What is conceptual research in psychoanalysis?

Leuzinger-Bohleber, M.; Dreher, A.U.; Canestri, J. (Eds.) (2003): Pluralism and Unity? Methods of Research in Psychoanalysis. (The International Psychoanalysis Library). London: International Psychoanalytical Association.

Leuzinger-Bohleber, M. (2006): Conclusion: future clinical, conceptual, empirical, and interdisciplinary research on sexuality in psychoanalysis. In: Fonagy, P.; Krause, R.;Leuzinger-Bohleber, M. (Eds.): Identity, Gender and Sexuality. 150 years after Freud.(Controversies in psychoanalysis series, 1) (pp. 181-192). London: International Psychoanalytical Association.

Leuzinger-Bohleber, M.; Fischmann, T. in cooperation with the Research Subcommittee for Conceptual Research of the IPA (2006): What is conceptual research in psychoanalysis? International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 87, 1355-1386.


The development of psychoanalysis as a science and clinical practice has always relied heavily on various forms of conceptual research.  Thus conceptual research has clarified, formulated and reformulated psychoanalytic concepts permitting to better shape the findings emerging in the clinical setting. By enhancing clarity and explicitness in concept usage it has facilitated the integration of  existing psychoanalytic thinking as well as the development of new ways of looking at clinical and extra-clinical data.  Moreover, it has offered conceptual bridges to neighbouring disciplines particularly interested in psychoanalysis e.g. philosophy, sociology, aesthetics, history of art and literature and more recently cognitive science/ neuroscience.

In the present phase of psychoanalytic pluralism, of worldwide scientific communication amongst psychoanalysts irrespective of language differences and furthermore of an intensifying dialogue with other disciplines the relevance of conceptual research is steadily increasing. Yet, it still often seems not clear enough how conceptual research can be characterized in contrast to clinical and empirical research in psychoanalysis. Therefore the Subcommittee for Conceptual Research of the IPA  presented some of its considerations on the similarities and the differences between various forms of clinical and extraclinical research, their specific aims,  quality criteria and thus their specific chances as well as their specific limitations in this paper. Examples taken from two volumes of the International Journal of Psychoanalysis 2002/2003 served as illustrations for eight different subtypes of conceptual research.


Prof. Dr. Marianne Leuzinger-Bohleber; PD Dr. Tamara Fischmann

Sigmund-Freud-Institut, Myliusstr. 20, D- 60323 Frankfurt

Email: M.Leuzinger-Bohleber@gmx.de

Email: Fischmann@sigmund-freud-institut.de