Development of a plurality during the one hundred year old history of research of psychoanalysis[1]

By Marianne Leuzinger-Bohleber


What kind of science is psychoanalysis, actually? What did Freud mean when he defined psychoanalysis as a special “science of the unconscious”? As is well-known, before his resolute turn to the natural sciences, the young Freud was particularly interested in philosophy and the humanities. He focused on medical and neurological research in Ernst Brücke’s laboratory at the Institute of Physiology. It was here that he first encountered the kind of strict, positivist understanding of science to which he remained committed throughout his life. However, as we are aware, Freud was to later turn away from contemporary neurology owing to what he considered the methodological limitations of this discipline in research on the psyche. He defined “The Interpretation of Dreams”, the key work of psychoanalysis, as “pure psychology”. Freud’s self-understanding was that of a physician whose methods of empirical observation paralleled those of a natural scientist. As Joel Whitebook (2010) notes, Freud’s aspiration towards precise, “empirical” examination of hypothesis and theories protected him from his own inclination to wild speculation. As a “philosophical physician” Freud was thus able to establish a new “science of the unconscious”.

For the International Psychoanalytical Association (IPA), defining psychoanalysis as an independent, “psychological science of the unconscious” has proved an integral aspect in the history of its success. The fact that Freud considered integrating psychoanalysis into the medical organization of August Forel’s “medical psychology and psychotherapy”, or even into the “order for ethics and culture” as early as 1909, is a well-known fact. Fortunately, on New Year’s Eve 1910, he instead opted to found his own, independent organization, the IPA (see Falzeder, 2010). It was this decision that secured the independence of psychoanalysis as a scientific discipline with its own research methodology and institution, independent of the university system. Freud would later repeatedly emphasize that psychoanalysis merited autonomy as a discipline and was not to be “swallowed by the medical faculty” (Freud, 1926, p. 248), “but rather, as ‘the psychology of the unconscious’ (Tiefenpsychologie) – the discipline of the unconscious –, could become indispensable to all sciences associated with the emergence of human culture and its great institutions of art, religion and social systems…” (Freud, 1926, p. 248)

Over the course of its one-hundred year history the specificity of psychoanalytic science became increasingly defined. Psychoanalysis developed a differentiated, independent method for the examination of its specific object of research, namely, unconscious conflicts and fantasies. International psychoanalysts summarized their insights in countless papers. They acquired such insights by way of thorough-going studies of different groups of patients, and by applying their “specific psychoanalytical research methods” to the study of unconscious fantasies and conflicts by observing free associations, dreams, transference and countertransference reactions as well as transformation processes in the psychoanalytic relationship etc.

Moreover, as is the case with all other contemporary disciplines, it has set its own criteria of quality and truth e.g. the meticulous investigation of the analysand’s conscious as well as unconscious responses to interpretations and their influence on his transformation processes. Several discourses were dedicated to the question as to how such, typically psychoanalytical observations of changes in the psychoanalytical process can best be documented and communicated – no less to render them comprehensible and susceptible to criticism from the outside (for further details see sections 2.1)

The present paper also discusses how the conceptualization of psychoanalysis as a scientific discipline necessitates critical reflection in a fruitful dialogue with other contemporary scientific disciplines (see also Leuzinger-Bohleber, in press).

The paper goes on to argue that it is crucial for psychoanalysis to maintain its specificity as well as the richness of contemporary psychoanalytical research (see 2.).

I focus on the situation in Germany, for the most part in reference to a single concrete research example: the major, ongoing LAC Depression Study at the Sigmund Freud Institute in Frankfurt (see ODR).

Remarks on the Hundred-Year History of Research in Psychoanalysis

Freud’s life-long hope was that following the development of modern natural sciences there would come a time in which the insights of psychoanalysis – as acquired by practitioners through the application of purely psychological, clinical methods of observation in the psychoanalytical situation – would also be “objectively” examined by way of the “hard” methods of natural science. This is a scenario which has today, in many respects become reality in the dialogue with the modern neurosciences. However, forty years ago Jürgen Habermas (1968)  introduced an epistemic critique of Freud’s aspiration to “objectively” study psychoanalysis by natural scientific methodology. He described the longing for “objectivity” as the “scientistic self-misconstrual” (Szientistisches Selbstmissverständnis) of psychoanalysis. He characterized psychoanalysis as following an emancipatory interest in insight, in contrast to behavioural therapy, which is motivated by a technical interest. This distinction met with a positive response by an entire generation in the Western countries, whereas, due to other factors, psychoanalysis reached a height to which it never returned. As a hermeneutic method of individual and social unconscious sources of psychic and psychosomatic suffering, on the whole, psychoanalysis experienced the kind of social acceptance in these years which at times verged on idealization. Although there were always attacks and controversies, as a method of treatment and as a critical theory of culture, psychoanalysis had no need for concern with respect to its legitimacy during this period.

The social acceptance during these decades also impacted upon the understanding of science and research in psychoanalysis (see e.g. Zaretzky, 2004/2006; Makari, 2008, Leuzinger-Bohleber, 2011). In short, during 1970’s and 1980’s, aside from genuine clinical psychoanalytic research, this, above all, involved hermeneutically oriented and social psychological approaches, the analysis of culture and an interdisciplinary exchange with philosophy, sociology and literary studies, humanities and pedagogy, as well as film and art. Empirical, and especially quantitative research in psychoanalysis and the dialogue with the natural sciences, were considered by many as naïve and unsuited to psychoanalysis, even to the point of being harmful.

As Thomas Kuhn describes in his analysis of the history of science, different paradigms often exist side by side within a scientific discipline. However, one of them usually predominates, namely, that which is best-suited to the Zeitgeist. The above-mentioned understanding of psychoanalysis as a critical hermeneutics of the 1970’s and 1980’s is still vividly represented in many countries and several IPA societies (see e.g. Green, 2003; De Mijolla, 2003; Perron, 2003, 2006; Widlöcher, 2003; Ahumada & Doria-Medina, 2009; Bernardi, 2003 and in this volume; Vinocur de Fischbein, 2009; Duarte Guimaraes Filho, 2009; Scarfone, in this volume). In some countries, particularly in the United States, England, Germany and some of the Nordic countries, the adjustment to an empirical research paradigm has been pushed to the fore over the last decades (see, among others, Fonagy, 2009, and in this volume). In these countries the Zeitgeist has changed since the 1970s: in times of “evidence-based medicine” and of medical guidelines, one sometimes has the impression that for psychoanalysis, too, only one form of research exists, namely, the type of empirical-quantitative psychoanalytic research that conforms to the classical natural sciences. On closer inspection, this is a peculiar reoccurrence of an outdated and problematic notion of “unified science” (Einheitswissenschaft) (see e.g. Hampe, 2003; Leuzinger-Bohleber, Dreher, & Canestri, 2003; Leuzinger-Bohleber, in press), a simplification of the complexities of research in the knowledge societies (see e.g. Weingart, 2002). Instead, considered epistemologically, a plurality of theories, scientific experiences, methods and concepts of investigation now predominate in most contemporary scientific disciplines, including psychoanalysis. As discussed in previous papers, according to our concept of the plurality of sciences originating in the various concepts of experience, by positioning itself in this way, psychoanalysis is by no means isolated but has similar concerns to other contemporary sciences, all of which have sought to explain to the other the special character of their discipline, to initiate dialogue and, at best, to promote interdisciplinary collaboration. The idea of a unified science which, full of enthusiasm and persuasive power was initially declared in German Idealism, and later in a different form, in logical empiricism has turned out to be untenable (see e.g. Leuzinger-Bohleber & Bürgin, 2003, pp. 12-13.)

‘Like all euphoria, the notion of a philosophical unified science was not a permanent one: it passed. At this point I only wish to state that I am unaware of any serious representative of philosophy of science who still cultivates the notion that a phenomenon such as a unified science exists’ (Hampe, 2000, p. 28).

The sciences have instead become more subtly diversified. The distinctions between the natural sciences and the humanities as elaborated by Dilthey at the end of the 19th century now no longer serve to sufficiently delineate the diversity of contemporary scientific disciplines. Thus, the impossibility of a unified theoretical concept for all these sciences has become increasingly evident. A theory of science which could equally well apply to mathematics, physics, biology, psychology, sociology, archaeology, history and philology let alone to medicine, jurisprudence and theology does not exist. We are indeed confronted with a state of ‘plurality in the sciences. As summed up by an expert on the philosophy of science, Michael Hampe (2002):

‘Firstly, plurality in the sciences not only means plurality of subjects, but, secondly, also scientific forms of theory. Thirdly, these different forms of theory produce a pluralism of scientific experience. The plurality of scientific experience is possible by trying to discipline our everyday experience. The quality of experience, its importance with respect to precision, completeness etc. are thus acknowledged values. In the individual sciences the pluralism of these different epistemic values (‘Erkenntniswerte’) is realized in different ways, and in each science special methods were developed in order to ensure that the precision, completeness, level of contrast etc. as uniquely defined by each science could be developed step by step. Therefore, above all else, plurality in the sciences means a plurality of  theories, a plurality of experience, and a plurality of epistemic values (‘Erkenntniswerte’) and, lastly, a plurality of methods’ (p. 33). 

In keeping with challenging epistemic considerations, it would seem appropriate to describe the distinctive feature of psychoanalysis as a “specific scientific discipline of the unconscious” (spezifische Wissenschaft des Unbewussten) – a discipline which, over the foregoing 100 years of its history, has developed a range of highly advanced research methods for investigating the specific object of its research, namely, unconscious conflicts and fantasies. Hence, as is the case with many other scientific disciplines, contemporary psychoanalysis comprises a plurality of theories, methods of clinical treatments as well as a plurality of research. These will be discussed below.

I would now like to provide a brief outline of this point by way of a diagram of clinical and extra-clinical research in psychoanalysis, which I have developed in another paper. To avoid floundering in abstractions, I refer in my plea for the creative use of a broad spectrum of possibilities for psychoanalytic research, to current research projects of the Sigmund-Freud-Institute in Frankfurt a.M.[2]. , a research institute exclusively for psychoanalysis, in which we attempt to encounter the actual zeitgeist without uncritically submit ourselves to it and without renouncing the autonomy and specificity of psychoanalysis as a scientific discipline.

Clinical and Extra-Clinical Research in Psychoanalysis



Interdisciplinary research

Today we can differentiate between two different groups of psychoanalytic research, the clinical and the extra-clinical. By clinical research is meant genuine psychoanalytic research in the psychoanalytic situation itself. Ulrich Moser (2009) describes this as on-line research whereas, as outlined below, the extra-clinical research (the off-line research) occurs after the psychoanalytic sessions and embraces a variety of research strategies.

Clinical research in psychoanalysis

Let us first turn to clinical research: Clinical research takes place in the intimacy of the psychoanalytic situation. It may be described as a circular process of discovery whereby, together with the patient, idiosyncratic observations of unconscious fantasies and conflicts are successively visualized, symbolized and finally put into words at different levels of abstraction; this represents an understanding that moulds our processes of perception in subsequent clinical situations, even though we enter into each new session with the basic, genuine psychoanalytic attitude described as “not knowing”. The circular processes of discovery initially occur above all unconsciously and in the realm of implicit private theories. Here, only a small part is accessible to conscious reflection by the psychoanalyst (see EPF Working Party on Theoretical Issues, 2006, 2012; Project Group for Clinical Observation of the IPA, Altmann de Litvan, 2014) (see summaries in this volume).

The insights gained in this clinical research are presented for critical discussion in the psychoanalytic community and beyond. In agreement with many practicing analysts, clinical research continues to be the central core of psychoanalytic research in general, based as it is on the characteristically psychoanalytic idea of experience and linked to epistemic values (Erkenntniswerte) (compare Toulmin, 1977/83; Hampe, 2004, 2008). Clinical, psychoanalytic research pivots on understanding the unconscious construction of meaning, on personal and biographical singularity. It may thus be characterized as critical hermeneutics.

The professionalism of the psychoanalyst adopts an attitude of free-floating attention (gleichschwebenden Aufmerksamkeit) in his own counter-transference of the scenic observation of the patient’s “embodied enactments” (see also Argelander, 1967; Lorenzer, 1974/85; Leuzinger-Bohleber & Pfeifer 2002; Leuzinger-Bohleber, Henningsen, & Pfeifer, 2008), Freudian slips, dreams etc. for the successive understanding of the actual unconscious psychodynamic of the analysand. The typical psychoanalytic process of searching for “unconscious truths” can only be carried out with the analysand, and is regarded as one of the distinctive characteristics of psychoanalysis – for example, as opposed to the top-down procedure of behaviour therapy. Due to this fundamental position, namely, that psychoanalysts can only “test the truth” of their understanding of psychodynamic processes together with the patient, Jonathan Lear (1995) impressively described psychoanalysis as the most democratic of current therapeutic procedures. Furthermore, the characteristic “criterion of truth” of psychoanalytic interpretation is that the “truth” of a certain interpretation of unconscious fantasies or conflicts is something which can only be decided together with the patient, i.e. by the common observation of his (unconscious and conscious) reactions to an interpretation.

As is generally known, we owe our specific psychoanalytic, clinical-empirical method of research, the intensive and detailed “field observations” with single patients in the analytic situation, for the most part, those insights acquired over the foregoing 100 years of scientific history – for example the genesis and treatment of chronically depressed patients. Christina von Braun (2010) also sees a unique opportunity in the clinical research of psychoanalysis to recognize and critically reflect on the deeper cultural changes brought about by the ubiquitous exploitative mentality of global and “emotional capitalism” (Illouz, 2006) on the unconscious of modern man in the analytic relationship – something which is not only highly relevant for the affected individual, but also for an analysis of culture as such.

Let there be no mistake, Peter Fonagy is right when he points out that not every clinician is automatically a researcher (see his contribution in this volume). A methodologically systematic procedure and a self-critical “basic clinical research attitude” (see Scarfone, in this volume; Bernardi, in this volume) is a precondition; a gain in knowledge in this form is not only a professional skill but also a clinical science. Psychoanalysis has at its disposal, probably more than every other clinical discipline, a differentiated culture of intervision and supervision – closely modelled on psychoanalytic practice – in which the clinical processes of research and greater insight can be critically discussed. There is, however, much room for improvement. Many problems are well known, for example, the chance selection of clinical case reports describing only theoretical concepts as opposed to critically developing them.

We are in urgent need of good clinical research, not only in order to maintain our standing in the world of psychotherapy, but also to continually develop our skills in professional treatment (compare Boesky, 2002, 2005; Chiesa, 2005; Colombo & Michels, 2007; Eagle, 1994; Haynal, 1993; Knoblauch, 2005; Lief, 1992; Mayer, 1996). This is one of the goals of the IPA Project Committee for Clinical Observation (Chair: Marina Altmann), but also an IPA Clinical Research Committee (Chair: David Taylor) so as to secure and improve the quality of clinical research in the IPA.


Thus, much like the EPF working parties, or the IPA in the LAC Depression Study, we are developing our own form of clinical research: we discuss the treatment sessions that have been systematically documented prior to our discussion in weekly “clinical conferences”. Based on this joint clinical research, the elaboration of “expert-validated” narrative case reports are the most important results of this study. These case studies provide psychoanalytic insights into the specific psychodynamics of chronic depression, its complex individual and cultural determinants as well as the details of treatment, to the psychoanalytic and non-psychoanalytic community.

The method of expert-validation was developed in the DPV Follow-Up Study. It is applied, in modified form, in the LAC Depression Study and in the Three Level Model of Clinical Observation, as has been developed by the Project Group for Clinical Observation since 2009 (see contribution of Leuzinger-Bohleber, 2014; Altmann de Litvan, 2014, summaries in the ODR).

Psychoanalytic Conceptual Research

The new forms of clinical research outlined in the above invariably constitute part of creative and original research on concepts – a field of research as old as psychoanalysis itself. The creative development and enhancement of concepts has always distinguished the innovative minds of psychoanalysis, and thus makes our discipline particularly attractive to intellectuals, writers, artists and researchers in other disciplines.

A new characterization of psychoanalytic conceptual research was elaborated by Joseph Sandler and Anna Ursula Dreher during the 1990’s, hence distinguishing it from other forms of psychoanalytic research. They postulated that concept research was to be considered as an independent form of psychoanalytical research, which they substantiated by way of comprehensive examples, such as by specifying the concept of “trauma”. In the Research Subcommittee for Conceptual Research initiated by former IPA President Daniel Widlöcher in 2002, the object of which was to erect bridges between the conceptual traditions within the different IPA regions, we attempted to further delineate and differentiate the research on concepts, as well as to clarify quality criteria both for this aspect of psychoanalytic research in particular and other relevant epistemological questions (cf. figure 1) (see e.g. Leuzinger-Bohleber, Dreher, & Canestri, 2003; Leuzinger-Bohleber & Fischmann, 2008, Dreher in the ODR).

Based primarily on the French tradition (e.g. Laplanche’s work), Scarfone (in this volume) summarizes another form of conceptual research . He also mentions the conceptual research of the Project Committee for Conceptual Integration (Chair: Werner Bohleber; see e.g. Bohleber et al., 2013; Bohleber, Jiménez, Scarfone, Varvin, & Zysman, in press and in the ODR).

Conceptual research on the unconscious psychodynamics of chronic depression is one of the main objectives of the LAC Depression Study. All analysts prepared to engage in the study had been trained by David Taylor in the “Tavistock Manual for Treating Depression”. In several workshops with him and with Hugo Bleichmar, another leading psychoanalytic expert in depression, the participating psychoanalysts discussed their clinical observations in detail and tried to conceptualize their clinical findings. To mention just one example: Rosemarie Kennel applied the concept of psychic retreat, as developed by John Steiner, to one of her psychoanalytic treatments and published a conceptual paper (Kennel, 2013).


Extra-clinical empirical studies: Psychoanalytic psychotherapy research, an example

In the next step, the results of the clinical-psychoanalytic and conceptual research thus may become the subject of extra-clinical studies (see figure 1). We distinguish between empirical, experimental and interdisciplinary studies.

As an example of extra-clinical empirical studies, I would like to shortly discuss psychoanalytic psychotherapy research because it is indispensable in the knowledge-society for political and public reasons, to prove the effectiveness of psychoanalytic treatments by the criteria of evidence-based medicine in the Mental Health Systems of many Western countries. This is one reason why outcome research is the main focus of the Open Door Review.

Robert S. Wallerstein (2001) traces these attempts back to their beginnings in 1917 and defines different generations of psychotherapy researchers. He mentions above all a number of American studies, that I – without making a claim to be exhaustive – will supplement with some European studies.


1. Generation (1917-1968): for the most part, retrospective studies that verified – with unspecific criteria – the successfulness of most of the psychoanalytic treatments. (Coriat, 1917; Fenichel, 1930, Jones, 1936; Alexander, 1937; Knight, 1941; Hamburg et al. 1967; Feldman, 1968).


2. Generation (1959 -….): in which two different groups of studies were carried out:

a) Prospective, aggregated comparisons of different, exactly defined groups of psychoanalytic treatment. These studies relied on more sophisticated research methods and operationalized, for example, the criteria of success for the expected success of the therapy. Also they could verify that approximately 80% of all psychoanalytic treatments were successful. (Knapp, Levin, McCarter, Wermer, Zetzel, 1960; Shashin, Eldred and van Amerongen, 1975; Bachrach, Weber & Solomon, 1985; Erle & Goldberg, 1984).

b) Individual studies that resulted from a methodological uneasiness that individual differences between the patients should not be mixed with group examinations, but to place the main focus on the individual consideration of the single treatment of different patients, as is fitting in psychoanalytic procedure, in which it always has to do with the understanding of unconscious structures of meaning. For this reason they used, for example, in their interviews some careful psychoanalytic methods, such as psychoanalytic follow-up interviews. (Pfeffer, 1963; Norman, Blacker, Oremland & Barrett, 1976, Schlessinger,1980, later follow-up studies at the Anna Freud Center by Target and Fonagy, 1994; DPV Follow-Up-Study by Leuzinger-Bohleber, Stuhr, Rüger and Beutel, 2003). These studies verified not only the effectiveness of psychoanalytic therapy, but also developed a number of unexpected, clinically interesting questions, for example, that with reference to the reduction of symptoms and to other therapy goals, some treatments proved to be effective but that these patients had not gone through a psychoanalytic process in a narrower sense.


3. Generation (1945-1986):

 In these systematic and formal psychoanalytic studies of psychotherapy an examination of results and of the process were combined, i.e. statistical comparisons were made between the groups but in combination with systematic single case studies, that, for example, followed the fates of single patients over a longer period of time. (Bachrach, Galatzer-Levy, Skolnikoff &Waldron, 1991; Kantrowitz, 1986). An example of this 3rd Generation of psychoanalytic psychotherapy research is exemplified by the Psychotherapy Research Project of the Menninger Foundation (Wallerstein, Robbins, Sargent u. Luborsky, 1956) that led to a wealth of insights on the results of psychoanalytic and supportive psychoanalytic therapies and on details concerning treatment techniques. Impressive is, for example, the careful longitudinal study of 42 patients over the course of several decades that Wallerstein published with the moving title Forty-two Lives in Treatment (Wallerstein, 1986).


The current 4. generation (1970…) combines not only research of results and therapeutic processes but, thanks to new techniques (video/audio recordings), links microanalysis of therapeutic processes with research on results (beginning with early analysis of tape recordings by Earl Zinn, see Carmichael, 1956; Dahl, Kächele & Thomä, 1988; Strupp, Schacht & Henry, 1988; Beenen, 1997, Leuzinger-Bohleber, 1987, 1989; Grande, Rudolf & Oberbracht, 1997; Huber et al., 2012;  Sandell, 1997; Leuzinger-Bohleber, Rüger, Stuhr, Beutel, 2003, Busch, Milrod & Sandberg, 2005, Beutel et al., 2012; Leuzinger-Bohleber, in press b; compare also first two edition of the Open Door Review by Fonagy et al., 1999 and his chapter in this volume, or his excellent overview, 2009; as well as new studies of long-term therapies summarized by Leichsenring & Rabung, 2008; see his metaanalysis in this volume).

Unfortunately it is little-known, above all, by clinicians of the IPA, how many psychoanalytic research groups are currently involved in extra-clinical studies. Fonagy (2009) spoke in a comprehensive survey of the worldwide “psychotherapy bee-keepers ” that have verified with their industrious bee colonies the effectiveness of psychoanalytic short-term therapies (compare further overviews, e.g. Emde & Fonagy (1997); Fonagy, 2001; Galatzer-Levy, 1997; Hauser, 2002; Holt, 2003; Jones, 1993; Kächele (2009), Kernberg (2006); Leichsenring & Rabung (2008); Perron (2006) , Safran (1991); Schachter & Luborsky, 1998; Schlessinger, 2008; Stern, 2008; Wallerstein, 2001, and this Third Edition of the Open Door Review).

Careful extra-clinical research requires enormous expenditures that can only be carried out in a research network that is correspondingly endowed and supported by a constant process of reflection of the accompanying dependencies – also among the generations of involved researchers.

The LAC Study is an attempt to meet contemporary research criteria in psychotherapy in an attempt to “prove” the outcomes of psychoanalysis and psychoanalytic, long-term therapies, and thus convince insurance companies in Germany to finance these kinds of treatments for chronically depressed patients (see summary in the ODR).

Experimental Psychoanalytic Studies

That it is impossible to test psychoanalytic processes directly in an experimental design, e.g. to study the brain of psychoanalysts and their patients during the psychoanalytic sessions in a randomized control trial, is self-evident. However, in recent decades different research groups have been successfully undertaking experimental examinations of individual  psychoanalytic concepts. These have ranged from the preconscious and the unconscious processing of information in memory and in dreams, to mention just a few: the workgroup of Howard Shevrin and his group (see e.g. Shevrin, 2000); Steven Ellman and his group in NY (see e.g. Ellman & Antrobus, 1991; Ellman & Weinstein, 1991; Ellman, 2010), Wolfgang Leuschner, Stephan, Hau, Tamara Fischmann at the SFI (Hau, 2008) the concept of embodied memory, by Pfeifer and his research group in Zurich (Leuzinger-Bohleber & Pfeifer, 2002; Leuzinger-Bohleber, in press) as well as other studies of facial interaction were carried out with the aid of the FACs from Rainer Krause in Saarbrücken (e.g. Krause, 1997).

In the Frankfurt EEG and fMRI Study (FRED Studie), we examined part of the sample of chronically depressive patients of the LAC Study, also by way of methods culled from the neurosciences (EEG and fMRI). This was undertaken so as to test whether changes in psychoanalytic, long-term treatments can also be proven with the aid of such methods (cf. Fischmann, Russ, Bohleber, 2013, summary in this volume)

Interdisciplinary Research (cf. figure 1).

We have discussed the interdisciplinary dialogue with the neurosciences and Embodied Cognitive Science in several publications and have summarized clinical, conceptual and empirical studies in this field (see e.g. Leuzinger-Bohleber, in press). Whereas, these interdisciplinary studies are fascinating, the exclusive research projects for the acceptance of psychoanalysis in the modern world of science are not.  

Creative exchange with attachment research and empirical developmental research, for example, comprise further important fields in interdisciplinary research. No less significant is the collaborative interdisciplinary research with literature and cultural studies, with social psychology, philosophy, the media- and communication sciences as well as ethno-psychoanalysis. Psychoanalysis as a specific treatment and research method may frequently take on several socially relevant themes in order to communicate the indispensable nature of its research results to the scientific community and to the general public. For example, such topics may cover the field of early prevention, ADHS, migration, youth violence, right-wing radicalism, nationalism and Antisemitism, and the return of fundamentalism, religion and violence, as well as the short- and long-term influence of new media and technologies on processes of psychic development and of modern conflicts in the realms of sexuality and object relations.


To summarize just a few points for further discussions:

a)              Already Freud was hoping, that psychoanalysis by means of “objective research results” could obtain the acceptance in the scientific community in medicine and natural sciences. On the other hand it was only through the insistence on its own autonomy and specifity – as a method and institution – that psychoanalysis as a specific scientific discipline investigating unconscious psychic processes could secure its survival and its productive unfolding in the last 100 years.

b)             In the first century of its history psychoanalysis developed a highly sophisticated method of research for the investigation of its own specific research object, of unconscious fantasies and conflicts. The enormous development of psychoanalysis during this first centenary of the IPA has lead to a plurality of theories, of psychoanalytical treatments, of epistemological positions as well as to a plurality of psychoanalytical research.

c)              Contemporary psychoanalytic research takes place in a field of tension. On the one pole exists the danger of retreating to the psychoanalytic ivory tower and refuting the dialogue with the non psychoanalytic community - on the other pole the over-adaptation to a, for psychoanalysis inadequate understanding of science and therefore a loss of identity and independence. This field of tension cannot be resolved but can only be critically reflected upon and productively shaped again and again in an interdisciplinary and intergenerational dialogue. This critical reflection may also be seen as a safeguard against submission to the dominating “Zeitgeist”. As it is well known: the gold of contemporary science may well be the iron of the future.

d)             The future of psychoanalysis will flourish if innovative and creative insights can be found in its rich spectrum of different fields of research in the clinical, conceptual, empirical, experimental and interdisciplinary research and be transferred to the scientific and non-scientific community.

e)              In today’s “knowledge-societies” – in which scientific experts compete at all levels for authenticity and credibility – it has become a question of survival, but also a new chance for psychoanalysis to maintain its standing. Therefore it hast to assert itself as an specific, irreplaceable, effective and productive clinical method of treatment and a theory of mind and culture. Through its specific research method, the developing of unique and effective forms of short-term and long-term treatments, by interesting and innovative explanations for the complex phenomenon of individuals and groups as well as of society, psychoanalysis may even increase its public attractiveness as a ”specific science of the unconscious”. The “plurality of research” opens many new windows for psychoanalysis towards many other contemporary scientific disciplines which can be productively used for an innovative future of psychoanalysis as a clinical practice and as a science.


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[1] This paper is based on the Research Lecture given at centenary celebration of the IPA in London, March 2010 and its elaboration in Leuzinger-Bohleber, in press.

[2] See