). I would like to stress the point that, for words to
have this type of effect, they ought to be uttered by someone invested with transference of
authority. Long after suggestion was supposedly discarded from the technical repertoire,
Freud argued that ‘an assured conviction of the truth of construction … achieves the
same result as recaptured memory’ (1937, p. 266). The technical positioning this implies
constitutes an apology for the well-known healing powers of suggestion, with its
enormous potential for temporary alleviation of anxiety. Interpretive techniques mainly
based on the analyst’s suggestive skills are inimical to clinical methodologies aimed at
investigating, in naturalistic ways, the analysand’s own psychic truths.
Analysts of all schools would agree that psychoanalysis is the form of verbal
treatment that dispenses most effectively with suggestion. According to Etchegoyen,
‘Psychoanalysis is the only form of psychotherapy that does not use placebos’ (1986,
p. 293). However, I would maintain that no methodology can be completely free of
suggestion, and that one of the main points of distinction between our different techniques
is the amount of it included in interpretations. The tendency to interpret and translate
symbols with theory-driven Ž ts (which makes interventions particularly predictable);
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the fusing of countertransference feelings (supposedly implanted via projective

identiŽ cation) with the patient’s own; and the issuing of the analyst’s own associations as
interpretations, result in a technique necessarily different as to suggestive potential from
the one characterised by interpretations that show greater consideration for the patient’s
ego through the addressing of clinical surfaces observable by both analyst and analysand.
Over half a century ago, Loewenstein (1951) noted that the more an analytic technique
focused on the structure of defence, the less the patient’s discoveries and reactions seemed
dependent on the analyst’s personality. Yorke, referring to the old Kleinian technical
approach, remarked, ‘Interpretations often appear to stem from theoretical assumptions
rather than from the patient’s material’ (1971, p. 152). Hinshelwood, a contemporary
Kleinian author, acknowledged that ‘often it is very difŽ cult to distinguish between what
is retrieved from the unconscious and what is introduced there by suggestion’ (1997, p.
106, my italics). Fine and Fine, in an interesting research project on technical approaches,
found that ‘the prototypic Kleinian and Kohutian analysts stated all their interpretations
in a deŽ nitive manner with a sense of certainty and conviction’ (1990, p. 1026), whereas
classical analysts tended to be less declarative in their interpretations, offering ‘no
clear-cut gestalt’ (p. 1038). It appears that techniques were not created equal when the
suggestion-carrying forcefulness of interpreting is considered (cf. Paniagua, 2002).
The interpretive style that tends to bypass the ego, frequently characterised as
‘deep’, may foster the production of pseudo-conŽ rmations and the creation of symmetrical
convictions between analyst and analysand. Possible examples of this phenomenon are
these excerpts: An analysand talked about sexually arousing fantasies in which female
bodies appeared to him in fragments. The analyst ‘told him he was just like a serial killer,
for he seemed to take more pleasure in killing and dissecting a woman with a knife than
penetrating her with his penis’. After a silence, the patient replied, ‘So I’m a murderer
and I didn’t know it!’ (Abraham, 2002, p. 332). Another analysand talked about food,
and then added that she had ‘a nice nature’. Her analyst asked, ‘When you say “a nice
nature”, you also mean good to eat?’ The patient was taken aback, but then, ‘[She] goes
dreamy and replies: “Yes, it’s true! I’m thinking back to uncle Peter who … said to me:
‘I am a lion, I shall eat you up’”’ (De M’Uzan, 1996, p. 52). I think these examples may
show how ‘deep’ interpretations beget consonant associations in analysands. However,
I would consider erroneous the idea that responses such as these are conŽ rmatory of the
analyst’s interpretations. I would see them as a sign of compliance, i.e. as the result of
veiled suggestion in a state of regressive transference.

Polarities in the meaning of ‘interpretation’

There are no theory-free techniques, and the disparate theories that inform technique
result in signiŽ cant differences in practice. For example, it is not the same to view
resistance (the warding-off device) as an obstacle to contacting deeply unconscious
forces (the impulses warded off) as considering it material to be explored and interpreted.
These two ways of conceptualising technique would seem to epitomise, respectively,
the polarities between topographical and structural approaches. In his ‘Technical
papers’, Freud advocated for the interpretation of resistances as the foremost objective
of psychoanalytic praxis. He recommended that analysts use ‘the art of interpretation
mainly for the purpose of recognising the resistances which appear … on the surface of
the patient’s mind … and making them conscious’ (1914, p. 147). However, it seems well-
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documented that, even after the introduction of the structural theory, Freud continued
practising resistance analysis guided by earlier views (cf. Gray, 1994; Busch, 1995, 1999;
Paniagua, 2001). This may account for one of our difŽ culties deŽ ning interpretation
and conceptualising its role in technique. As a consequence, topographically inspired
interpreting, i.e. the original approach ‘of establishing by interpretation a “record” or
impression, in consciousness, of what is presumed to exist as a separate record in the
repressed unconscious’, in Gray’s words (1982, p. 35, my italics), continues to be used
side by side with the technique of allying with the analysand’s pre-conscious ego in order
to direct his/her attention to unconscious defences characterologically established as
bulwark against the drives. But interpretations based on ‘implicit’ material, or related to
psychogenetic tenets surmised in it, are different from interpretations based on ‘explicit’
material that the patient can rationally understand and integrate. Interpretations issued
to be ‘accepted’ by the analysand based on his/her regression and the supposition of
the analyst’s superior wisdom are not the same as those destined to make him/her learn
by conscious observation about defensive shifts and the oscillations of affects and
thoughts. It is not the same, indeed, to make the kind of interventions that will tend to
be incorporated uncritically through positive transference—or rejected also uncritically
through negative transference—as to try to facilitate self-analytical capacities. It is not
the same to provide ‘insights’ as to promote insight.
Fine and Fine’s research study on the differences in interpretive interventions of
four groups of analysts from Los Angeles with different theoretical orientations found that
‘Kleinians made twice as many interpretations as the members of the three other groups.
They also gave longer and more detailed interpretations of the dream material’ (1990,
p. 1025). Predictably, they also made a more extensive use of interpretive conjectures
referred to unconscious tendencies of infantile origin. In Melanie Klein’s opinion, ‘it
is usually lack of interpretation, not too much interpretation, which causes trouble in
analysis’ (in Glover, 1955, p. 279). Other authors think otherwise, especially those who
recommend that interpretations should proceed by layers, with ego considerations in
mind. Fenichel (1941) was probably the most articulate pioneer of this technique. Gray
adhered to the idea that interpretations should be close to clariŽ cations. He even deplored
‘our persistence in making interpretations’ (2000, p. 227). Of course, there is a spectrum
in interpretive techniques. I am contrasting polar approaches in order to underscore the
differences in interpretive activity.
In a famous research questionnaire to members of the British Psycho-Analytical
Society in the nineteen thirties, Glover (1955) reported on two clear positions regarding
technical thinking. There was a group that felt that ‘any interpretation that was not “deep”
differed very little from reassurance’, whereas another group judged that ‘the reassuring
effect of “deep” interpretation might be due to its inaccuracy, in which case the “deep”
interpretation would have the same therapeutic effect as a suggestion’ (p. 282). I think
that the polarity in these positions can be considered paradigmatic to this day. Recently,
Busch summarised this dichotomy in the styles of interpreting:
There are those who believe that the analyst’s task is to bring to the surface those elements
that are most dystonic and so farthest from awareness, and those who believe that the most
meaningful interpretations are those closest to awareness (2000, p. 237).

In worst-case scenarios this polarity gets portrayed thus: deep interpreters think that
colleagues ascribed to the second pole show anguish and defence in relation to contact
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with disturbing emotions and fantasies, whereas ego psychologists feel that followers of
deep interpreting come close to practising wild analysis.
Obviously, the term ‘interpretation’ gets applied to divergent clinical methodologies,
which tends to give this concept a blurred denotation and a false sense of understanding.
It is notable that Freud did not attempt to elaborate sufŽ ciently on the epistemology
of interpretation, the chief analytical tool. Rubovits-Seitz (1998) cogently argued that
Freud avoided this endeavour because it stirred con ict with his idealised views of
psychoanalysis as a parcel of positivistic science. After the introduction by Freud (1923)
of the structural theory, we could have expected that the technical approach that assesses
ego readiness to comprehend and absorb emotionally the analytic Ž ndings would take
precedence over the direct interpreting of unconscious id derivatives characteristic of
topographical technique, but this is not quite what happened (cf. Gray, 1982; Paniagua,
2001) and, so, the term ‘interpretation’ continues to be conceptualised in both registers
simultaneously. This situation is reminiscent of the logically inappropriate commingling
that Slap and Levine (1978) considered typical of hybrid concepts. Why is ‘interpretation’
currently used to denote such disparate meanings? Why do we still conceptualise such
polar ways of interpreting under the same rubric? Here, we could be reminded that there
are other terms that apply simultaneously to up-to-date and old-fashioned practices.
However, should we not consider it odd having a school of antiquated procedures
coexisting with modern techniques? There seems to be something sacrosanct about the
psychoanalytic term ‘interpretation’ in its original sense of the analyst’s ‘disclosing … the
hidden meaning of the ideas that occur to [analysands]’ (Freud, 1913, p. 139) that permits
it to be used together with more contemporary meanings of the term. My hypothesis is
that this cohabitation is not innocent.

Clinical illustration
I shall now comment on a case to illustrate possibilities in the divergent use of
interpretations. I have selected a vignette from a session of a six-times-weekly analysis.
The patient’s symptomatology or the reasons that brought him to analysis will not be
described in any detail. I would only want to invite readers to focus on the alternative
interpretive approaches, noticing the differences between the underlying theories of
technique and the probable outcome of dissimilar methodologies.
Mr E, a 26-year-old man, arrived very angry at this Monday hour. On the Saturday
session he had talked for the Ž rst time about his small and bent penis and how he believed
that this was a result of his very excessive masturbation. After an initial ten-minute silence,
he said that he did not want to be in the session, and started using abusive language.
Among his insults, he said several times that I was an ‘asshole’. I remembered that
this patient accompanied his masturbation by anal stimulation, which was enormously
distressful to him, for he believed this was an impending sign of dystonic homosexuality.
I could have interpreted this invective as the projection of a preoccupation of his. I could
have done this either in a direct manner or in an allusive way, such as, ‘We are already
familiar with this asshole issue’. I did not intervene along this line because I thought it
more productive to explore the reasons for his anger at that moment. Focusing on the
‘asshole’ theme would have derailed this investigation. I also considered a ‘defence’
interpretation, such as, ‘You called me an asshole in order not to think about your own’,
highly unempathic. This would have been tempting as a ‘counterpunch’, which goes
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to show how tactlessness and countertransferential interferences can make untoward

interventions of any interpretive methodology. Instead, I remarked that, although we
knew that all sessions after a separation (the Sunday) were difŽ cult for him, this one
seemed particularly rough.

P: You wonder why? Well, if you don’t know it’s because you are stupid. [This
response seemed a conŽ rmation that his ill-temper was not the result of adverse external
events that could have upset him between sessions.]
A: The way you feel today, then, is a result of what we talked about in our last
P: Yes. [Pause.] This treatment is cruel. I wished I had information about you. If I
met you on the street and saw some defect, I could ridicule you.

I could have interpreted his wish to turn the tables in an equation, ‘defect’ =
‘castration’, but I considered this insufŽ ciently warranted, although, admittedly, it would
have provided for me the typical gratiŽ cations of what I described as topographical
technique. It would have meant resorting to a traditional formula conveying the idea
that I was the one in the know about symbolic equivalents in his mind. This intervention
would have been also counter-resistential, for I would have shifted his attention to a
more abstract level, taking some of the heat off me. Additionally, I would have provided
the patient with an intellectualisatio n that he could use at the service of resistance.
To top it off, the analysand could have easily found this ‘castration’ interpretation
offensive or far-fetched, thus debilitating the therapeutic alliance. I decided to use an
open-ended defence interpretation. I said, ‘You would then try to make me feel the
way you feel now’.
Mr E continued reviling me, calling me ‘Mr Perfect’, and threatening me. His father
was a successful professional, described by the patient as very imposing. I could have
made a paternal transference interpretation here, as I had done in previous sessions, but I
felt that at that moment it would have distracted us from the analysis of other phenomena
that were more observable and immediate. This closer focusing on the ‘here and now’
seems also quite characteristic of modern Kleinians.

A: Something we already know is that you tend to react aggressively whenever

you feel weak or threatened.
P: Yes, I know. [Sigh.] I shouldn’t have talked on Saturday about my masturbation,
my penis and all that. And what else do you want to hear today?
A: I would want us to Ž nd out how talking about that made you feel so terribly bad.

Here I could have issued an interpretation connecting his fear of having an inferior
penis with the unfavourable comparison he established a few weeks ago between
himself and his father and me. I could have alluded to his perception of genital defect
as punishment for his oedipal struggles. I could have verbalised my conjectures on his
masturbatory fantasies. I could have remarked on the probable unconscious fantasy of
anal incorporation of his father’s and my strength. These content interpretations would
have gratiŽ ed claims of omniscience. However, such a pre-structural way of interpreting
would have either reinforced his already sturdy hostile resistance, or equipped him with
alien theories. Probably both. So, I did none of it.
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P: And how do you expect me to feel but terrible? [He went on protesting for a long
time against my attempts to hold his feet to the observable Ž re, so to speak.]
A: I am trying to make you see what manoeuvres you resort to when you feel
P: Yep. Do you want to see some bruising manoeuvres? How would you like one
across the lips? How would you look with three or four teeth missing? You’re trying your
luck. Now, doesn’t this scare you?

Obviously, he found my probing hurtful. He felt that his father and I were
particularly articulate. Was his fantasied attack on my mouth interpretable as an
attempt to obliterate a cause of envy? I did not think the preceding material would have
justiŽ ed such interpretation. At this juncture, it may have seemed warranted to interpret
the identiŽ cation with his menacing father. However, in his regressed ego state, I did
not think he could have associated usefully on the genesis of his turning passive into
active. In structural technique, interpretations are typically issued attending more to
the analysand’s ego capacity for gradual understanding than to the analyst’s real—or
presumed—knowledge of the patient’s unconscious mechanisms. I judged it more
productive to try to make Mr E re ect on more graspable dynamics.

A: Would my scare help you feel better?

P: Yes. [Pause.] I could punch you out, but then I couldn’t return to these sessions.
If you felt threatened, I would feel powerful.

I could have used Mr E’s words to tell him reconstructively that this was the way he
must have felt as a boy, i.e. that his impulses re ected the childhood wish of a retaliatory
victory over his admired but frightening father, coupled with the fear of losing him
forever. However, I considered more appropriate an intervention that would hopefully
direct him toward elaborating his own interpretation of transference feelings with the
associated recollection of genetic material. Possibly, the most paradigmatic goal of the
structural analyst is helping the patient understand the nature of his/her unconscious
defences, thus clearing the way for id material to emerge spontaneously.

A: We need to wonder why intimidation is the only way you can think of to feel
powerful. [Generally, I consider concise interpretations less demanding and more
effective for rational ‘digestion’ by a regressed ego. I think that this last intervention
could be categorised as interpretation because the patient seemed unaware of alternative
ways to attain narcissistic homeostasis.]
P: [One minute silence.] Mmm, the only way. Uh, you mean there are other ways
besides crushing the other guy.

He added that he could not quite think of alternative methods. Then he talked about
memories of feeling insigniŽ cant and powerless in front of an utterly disapproving father
whose love he longed for. Subsequently, he stated that he was convinced that I found
him ridiculous and despicable. At this stage, how could he possibly give me further
ammunition—i.e. sexual information—to use ‘against’ him?
After sessions similar to this one, Mr E had experienced anxiety attacks outside
the ofŽ ce, and needed to telephone me in order to make sure that I was not going to
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vengefully terminate the treatment. So, at the end of this hour, I tried to explore with him
how he was going to feel as a result of his aggressive utterances. Two years after this
session the patient continues in what I consider a highly productive analysis.

Many dynamics may be discernible in any clinical material. And any of these dynamics
can be interpreted to the patient in vastly different ways. In one extreme of the range of
possibilities, there are techniques that resort to ego bypassing interpreting. In the other,
there are those that prefer defence interpretation and clariŽ cation-like interventions. Why
do some techniques favour the analyst’s associating under the guise of interpreting while
others recommend a textual analysis of clinical material? And why do all interventions go
by the name ‘interpretation’? Differences in technique can be such that it has been doubted
whether analysts ‘share sufŽ cient common ground to belong to the same discipline’
(Tuckett, 1998, p. 431). It is true that, in interpreting, one cannot always distinguish
sharply between ‘what the analyst Ž nds and what the analyst introduces as a narrative
organization’, (Schafer, 1983, p. 184), or between ‘selected facts’ and ‘overvalued ideas’,
as Britton and Steiner (1994) put it, but it seems obvious that dissimilar techniques are
not equally abstinent and cannot produce the same results. Our disparate theories of
interpretation are a consequence of our different conceptualisations of the mind. Busch
went as far as asserting that these alternative theories were contingent on the belief of
‘the presence or absence of mental structure’ (2000, p. 237).
The majority of modern analysts seem to share the opinion that the Ž rm positivistic
stance that was so dear to Freud and most Ž n-de-siècle scientists should be discarded from
psychoanalysis. Today we are sceptical about the possibility of context-free, immaculate
perceptions. Kermode remarked, ‘The doctrine which holds that the innocent eye sees
nothing would not have been acceptable to Freud’ (1985, p. 7). Probably, most analysts
would disagree nowadays with Freud’s contention that the foundation of psychoanalytic
science was ‘observation alone’ (1914, p. 77). However, this does not justify the nihilistic
idea that all interpretive methodologies have the same potential for an approximation
to objectivity. On this score, ‘informing the patient of what he does not know because
he has repressed it’ (Freud, 1910, p. 225, my italics) is quite different from assisting
him in exploring what he does not know and how he has managed to repress it. The Ž rst
interpretive style seems the trade-mark of the never superseded topographical technique
which, as I tried to show, may become excessively in uenced by the analyst’s own
associations and preformed psychogenetic theories. Examining why the patient’s ego was
incapable of grasping those dynamics that we may consider evident in the Ž rst place is
congruent with character analysis and the structural theory.
After a lag of half a century since Freud’s (1923) introduction of the structural
theory, the late Paul Gray (1973) started laying out a comprehensive and systematic
way of doing analysis based on Freud’s more encompassing second model of the mind,
and on the pioneering work of Anna Freud, Otto Fenichel, the early Wilhelm Reich,
Richard Sterba and others. Since then, Gray (cf. 1994), and other contemporary ego-
psychologists (cf. Busch, 1995, 1999; Goldberger, 1996), have been expanding and
reŽ ning aspects of technique in accordance with the structural theory. However, these
advances in technique do not seem to have had the general repercussion that could have
been expected given their practical importance. This is reminiscent of the resistance
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encountered by Anna Freud’s (1936) revolutionary theses on the analysis of defence

mechanisms. The transition from topographical to structural concepts was sluggish
indeed (cf. Bergmann, 1976). I have argued elsewhere that, in technical matters, the
slowness of this evolution has been determined by the magnetic regressive pull of the
topographical tradition (Paniagua, 2001).
There are powerful—though mostly irrational—motivations for the adherence to
pre-structural interpreting. First, it was the technique favoured by Freud—frequently
idealised for being the founder of our profession—throughout his career (cf. Roazen,
1995; Lohser and Newton, 1996). Second, it gratiŽ es more directly the analyst’s
narcissism, in the sense of empowering him/her with stronger feelings of possessing
tools for the translation of unconscious contents. It is also more gratifying for the
analysand’s dependency wishes. The adoption by the analysand of a regressively
accepting attitude in front of a supposedly omniscient analyst is a practice more syntonic
with the traditional passive ‘patient–knowledgeable doctor’ relationship. Additionally,
topographical interpreting, at times, tends to foster in the analyst the omnipotent fantasy
of undoing the analysand’s past through its reconstruction. This tendency would be
less prevalent with techniques that focus on the analysis of the defensive shifts in the
transferential ‘here and now’. The earlier topographical technique seems to possess also
the appeal of simplicity. Certainly, the interpretation of unconscious impulses held in
check by the conscious personality is easier to grasp than the sequential interpreting of
elements in compromise formations. The structural concepts of the therapeutic splitting
of the ego and the rational alliance are newer, and more difŽ cult to learn and to put
into clinical practice.
One Ž nding in Seitz’s Consensus research project was that ‘participants often
tended to interpret at levels deeper than the focal con ict in the Preconscious, frequently
singling out a speciŽ c unconscious overdeterminant of the focal con ict and organizing
an entire interpretive formulation around that particular dynamic trend’ (1966, p. 215).
This I Ž nd most typical of what I called topographical technique. Interpreting in general
provides the comforting feeling of wielding causal knowledge, countering the anxiety
inherent in uncertainty. This epistemological satisfaction will tend to be greater the deeper
the insight. However, the problem with ‘deep’ interpreting is that, inevitably, it will be
less detailed and trustworthy than analytic exploration according to the structural mode,
which means conceptualisation of unconscious defensive functions and the layering of
interpretations. The latter will imply a higher degree of sublimation of epistemophilic—
or voyeuristic—wishes than topographical interpreting. This would make structural
interpreting more reliable, though less immediately gratifying.
One more reason for the powerful appeal of the topographical technique of
interpreting is that its characteristic way of addressing unseen content, naturally, provides
a more favourable ground for the projection of the analyst’s particular dynamics and for
the attempt at unconscious resolution of his/her own con icts by proxy. Last but not least,
it should be remembered that deep interpreting, even wild interpreting, is not devoid
of therapeutic effect. Usually, it tends to ameliorate patients’ symptomatology while
diverting them from anxiety-provoking exploration of their own unconscious con icts.
Freud remarked that this interpreting style ‘often … led to a recovery’ (1910, p. 227), to
which one could add, ‘and so does hypnosis’. Interpretations, according to topographical
theory, primitive as they can be, may still promote insight and be effective carriers of
beneŽ cial suggestions. Besides, it can always be possible to catch carps of truth with baits
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of falsehood, as Freud put it (1937, p. 262). Undoubtedly, these positive clinical effects
have also contributed to the adhesiveness of topographical interpreting.
I would like to emphasise that the vagueness of the ‘interpretation’ concept seems
central in our problems to advance in matters of technique, from pre-structural to
structural (or from the Ž rst to the second topique, as we usually call them in southern
Europe). In clinical presentations it is common to hear about material addressed
interpretively, without specifying how. The ‘hows’ can make an enormous difference.
The indeŽ niteness of the term ‘interpretation’ would tend to cancel Freud’s conceptual
innovations of the tripartite model, and the essential changes in matters of praxis that
have taken place in the more recent history of psychoanalytic technique. This poor
differentiation has contributed to make insufŽ ciently recognised the fact that the
direct-content interpretations used in the beginning by Freud and many of his early
followers are radically different from interpretations in modern structural technique.
By maintaining ill-deŽ ned the concept of interpretation, the slipping back into earlier
analytic modes seems easier, leaving the door open for the aforementioned peculiar
gratiŽ cations of topographical technique.

Translations of summary
Probleme mit dem Konzept “Deutung”. Einen dauerhaften Konsens über die DeŽ nition der “Deutung”
zu erzielen hat sich als schwierig erwiesen. Der Beitrag zeichnet Versuche nach, den Begriff, der das wohl
typischste Merkmal der psychoanalytischen Technik bezeichnet, zu präzisieren, und erläutert die Rolle,
die Intuition und Suggestion beim Deuten spielen. Polaritäten, die zwischen Deutungsstilen auszumachen
sind, entsprechen nach Ansicht des Verfassers der theoretischen Orientierung des Klinikers am topischen
beziehungsweise am Strukturmodell der Psyche. Die Tendenz, unbewußte Elemente in tiefen Deutungen
aufzugreifen, entspräche einer prä-strukturellen Technik, während die Tendenz, die Aufmerksamkeit des
Patienten auf vorbewußte Manifestationen zu lenken, für die Orientierung am Strukturmodell charakteristisch
ist. Klinisches Material illustriert die Unterschiede in den jeweils zugrunde liegenden behandlungstechnischen
Theorien. Die topische Deutung Freuds und seiner frühen Schüler unterscheidet sich vom Deutungsstil der
zeitgenössischen strukturellen Technik. “Tiefe” Deutungen werden Seite an Seite mit eher abklärenden
Deutungen benutzt. Die Ursachen dafür werden untersucht. Es gibt starke Motive, die ein Festhalten an prä-
strukturellen Deutungen begünstigen. Diese scheinen die Abhängigkeitswünsche des Analysanden und den
Narzißmus des Analytikers auf direktere Weise zu gratiŽ zieren. Auch der Erkenntnisdrang wird auf weniger
sublimierte Weise befriedigt. Die unzulängliche DeŽ nition des Konzepts “Deutung” leistet der Anwendung
der topischen Technik mit ihren irrationalen GratiŽ zierungen Vorschub.

Problemas con el concepto de ‘interpretación’. No se ha alcanzado un consenso respecto al concepto de

‘interpretación’, el elemento más característico de la técnica psicoanalítica. Se revisan los diversos intentos
por deŽ nir este término. Se comenta el papel de la intuición y la sugestión en la interpretación. Parece
existir polaridades en los estilos interpretativos. El autor sostiene que éstas dependen de la adscripción del
analista al modelo topogrᎠco o al modelo estructural de la mente. La tendencia a interpretar elementos
profundamente inconscientes correspondería a la técnica preestructural, mientras que la tendencia
a dirigir la atención del paciente hacia las manifestaciones preconscientes sería característica de la
orientación estructural. Se presenta material clínico ilustrativo de la divergencia entre las teorías de la
técnica subyacentes. Las interpretaciones topogrᎠcas de Freud y sus primeros seguidores son distintas
de las utilizadas en la técnica estructural contemporánea. Los enfoques interpretativos ‘profundos’
continúan siendo empleados junto con las interpretaciones de tipo esclarecedor. Se examinan las razones
de esta coexistencia. Hay poderosas motivaciones que dan cuenta de la adhesión a interpretaciones
preestructurales. Estas parecen gratiŽ car de manera más directa los deseos de dependencia del analizado
y el narcisismo del analista. También proporcionan una satisfacción menos sublimada de las pulsiones
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epistemofílicas. Mantener pobremente deŽ nido el concepto de ‘interpretación’ facilita la aplicación de la

técnica topogrᎠca con sus gratiŽ caciones irracionales.

Problèmes relatifs au concept d’ « interprétation ». On sait que le consensus autour de la conceptualisation

de l’ « interprétation », aspect le plus caractéristique de la technique psychanalytique, reste problématique.
L’ auteur passe en revue les tentatives visant à préciser la signiŽ cation de ce terme et il commente le rôle
de l’intuition et de la suggestion dans l’interprétation. Il semble qu’il existe différentes polarités de style
interprétatif. La thèse de l’auteur est que ces polarités sont essentiellement liées au modèle topographique
ou structural de l’esprit, auquel souscrit le praticien. La tendance à interpréter des éléments inconscients
profonds correspondrait à une technique pré-structurale, tandis que la tendance à attirer l’attention du
patient sur des manifestations préconscientes serait caractéristique d’une orientation structurale. Des
exemples cliniques illustrent ces divergences de théories de la technique sous-jacentes. La technique
interprétative topographique de Freud et de ses premiers successeurs diffère de celle utilisée dans les
conceptions structurales contemporaines. Les approches interprétatives « profondes » continuent d’être
utilisées en parallèle avec les interprétations à type de clariŽ cation. L’auteur examine les raisons de cette
co-existence. Les motifs d’adhésion à la technique interprétative pré-structurale sont puissants. Celle-ci
semble satisfaire le désir de dépendance de l’analysant et encore plus directement le narcissisme de l’analyste.
Elle procure aussi une satisfaction moins sublimée des pulsions épistémophiliques. En restant mal déŽ ni,
le concept d’« interprétation » facilite l’application de la technique topographique avec ses gratiŽ cations

Problemi relativi al concetto d’«interpretazione». Non è facile raggiungere un consenso sul concetto
d’«interpretazione», l’elemento più caratteristico della tecnica psicoanalitica. Qui l’Autore prende in esame
i vari tentativi di precisare i signiŽ cati del termine e fa delle osservazioni sul ruolo dell’intuizione e della
suggestione nell’interpretazione. E’ evidente che esistono orientamenti diversi negli stili interpretativi.
L’Autore dell’articolo sostiene che questi dipendono soprattutto dall’adesione dell’analista al modello
topograŽ co o a quello strutturale della mente. La tendenza a interpretare gli elementi inconsci profondi
corrisponderebbe alla tecnica prestrutturale, mentre la caratteristica dell’orientamento strutturale sarebbe la
tendenza a portare l’attenzione del paziente sulle manifestazioni preconsce. Il materiale clinico presentato
illustra le divergenze tra le teorie che stanno alle basi della tecnica. L’interpretazione topograŽ ca di Freud
e dei suoi primi seguaci è diversa da quella utilizzata nella tecnica strutturale contemporanea, dove si
continua a utilizzare un modo di affrontare l’interpretazione «profonda» parallelamente a interpretazioni di
chiarimento. L’Autore esamina le ragioni di questa coesistenza, constatando che esistono motivazioni forti
che spiegano l’adesione all’interpretazione prestrutturale. Pare che quest’ultima gratiŽ chi più direttamente
i desideri di dipendenza dell’analizzando e il narcisismo dello psicoanalista, fornendo allo stesso tempo una
soddisfazione meno sublimata delle pulsioni epistemoŽ liche. Se il concetto d’«interpretazione» resta mal
deŽ nito, viene più facile applicare la tecnica topograŽ ca con le sue gratiŽ cazioni irrazionali.

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