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Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association 19: 265-309

Freud's Methodology
W. W. Meissner S.J.
ONE OF THE MOST critical problems in psychoanalytic thinking has to do with the methodological bases of its evidence
and concepts. The validity and adequacy of psychoanalytic concepts and formulations require a firm methodological
underpinning in order that the scientific demands of validation and verification can be met. It is immediately evident, however,
that psychoanalysis cannot submit itself to the validation and verification procedures available to more objective sciences. The
nature of the material with which psychoanalysis works imposes severe limitations and qualifications (Meissner, 1966).
Freud himself stands out as one of the great scientific figures of his era. His schooling in scientific method and thinking was
quite thorough, particularly as a result of his excellent training in neurology and his experience in research before coming to the
study of neuroses (Jones, 1961). Because psychoanalysis is the child of Freud's scientific thinking, it would serve us well to
investigate the way in which he dealt with the intricate and difficult problems of scientific methodology as his thinking about
psychoanalysis evolved. Freud's comments on methodological issues are scattered throughout his works. Our objective in the
present study will be to pull together some of the observations in order to get a more consistent and systematic picture of his

Submitted March 23, 1970

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Freud's Observational Bias
One of the basic positions Freud maintained throughout his career was the insistence that his theoretical formulations were
rooted in observation and clinical experience. In a letter to Heinrich Lwy in 1930 he commented: "When I recollect isolated
cases from the history of my work, I find that my working hypothesis invariably came about as a direct result of a great number of
impressions based on experience" (E. Freud, 1960, p. 396). A third of a century earlier he had complained to Fliess that he
should really observe children in the nursery to confirm some of his theories about infantile behavior, but that time and
circumstances prevented him (Freud, 1887-1902).
Early in his career there is evidence of this basic orientation in Freud's work. Careful examination of the Studies on
Hysteria(Breuer and Freud, 1895) shows striking stylistic differences between Freud's contributions and those of Breuer. Breuer
gave free reign to his speculations and analogous reasonings, basing them particularly on the biological and physiological
analogies derived from the Helmholz school. He made little distinction between hypotheses derived from strictly deductive
reasoning and those derived from more inductive processes based on observation of patients. Consequently, his contributions are
startlingly original and even brilliant, but they lack the observational underpinning to give them substance and support. In Freud's
contributions, however, generalizations are almost invariably supported by inductive reasoning and based on observations. Gedo
et al. (1964) have noted that
our tracing of the logical network within the book has shown the impressive tightness of Freud's inductive thinking, and his restraint
in refusing to outdistance his evidence, as Breuer consistently did. Freud's use of deductive processes is always clearly labeled in this
work; it is sparing, and it is utilized to strengthen the evidential chain because clinical predictions based on deductions from earlier
theories were immediately tested in the consulting room [p. 747].
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Breuer's inability to immerse himself in the data of the psychotherapeutic relationship is even more striking insofar as in his
other scientific work he was the model of observational empiricism and inductive reasoning. Breuer's own internal conflicts
removed him from effective contact with his patients and impaired his ability to utilize an inductive method and effectively base
his interpretations and theoretical generalizations on clinical evidence. Freud was able to persist where Breuer was forced to
withdraw. Freud enjoyed the capacity to react, but, in addition, to observe himself while reacting. He thus was able to extend the
range of observation, to include not only what was going on in his patients, but also what was going on in himself. This of course
enabled him to understand what was happening in his relationship to his patients and opened the way for better understanding of
transference (Schlessinger et al., 1967).
Freud apparently placed great confidence in his powers of observation. He remarked at one point (1905a):

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When I set myself the task of bringing to light what human beings keep hidden within them, not by the compelling power of hypnosis,
but by observing what they say and what they show, I thought the task was a harder one than it really is. He that has eyes to see and
ears to hear may convince himself that no mortal can keep a secret. If his lips are silent, he chatters with his finger-tips; betrayal
oozes out of him at every pore. And thus the task of making conscious the most hidden recesses of the mind is one which it is quite
possible to accomplish [pp. 77-78].

Freud clearly was concerned about the reliability of his data: "I cannot guarantee the completeness of my results, but I can
answer for the care taken in arriving at them" (1908, p. 210). Even so, he seems to have recognized the difficulties in obtaining
data that pertained to the inner workings of the human mind. In his letter to Lwy he wrote:
But in trying to find some suitable examples I have encountered strange and almost insuperable obstacles, as though certain
procedures that can be expected from other fields of investigation could not be applied to my subject matter. Perhaps
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the reason for this is that within the methods of our work there is no place for the kind of experiment made by physicists and
physiologists [E. Freud, 1960, p. 396].

He, who had been trained in the methods of science, found it strange that his case histories should read like short stories
rather than scientific reports, and remarked, "I must console myself with the reflection that the nature of the subject is evidently
responsible for this, rather than any preference of my own" [Breuer and Freud, 1895, p. 160].

Psychoanalysis as Empirical
Opponents asserted that psychoanalysis was the product of speculative imagination and in fact had nothing to do with
observation or experience. Freud's empiricism was deeply rooted and he replied to these objections with considerable vigor. He
said (1925c) that this attitude was substantially a resistance, and that the objectors were refusing to look through the microscope
to avoid seeing what they had in fact denied. He was fond of quoting Charcot's dictum, La thorie, c'est bon, mais, a n'empche
pas d'exister ("Theory is fine but doesn't prevent things from existing.")
Freud saw psychoanalysis as occupying a relatively disadvantageous position, falling somewhere in the middle ground
between the more rigidly scientific approaches of medical sciences, and the more speculative approaches of philosophic
disciplines. Doctors, he complained, regarded it as a speculative system and refused to believe that, along with other natural
sciences, it was based on patient and tireless elaboration of observational data. Philosophers, on the other hand, regarding it
according to the standards of their own speculatively constructed systems, found that it started from what they considered
impossible premises and then reproached it because its most general concepts lacked clarity and precision (Freud, 1925a). Freud
replied that these general ideas were not really presuppositions on which the work of psychoanalysis depended: "On the contrary,
they are its latest conclusions and are 'open to revision'. Psycho-analysis is founded securely upon the observation of the facts of
mental life; and for that very
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reason its theoretical superstructure is still incomplete and subject to constant alteration" (1926c, p. 266).

Unique Role of Observation in Psychoanalysis

Freud emphasized that the basic facts upon which the whole structure of psychoanalysis rested could be observed in the
analysis of any neurotic patient. The observed facts are those involved in transference and resistance, and they can be discovered
whenever an attempt is made to trace neurotic symptoms back to their sources in past life experiences. Freud (1914a) was willing
to grant that psychoanalysis did have some psychological and biological premises, but he insisted that the ideas of repression and
resistance were products of psychoanalytic work and were based on clinical observations.
Even so, he knew that the kind of observation that had to be carried on in psychoanalysis was quite distinct from that which
obtained in other sciences. Psychoanalysis not only used the psychic apparatus in the process of observation, but that apparatus
itself was the subject matter of psychoanalysis. This created certain difficulties, but as in other sciences, the role of inference was
to fill in the breaks in the flow of conscious material, so that a sequence of conscious events could be constructed which was
complementary to the unconscious psychic processes.
Besides the difficulty in observation posed by the peculiar nature of the material the analyst had to observe, there were also
difficulties arising from the fact that analysis was not purely an observational or research-oriented procedure. Psychoanalysis had
to do with the treatment of patients, so that the elements of research and treatment coincided. But after a certain point, there was
an opposition between the demands of technique for research purposes and the demands of technique for therapeutic purposes.
Freud warned that
Cases which are devoted from the first to scientific purposes and are treated accordingly suffer in their outcome; while the most
successful cases are those in which one proceeds, as it were, without any purpose in view, allows oneself to be taken by surprise by

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any new turn in them, and always meets them
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with an open mind, free from any presuppositions [1912, p. 114].

Freud admonished against undertaking any scientific or synthetic analysis of case material while the case was still in
The distinction between the two attitudes would be meaningless if we already possessed all the knowledge (or at least the essential
knowledge) about the psychology of the unconscious and about the structure of the neuroses that we can obtain from psycho-analytic
work. At present we are still far from that goal and we ought not to cut ourselves off from the possibility of testing what we have
already learnt, and of expanding our knowledge further [1912, pp. 114-115].

Particularly interesting in this regard were Freud's views about Stekel's contribution to the interpretation of dream symbolism.
Stekel had brought forward a number of intuitive translations of dream symbols which Freud met with some scepticism, but
which he grudgingly had to admit were for the most part confirmed. Freud's objections, that Stekel had perhaps damaged
psychoanalysis as much as he had benefited it, were not cast in terms of the content of Stekel's material, but rather in terms of his
Stekel arrived at his interpretations of symbols by way of intuition, thanks to a peculiar gift for the direct understanding of them. But
the existence of such a gift cannot be counted upon generally, its effectiveness is exempt from all criticism and consequently its
findings have no claim to credibility. It is as though one sought to base the diagnosis of infectious diseases upon olefactory
impressions received at the patient's bedsidethough there have undoubtedly been clinicians who could accomplish more than other
people by means of the sense of smell (which is usually atrophied) and were really able to diagnosis a case of enteric fever by smell
[1900, pp. 350-351].

Consequently, regardless of the intuitive accuracy of some of Stekel's interpretation they had to be rejected because of the
methodological inadequacy of trying to provide intuitive interpretations without the benefit of adequate associative content.
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Free Association
The development of the technique of free association rooted in the early research in hysteria that Freud undertook with
Breuer, is perhaps the single most important methodological contribution Freud made to the study of human psychology.1 The
crucial insight was that "hysterics suffer mainly from reminiscences" (Breuer and Freud, 1895, p. 7). If the traumatic
reminiscence could be brought to consciousness, the emotion associated with it abreacted sufficiently, the symptom would
therefore disappear. The preliminary communication says
that each individual hysterical symptom immediately and permanently disappeared when we had succeeded in bringing clearly to
light the memory of the event by which it was provoked and in arousing its accompanying affect, and when the patient had described
that event in the greatest possible detail and had put the affect into words [Breuer and Freud, 1895, p. 6]

Early on, Freud had apparently experimented with a variety of techniques for recovering the lost reminiscences, but relied
primarily on the technique of hypnosis which he had seen so successfully applied in Charcot's clinic. Hypnosis was thought to be
able to break through the dissociative barriers that separated off the lost memories, and allow them to be reunited with conscious
awareness. The authors write (1895),
It will now be understood how it is that the psychotherapeutic procedure which we have described in these pages has a curative effect.
It brings to an end the operative force of the idea which was not abreacted in the first instance by allowing its strangulated affect to
find a way out through speech; and it subjects it to associative correction by introducing it into normal consciousness (under light
hypnosis) or by removing

1 A recent article (Trosman, 1969) has traced the influence of a cryptomnesic fragment from the German author Ludwig Brne on the development of free
association in Freud's thinking. The influence is highly probable, but the point should be made that such diverse influences on the scientific process are
activated by the exigencies derived from the observational base of the science. This seems to have been the case for Freud. The combination of his clinical
experience and his self-analysis laid the groundwork for Freud's advance in technique.
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it through the physician's suggestion, as is done in somnambulism accompanied by amnesia [p. 17].

One can detect even here in the preliminary communication a shifting of emphasis from the direct effects of hypnosis itself to
the factors of associative correction by the use of speech. Freud's dissatisfaction with the results achieved through hypnosis,
however, forced him to shift his emphasis more toward the element of suggestion. The psychic group that had been split off
through the hysterical process had to be compelled to unite once more with the ego consciousness.
The evolution of Freud's technique in the direction of free association is clearly recorded in his analysis of the case of

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Fraulein Elizabeth von R. He had adopted the procedure of pressing his hand on the patient's forehead and suggesting that under
pressure the patient would remember the forgotten memories. Elizabeth had often told Freud that she either remembered nothing
or saw nothing, but he was suspicious because of the preoccupied expression on her face.
I resolved therefore to adopt the hypothesis that the procedure never failed: that on every occasion under the pressure of my hand
some idea occurred to Elizabeth or some picture came before her eyes, but that she was not always prepared to communicate it to me,
and tried to suppress once more what had been conjured up. I could think of two motives for this concealment. Either she was
applying criticism to the idea, which she had no right to do on the ground of its not being important enough or of its being an
irrelevant reply to the question she had been asked; or she hesitated to produce it becauseshe found it too disagreeable to tell. I
therefore proceeded as though I was completely convinced of the trustworthiness of my technique. I no longer accepted her
declaration that nothing had occurred, but assured her that something must have occurred to her. Perhaps I said she had not been
sufficiently attentive, in which case I would be glad to repeat my pressure. Or perhaps she thought that her idea was not the right
one. This I told her was not her affair; she was under an obligation to remain completely objective and say what had come into her
head, whether it was appropriate or not [Breuer and Freud, 1895, pp. 153-154].
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It took Freud a long time to disengage himself from the basic orientation assumed in the use of hypnosis. Even the
application of pressure to the forehead or asking the patient to close his eyes and concentrate were remnants of the hypnotic
technique. The case of Elizabeth was the first in which he actually dispensed with hypnotism altogether and relied solely on the
new pressure technique (Jones, 1961). At the time of writing the Studies on Hysteria (1893-1895), Freud had begun to regard the
pressure technique with considerable confidence, had even begun to say that he regarded it as infallible. At the same time, he saw
increasingly that this technique was really only a trick for taking the ego, which is eager to maintain its defenses, unawares.
If he was sensitive to the manner in which the patient's resistance manifested itself, he also saw the necessity for the therapist
to work against the resistance and to overcome it, if therapeutic benefit were to be achieved at all. The concept of working
against the resistance as an active therapeutic procedure, using processes of suggestion, questioning, and urging, remained a
prominent aspect of Freud's orientation through most of these early years. He noted several times (Breuer and Freud, 1895) that
when he had insisted on the infallibility of his method and had forced the patient to yield up the critical piece of information, the
patient would often say something like, "Well, I could have told you that the first time," or "I couldn't believe that that was it," or
"I've always known that, I could have told you that before."
The development of Freud's technique lay in the direction of becoming increasingly comfortable in dealing with the
resistances of psychic censorship, and feeling less and less the need to urge, press, or overcome the resistance. Two years after
the publication of the Studies he remarked in a letter to Fliess (1892-99), "My technique is beginning to prefer a particular method
as being the natural one" (p. 258). The urging and pressing technique was gradually relaxed and given up over the course of the
few years following the publication of the Studies, and more and more emphasis was put on the relaxation of censorship and the
freedom of the patient's associations.
By 1900, with the publication of The Interpretation of
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Dreams, Freud seemed to have arrived at the more or less definitive stage of his technique:
This involves some psychological preparation of the patient. We must aim at bringing about two changes in him: an increase in the
attention he pays to his own psychical perceptions, and the elimination of the criticism by which he normally sifts the thoughts that
occur to him. In order that he may be able to concentrate his attention on his self-observation, it is an advantage for him to lie in a
restful attitude and shut his eyes. It is necessary to insist explicitly on his renouncing all criticism of the thoughts that he perceives.
We therefore tell him that the success of the psycho-analysis depends on his noticing and reporting whatever comes into his head and
not being misled, for instance, into suppressing an idea because it strikes him as unimportant or irrelevant or because it seems to him
meaningless. He must adopt a completely impartial attitude to what occurs to him, since it is precisely his critical attitude which is
responsible for his being unable, in the ordinary course of things, to achieve the desired unravelling of his dream or obsessional idea
or whatever it may be [1900, p. 101].

Closing the eyes is, of course, a residue of the technique Freud had employed previously, but even this was soon dropped. In
1903 he reviewed the development of free association from Breuer's cathartic method and explicitly mentioned the fact that the
analyst does not even ask the patient to close his eyes and, indeed, avoids touching him in any way. This is an explicit
repudiation of the remnants of the earlier techniques and marks his arrival at the method of free association as the definitive
procedure of psycho-analysis (Freud, 1904).
The supposition underlying the use of the method of free association is that the material produced by the patient is in some
sense determined by unconscious psychic processes. The most devastating objection to free association comes in the charge that
it is in fact arbitrary. Freud took up this objection in The Interpretation of Dreams(1900, p. 527). He argued that the objection
could be met by pointing to the distinct impression made upon the patient by interpretations, or by the fact that during the process
of pursuing one dream element, some very surprising connections

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emerge in connection with other elements, or by the improbability that such an exhaustive account of the dream material could be
obtained except by following out psychic connections which had already been laid down. He also points out that the procedure is
the same as that used in resolving hysterical symptoms, where symptomatic release would suggest that the method had some
merit. The objection rests upon the presupposition that the stream of ideas is purposeless. But this is simply not true, since when
we get rid of the purposive ideas, which are conscious to us, the unconscious purposive ideas take charge. The flow of ideas,
therefore, has an unconscious purposive direction. "No influence that we can bring to bear upon our mental processes can ever
enable us to think without purposive ideas; nor am I aware of any states of psychical confusion which can do so" (1900, p. 528).
Freud takes up a similar objection in following out his associations to the dream of the botanical monograph. The objection
is often heard that dream interpretation is arbitrary because it is based on a number of contingent events. Freud replies (1900) that
such chains of associations are indeed easy to construct as is evident by the use of associations in puns, riddles, and jokes simply
for entertainment value. But if these particular chains of thought had not been available, then others no doubt would have been
selected. Or if the chains of association could not have been forged between these impressions, the dream would simply have
been different. A little further on, he comments about this same dream:
in the course of my analysis of the dream of the monograph on the genus Cyclamen, I stumbled upon the childhood
memory of my father, when I was a boy of five, giving me a book illustrated with colored plates to destroy. It may perhaps be
doubted whether this memory really had any share in determining the form taken by the content of the dream or whether it
was not rather that the process of analysis built up the connection subsequently. But the copious and intertwined associative
links warrant our accepting the former alternative: Moreover I can assure my readers that the ultimate meaning of the
dream, which I have not disclosed, is intimately related to the subject of the childhood scene [p. 191].

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While this reply does not satisfy our curiosity, we can conclude that Freud's associations led him to material that was convincing
enough to him, but too personal to divulge.
In the Introductory Lectures, in his concluding lecture of the series on dreams, Freud again takes up these objections that the
interpretation of dreams is really at the mercy of arbitrary choice and that the lack of results throws considerable doubt on the
correctness of his procedure:
If instead of the interpreter's arbitrary choice you would speak of his skill, his experience and his understanding, I should agree with
you. We cannot, of course, do without a personal factor of that kind, especially in the more difficult problems of dream-interpretation.
But the position is no different in other scientific occupations. There is no means of preventing one person from handling a particular
technique worse than another, or one person from making better use of it than another. What in other ways given an impression of
arbitrarinessin, for instance the interpretation of symbolsis done away with by the fact that as a rule the interconnection between
the dream-thoughts, or the connection between the dream and the dreamer's life, or the whole psychical situation in which the dream
occurs, selects a single one from among the possible determinations presented and dismisses the rest as unserviceable [1916-17, p.

One of the aspects of Freud's thinking that is distinctive is his acknowledgment of overdetermination. His first recognition of
this phenomenon came in the analysis of dreams which often seemed to have more than one meaning. The principle of multiple
meanings or of overdetermination is one that is not an arbitrary aspect of Freud's thinking but rather an essential consequence of
the analytic methodology. Rapaport (1967) pointed out that
the method used itself inevitably leads to it; as long as there is an interpersonal relationship and you use the clinical method of
recovering the past, these methods imply that the past continuum of psychic events is made to re-emerge by the lever of the
"interpersonal relationship." Overdetermination is not a magic coincidence of many motives; it is rather a direct consequence of the
method of investigation used by psychoanalysis [p. 215].
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Because of the clinical situation, such content in the clinical material has reference to three basic frameworks; the patient's
childhood experience, the patient's present life experience, and the patient's current involvement in the transference relationship.
These three levels of experience overlap and interact in complex ways. Moreover, the individual's experience in any of these
three areas taken individually is compounded of elements of the inner and outer worlds. All of these aspects are determining and
giving meaning to the patient's behavior and experience. They are all concurrently active in varying ways to determine the
content of the patient's material.
Moreover to approach it from the point of view of clinical methodology, the method of free association is one which traces
the lines of psychic continuity and meaning along any one of a number of paths. Complete understanding of significance depends
upon the tracing out of all of these complex paths, a task which is impossible of completion in any individual case. However,

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each of the lines of determinable continuity that can be established by free association adds another determinant to the pattern of
overall meaning, so that overdetermination is inescapable and the significance of any psychic symptom or event must remain
incomplete. The important point here is that use of the interpersonal clinical method and specifically the use of free association
dictates that overdetermination be an integral aspect of analytic theory.

Freud's remarks on the botanical monograph dream make clear how important a role his own self-analysis played in the
development of his views. The connection between his relationship to Fliess and the death of his father in 1897 to Freud's study
of dreams and the writing of The Interpretation of Dreams has been documented by Jones (1961). The first suggestion of Freud's
interest in his own dreams came in a long footnote to his case history of Frau Emmy Von N. A fortuitous change in the bedding
stimulated an increase of the frequency and vividness of his dreams, which in turn prompted him to write them down and try to
solve them (Breuer and Freud, 1895).
By 1897 references to his own dreams begin to turn up in his
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letters to Fliess, as well as, more significantly, references to his own self-analysis. He wrote to Fliess (1887-1902):
After a spell of good spirits here I am now having a fit of gloom. The chief patient I am busy with is myself. My little hysteria, which
was much intensified by work, has yielded one stage further. The rest still sticks. That is the first reason for my mood. This analysis
is harder than any other. It is also the thing that paralyzes writing down and communicating what so far I have learned. But I believe
it has got to be done and is a necessary stage in my work [p. 217].

And again a few months later: "My self-analysis is the most important thing I have in hand, and promises to be of the
greatest value to me, when it is finished" (p. 224). And again: "My own analysis is going on and it remains my chief interest.
Everything is still dark, including even the nature of the problem, but at the same time I have a reassuring feeling that one only
has to put one's hand in one's own store cupboard to be able to extractin its own good timewhat one needs" (p. 230).
Looking back on this development from a later perspective, Freud (1887-1902) wrote:
Moreover I soon saw the necessity of carrying out a self-analysis, and this I did with the help of a series of my own dreams which led
me back through all the events of my childhood; but I am still of the opinion today that this kind of analysis may suffice for anyone
who is a good dreamer and not too abnormal [p. 222].

Clearly Freud's self-analysis led him to a deeper understanding of the interpretation of dreams. The Irma dream seems to
have had particular significance. It was in connection with this particular dream that Freud gained his fundamental insight into
the place of wish fulfillment in dreams. In commenting on the Irma dream, Freud remarked that he based his approach to dreams
in large part on the psychoanalyses of neurotics, besides which there is only material available from dreams reported by normal
persons of his acquaintance or dreams reported in the literature. Any use of this kind of material thus had severe limitations.
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Freud therefore turned to his own dreams to supplement the material obtained from his patients, saying that he found
self-observation more convincing than material gathered from other people, even though such self-analysis might be open to
suspicion. That Freud's self-analysis and the interpretation of his own dreams played a crucial role in the development of his
thinking can hardly be doubted, but Freud also appreciated that the insights gained by this means needed an important corrective.
In a footnote to The Interpretation of Dreams, added in 1909, he remarked that he had underestimated the importance of the part
played by fantasies in the formation of dreams while he had been principally involved in studying his own dreams, inasmuch as
these were usually based on intellectual discussions and conflicts of thought rather than on fantasy material (1900, p. 494n). He
was able to appreciate the role of fantasy in dream elaboration only through the material obtained from his patients.
That Freud recognized the pitfalls involved in self-analysis is evident from a letter he wrote to Fliess in 1897:
My self-analysis is still interrupted and I have realized the reason. I can only analyze myself with the help of knowledge obtained
objectively (like an outsider). Genuine self-analysis is impossible; otherwise there would be no illness. Since I still find some puzzles
in my patients, they are bound to hold me up in my self-analysis [1887-1902, pp. 237-238].

His realization of the limitations of self-analysis apparently grew more intense toward the end of his career. In 1935 he
wrote: "In self-analysis the danger of incompleteness is particularly great. One is too soon satisfied with a part explanation,
behind which resistance may easily be keeping back something which is more important perhaps" (p. 234).
Freud made it plain even by 1912 that the only way to avoid this danger was to submit oneself to analysis with someone
expert in the subject. Thus the concept of training analysis was evolved. Freud (1912) felt that such an analysis could never
really be completed, that a continuing growth in personality and in self-awareness could take place only through continuous
self-analysis. He reiterated this view in "Analysis Terminable and Interminable"

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(1937). He even went so far as to suggest that every analyst should at intervals of five years or so resubmit himself to analysis.
The analysis of the analyst would in fact be interminable.
Freud's opinions about self-analysis are of more than merely historical interest. The question is actually of the greatest
methodological significance, both for the technical development of analysis itself and as an intrinsic dimension of the process of
observation within psychoanalysis. Freud (1910) related psychoanalytic method to countertransference in very clear terms:
we have noticed that no psychoanalyst goes further than his own complexes and internal resistances permit; and we consequently
require that he should begin his activity with a self-analysis and continually carry it deeper while he is making his observations on his
patients. Anyone who fails to produce results in a self-analysis of this kind may at once give up any idea of being able to treat
patients by analysis [p. 145].

What is at question here is the role of subjectivity in analytic observation. Analytic data inevitably carried with them strong
subjective components. Freud's clearest statement on this matter appeared in his papers on technique. He pointed out (1912) that
there is not only a fundamental rule of analysis for the patient, that is, that he relate everything that his self-observation can detect
and that he suspend all objections or qualifications that would induce him to make a selection. There is also a fundamental rule
that applies to the doctor as well, namely, that he "must put himself in a position to make use of everything he is told for the
purposes of interpretation and of recognizing the concealed unconscious material without substituting a censorship of his own for
the selection that the patient has forgone" (p. 115). Freud drew the analogy of the unconscious of the patient and the unconscious
of the doctor tuning into each other on the same wave lengths with the result that "the doctor's unconscious is able, from the
derivatives of the unconscious which are communicated to him, to reconstruct that unconscious, which has determined the
patient's free associations" (p. 116). The doctor can do this, of course, only to the degree that he is able to recognize his own
resistances and own unconscious complexes so that the selection
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and distortion introduced from these sources can be minimized. Thus the subjective connection is fundamental to Freud's
empiricism and to his insistence on observation as the basis of psychoanalysis. The data from which it derives its theories are
nonetheless clearly based, not only on observation of external events, and on the patient's reports of conscious internal events, but
also on the sensitivity and subjectivity of the analyst himself. Thus the analyst becomes an intrinsic and integral part of the data
he reports, and psychoanalysis is faced with the dilemma of becoming a science, at least in part, of subjectivity.

The Formation of Theory

Theory as Process
Freud's insistence on the need for remaining close to the empirical clinical roots of psychoanalysis did not prevent him from
actively formulating theory and reformulating it throughout the whole course of his career. He seemed to have appreciated that
scientific understanding could not rest sheerly on the foundations of empirical observations, but that theoretical formulations were
indeed necessary, to advance an understanding of psychic phenomena. That he anticipated criticism is evident:
Nor have I attempted in this paper to substantiate the psychological postulates which will be seen to underlie my descriptions of
mental phenomena. A cursory attempt to do so would have affected nothing; an exhaustive one would have been a volume in itself. I
can only assure the reader that I approached the study of the phenomena revealed by observation of the psychoneuroses without being
pledged to any particular psychological system, and that I then proceeded to adjust my views until they seemed adapted for giving an
account of the collection of facts which had been observed. I take no pride in having avoided speculation; the material for my
hypotheses was collected by the most extensive and laborious series of observations. The decidedness of my attitude on the subject of
the unconscious is perhaps specially likely to cause offense, for I handle unconscious ideas, unconscious trains of thought, and
unconscious impulses as though they were no less valid and unimpeachable psychological data than conscious ones. But of this I am
certainthat anyone who
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sets out to investigate the same region of phenomena and employs the same methods will find himself compelled to take up the same
position, however much philosophers may expostulate. [1905a, pp. 112-113]

Demonstrated here are his continuing open-mindedness to the influence of data, and his willingness to advance to further
levels of abstraction and theoretical formulation when that seemed indicated by the data at hand.
Yet Freud was quite cognizant of the dangers of such a procedure. He regarded the processing of perceptual material by
preconscious waking-thought processes as analogous to the process of secondary elaboration of the dream content. Both sought
to establish order in perceptual material, to set up specific relationships within it, and to make it conform to certain expectations
of intelligibility. But the effort to create intelligible patterns from sensed impressions can go too far and result in errors of
interpretation and even falsification of the truth (Freud, 1900). In addition, he knew that a theoretical formulation derived from a

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single source of data must be held suspect until verified by other sources. Moreover, the explanatory processes in psychoanalysis
are in the difficult position of not having any underlying substratum of experimental evidences or accepted psychological
understanding upon which they could fall back and support themselves. Freud (1900) expanded on this in The Interpretation of
But as soon as we endeavor to penetrate more deeply into the mental process involved in dreaming, every path will end in
darkness. There is no possibility of explaining dreams as a psychical process, since to explain a thing means to trace it back
to something already known, and there is at the present time no established psychological knowledge under which we could
subsume what the psychological examination of dreams enables us to infer as a basis for their explanation. On the contrary,
we shall be obliged to set up a number of fresh hypotheses which touch tentatively upon the structure of the apparatus of the
mind and upon the play of forces operating in it. We must be careful, however, not to pursue these hypotheses too far beyond
their first logical links, or their value will be lost in uncertainties. Even if we make no false inferences
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and take all the logical possibilities into account, the probable incompleteness of our premises threatens to bring our
calculation to a complete miscarriage. No conclusions upon the construction and the working methods of the mental
instrument can be arrived at or at least fully proved from even the most painstaking investigation of dreams or of any other
mental function taken in isolation. To achieve this result, it will be necessary to correlate all the established implications
derived from a comparative study of a whole series of such functions. Thus the psychological hypotheses to which we are led
by an analysis of the processes of dreaming must be left, as it were, in suspense, until they can be related to the findings of
other enquiries which seek to approach the kernel of the same problem from another angle [p. 511].
Freud (1905b) emphasized the same point again in his treatment of jokes:
I should be very glad if it were possible for me on the one hand to give a clearer exposition of this single decisive point in my view of
jokes and on the other hand to reinforce it with conclusive arguments. But in fact what I am faced with here is not a two-fold failure
but one and the same failure. I cannot give a clearer exposition because I have no further proof of my view. I arrived at it on the
basis of a study of the technique [of jokes] and of a comparison with the dreamwork, and on no other basis; and I then found that on
the whole it fits in excellently with the characteristics of jokes. Thus this view has been arrived at by inference; and if from an
inference of this kind one is led, not to a familiar region, but on the contrary, to one that is alien and new to one's thought, one calls
the inference a 'hypothesis' and rightly refuses to regard the relation of the hypothesis to the material from which it was inferred as a
'proof' of it. It can only be regarded as 'proved' if it is reached by another path as well and if it can be shown to be the nodal point of
still other connections. But proof of this sort is not to be had, in view of the fact that our knowledge of unconscious hypotheses has
scarcely begun. In the realization that we are standing upon ground which has never before been trodden, we are thus content, from
our point of observation, to take one single, short and uncertain step forward into the unexplored region [pp. 177-178].
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It would seem that Freud saw himself as building a scaffolding from the raw materials of empirical observationa
scaffolding that had no previous blueprint and depended for its organization on the form and substance of the pieces provided
from observation. The justification for the scaffolding, at least at first, was "if it proves able to bring coherence and
understanding into more and more new regions" (1921, p. 122). Freud realized that this kind of scaffold-building was perhaps the
most difficult part of the whole enterprise. As late as 1933 in The New Introductory Lectures he was saying:
You will not be surprised to hear that I have a number of novelties to report to you about our conception of anxiety and of the basic
instincts of mental life; nor will you be surprised to learn that none of these novelties can claim to offer a final solution of these still
unsettled problems. I have a particular reason for using the word 'conception' here. These are the most difficult problems that are set
to us, but their difficulty does not lie in any insufficiency of observations; what present us with these riddles are actually the
commonest most familiar of phenomena. Nor does the difficulty lie in the recondite nature of speculations to which they give rise;
speculative consideration plays little part in this sphere. But it is truly a matter of conceptionsthat is to say, of introducing the right
abstract ideas, whose application to the raw material of observation will produce order and clarity in it. [1933, p. 81].

Yet the generation of hypotheses itself had to remain a strongly empirical procedure. Freud's approach was clear. He stood
constantly open and available to the data gathered from his observations. He took his own advice and never strayed further than
he felt his own observations would justify. In looking back on his early theorizing (1914a) he remarked:
My 'splendid isolation' was not without its advantages and charms. I did not have to read any publications, nor listen to any
ill-informed opponents; I was not subject to influence from any quarter; there was nothing to hustle me. I learnt to restrain
speculative tendencies and to follow the unforgotten advice of my master, Charcot: to look at the same things again and again until
they themselves began to speak [p. 22].
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Relation of Theory and Observation

The path Freud followed was that of painstakingly gathering new facts which made it necessary for him to pass beyond his

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earlier judgments and hypotheses, to seek new points of view, and to formulate new hypotheses to account for these facts (1938,
p. 281). His insistence on empirical observation placed severe limitations on the extent to which his theory could take shape. To
complaints that this method resulted in vagueness and relative inconsistency, Freud (1915b) had this answer:
we have no other aim but that of translating into theory the results of observation, and we deny that there is any obligation on us to
achieve at our first attempt a well-rounded theory which will commend itself by its simplicity. We shall defend the complications of
our theory so long as we find that they meet the results of observation, and we shall not abandon our expectations of being led in the
end by those very complications to the discovery of a state of affairs which, while simple in itself, can account for all the
complications of reality [p. 190].

Thus the methodology that Freud employed was an open-ended and dynamic process, constantly involved in a return to
dialectical interpretation of the data of experience and observation. His concepts were tentative, changing and evolving, always
subject to the mutative and clarifying influence of new data based upon clinical observation and experience. There is no better
description of this process than that provided by Freud (1915a) himself in the opening pages of his "Instincts and Their
We have often heard it maintained that sciences should be built up on clear and sharply defined basic concepts. In actual fact no
science, not even the most exact, begins with such definitions. The true beginning of scientific activity consists rather in describing
phenomena and then in proceeding to group, classify and correlate them. Even at the stage of description it is not possible to avoid
applying certain abstract ideas to the material in hand, ideas derived from somewhere or other but certainly not from the new
observations alone. Such
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ideaswhich will later become the basic concepts of the scienceare still more indispensible as the material is further worked over.
They must at first necessarily possess some degree of indefiniteness; there can be no question of any clear delimitation of their
content. So long as they remain in this condition, we come to an understanding about their meaning by making repeated references to
the material of observation from which they appear to have been derived, but upon which, in fact, they have been imposed. Thus,
strictly speaking, they are in the nature of conventionsalthough everything depends on their not being arbitrarily chosen but
determined by their having significant relations to the empirical material, relations that we seem to sense before we can clearly
recognize and demonstrate them. It is only after more thorough investigation of the field of observation that we are able to formulate
its basic scientific concepts with increased precision, and progressively so to modify them that they become serviceable and consistent
over a wide area. Then, indeed, the time may have come to confine them in definitions. The advance of knowledge, however, does not
tolerate any rigidity even in definitions. Physics furnishes an excellent illustration of the way in which even 'basic concepts' that have
been established in the form of definitions are constantly being altered in their content [p. 117].

Unquestionably Freud saw his theoretical efforts as "first approximations to the truth" (Breuer and Freud, 1895, p. 138).
That he was sensitive to the uncertainty and the tentative nature of his proposals is attested to in his 1909 preface to The
Interpretation of Dreams(1900):
Anyone who is acquainted with my writings (on the aetiology and the mechanism of the psychoneuroses) will know that I have never
put forward inconclusive opinions as though they were established facts, and that I have always sought to modify my statements so
that they may keep in step with my advancing knowledge [p. xxv].

Theory as Mutable
The process of theorizing, then, as Freud envisioned it, was an open-ended, dynamic, and tentative process of the formulation
and reformulation of concepts:
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Psycho-analysis is not, like philosophies, a system starting out from a few sharply defined basic concepts, seeking to grasp the whole
universe with the help of these and, once it is completed, having no room for fresh discoveries or better understanding. On the
contrary, it keeps close to the facts in its field of study, seeks to solve the immediate problems of observation, gropes its way forward
by the help of experience, is always incomplete and always ready to correct or modify its theories [1923a, p. 253].

The lack of clarity in such concepts, particularly when initially formed, was a cause of considerable uneasiness and distress to
the psychoanalyst. But Freud (1914b) saw this as one of the elements that distinguished theories based on speculation from those
based on empirical interpretation:
But I am of opinion that that is just the difference between a speculative theory and a science erected on empirical interpretation. The
latter will not envy speculation its privilege of having a smooth, unassailable foundation, but will gladly content itself with nebulous,
scarcely imaginable basic concepts, which it hopes to apprehend more clearly in the course of its development, or which it is even
prepared to replace by others. For these ideas are not the foundation of the science, upon which everything rests: that foundation is
observation alone. They are not the bottom but the top of the whole structure, and they can be replaced and discarded without
damaging it [p. 77].

The division of instinct into self-preservative and sexual instincts, for example, was regarded not as a necessary postulate but
rather as a working hypothesis which could be abandoned should increasing experience and evidence demand it (Freud, 1915a).

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Freud strongly emphasized the heuristic aspect of his hypotheses, regarding them as having a kind of "as-if" quality. He
spoke of them as being "open to revision." They were not general suppositions upon which the work of psychoanalysis
depended, but rather conclusions drawn from the observation of the facts of mental life and for that reason still incomplete and
subject to constant alteration (1926b). He put it quite succinctly in his 1930 letter to Heinrich Lwy:
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When I recollect isolated cases from the history of my work, I find that my working hypothesis invariably came about as a direct result
of a great number of impressions based on experience. Later on, whenever I had the opportunity of recognizing an hypothesis of this
kind to be erroneous, it was always replacedand I hope improvedby another idea which occurred to me 'based on the former as
well as new experiences' and to which I then submitted the material [E. Freud, 1960, p. 396].

Scientific understanding, whether in analysis or other natural sciences, could not be effective without the formulation of new
hypotheses and fresh concepts. It was Freud's opinion that this was not an embarrassment at all, but rather should be appreciated
as an enrichment of science. "They can lay claim to the same value as approximations that belongs to the corresponding
intellectual scaffolding found in other natural sciences, and we look forward to their being modified, corrected and more precisely
determined as further experience is accumulated and sifted" (1940, pp. 158-159).
For Freud, the process of scientific theorizing was slow, hesitating, laborious, and difficult. At the end of his New
Introductory Lectures(1933), toward the close of his productive career, he wrote:
Progress in scientific work is just as it is in an analysis. We bring expectations with us into the work, but they must be forcibly held
back. By observation, now at one point now at another, we come upon something new; but to begin with the pieces do not fit together.
We put forward conjectures, we construct hypotheses, which we withdraw if they are not confirmed, we need much patience and
readiness for any eventuality, we renounce early convictions so as not to be led by them into overlooking unexpected factors, and in
the end our whole expenditure of effort is rewarded, the scattered findings fit themselves together, we get insight into a whole section
of mental events, we have completed our task and now we are free for the next one [p. 174].

And then having fought the good fight, having served his mistress, science, well for many years, he offered us a charming
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which can also stand as an apologia pro vita sua. Speaking of science, he wrote:
It is not true that it staggers blindly from one experiment to another, that it replaces one error by another. It works as a rule like a
sculptor at his clay model, who tirelessly alters his rough sketch, adds to it and takes away from it, till he has arrived at what he feels
is a satisfactory degree of resemblance to the object he sees or imagines. Besides, at least in the older and more mature sciences,
there is even today a solid groundwork which is only modified and improved but no longer demolished. Things are not looking so bad
in the business of science [1933, p. 174].

There is perhaps no other major scientific thinker whose theoretical formulations have undergone as significant and marked
changes as have Freud's. Sadow et al. (1968) have described how the early hypotheses regarding the hypnoid hypothesis, the
seduction hypothesis, and the concept of the actual neurosis were gradually modified in Freud's thinking.
The hypnoid hypothesis was originally formulated by Breuer as an explanatory concept of hysteria and had been accepted by
Freud. But he began to move away from it even in his own contributions to The Studies on Hysteria. The hypnoid state and the
dissociative splitting of consciousness was regarded as the essential basis for the development of the neurosis. Freud used the
idea but without much conviction and from the very beginning included the concept of a psychically acquired hysteria along with
the more dispositional hysteria implied in the hypnoid states. This gradually led toward the formulation of his ideas of defense
neurosis, particularly in the cases of Lucy and Elizabeth von R. He arrived at an explanatory hypothesis of conflict and defense
which seemed to him to have greater applicability than the older hypnoid hypothesis. Freud insisted that he found no ground for
the presupposition of hypnoid states, but that he did find in fact the basis for his concept of fantasy neurosis. Finally in 1905
Freud dissociated himself from the concept of the hypnoid state, labelling it "superfluous and misleading." He did not abandon
the hypothesis completely, however, since he later returned to it as a
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special case of theory of repression, related to the formulations of conflict and defense.
Contrary to the hypnoid hypothesis, which Freud had only half-heartedly accepted from Breuer, the seduction hypothesis was
firmly established in Freud's thinking and based on a considerable number of case reports. He continued to add to his collection
of case material bolstering this hypothesis. He was convinced that the pathological symptoms in any case of neurosis could be
accounted for only by a return to early experiences, in which the child had experienced a sexual seduction and trauma. In
hysteria, the trauma was passively experienced; with the obsessional neurosis, after an earlier passive sexual experience, the
sexual acts were then carried out actively. Freud continued to put forth the seduction hypothesis in his writings even up until

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1898, although the year before that he had begun to voice his doubts about it in his letters to Fliess (Freud, 1887-1902).
At this time Freud was very much involved in his own self-analysis. He reported to Fliess finally, in October of 1897, that he
had found evidence of love of his mother and jealousy of his father in his own childhood and that he believed that this was a
general phenomenon of early childhood (Freud, 1887-1902). It is clear that Freud's questioning of the seduction hypothesis
depended on the results of his self-analysis and that his slowness in relinquishing the seduction hypothesis reflected his own
resistance to the infantile conflicts he had uncovered. Freud thereafter shifted the emphasis to seduction fantasies, although the
content of seduction remained a part of his major case histories. Actual seductions were no longer seen as causative in the
production of neurosis and Freud was able to acknowledge later (1914a) that he had been overly influenced by Charcot's
traumatic view of hysteria.
Thus the seduction hypothesis in its original form gave way to an understanding of the role of fantasy in the life of the child
and to the understanding of the Oedipus complex. Actual seduction assumed a much humbler position within a larger theoretical
framework dealing with infantile sexuality. The interesting aspect of this process of development in theory was that it rested so
critically on the fruits of Freud's own self-analysis. It is important to recognize that not only was the theoretical change made
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by the evidence supplied through self-analysis, but that Freud's capacity to understand and formulate a theory of sexuality rested
in part on his capacity to overcome the innate resistances to his own basic sexual conflicts. It is as though the original hypothesis
were an externalization of Freud's own oedipal fantasies, which he was able to internalize only gradually as a result of his
self-analysis and self-understanding.
Another hypothesis which underwent significant change in the course of Freud's career was that concerning actual neuroses.
In its earliest form, the theory explained the anxiety associated with neurotic conditions as being due to a defect in the release of
physical sexual tension which failed to find an adequate libidinal outlet. Inadequate sexual discharge was thought to result from
sexual practices which prevented the full physical orgasm. The actual neuroses included anxiety neurosis and neurasthenia, and,
somewhat more tentatively, hypochondriasis. The central factor in the actual neuroses was thought of as an actual toxic substance
which resulted from improper sexual metabolism.
The shifts in his thinking were subtle. In the Introductory Lectures Freud (1916-17), saw the actual neuroses more as a core
around which a psychoneurosis could develop. But the basic notion of anxiety as transformed libido continued to be a part of his
thinking. There were subtle shifts, however, in the concept of libido itself, which had previously been regarded as largely
physiological but now became more of a border concept between physiology and psychology (Freud, 1926a). It was really not
until 1933 that the hypothesis of anxiety as transformed libido was finally rejected. Anxiety was now seen as a response to
trauma or as a signal threatening repetition of trauma. The concept of anxiety was thereby placed in a much broader theoretical
framework and the concept of actual neurosis as a clinical syndrome resulting from accumulation of sexual tension was seen as
involving anxiety arising as an ego response to such tension accumulation, based on a primitive biological response to threat.
Sadow et al. (1968) point out the relationship of these theoretical changes in the concept of actual neuroses to the series of
poignant losses that Freud suffered during these years, particularly the tragic death of his beloved grandson which followed, not
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only the deaths of his daughter and his niece, but also the first signs of his cancer. Freud may have felt his own anxiety and
helplessness in the face of such difficult losses and this may have led to his deepened understanding of the phenomenon of
anxiety. Such evidence suggests that the process by which Freud formulated and altered his theories was a very complex one
indeed, resting not only on the external data supplied by observation and collection of clinical material, but also on the data
supplied by introspection. The former data could be integrated and brought into meaningful alignment only when the latter type
of data became available.
It is evident that Freud's special psychological gifts, in conjunction with his own life experiences, were the critical elements
in bringing about his theoretical advances. Psychoanalysis is unique as a scientific methodology in that it stands with one foot in
the objective world of clinical and observable data and another foot in the inner world of subjectivity. Both of these aspects are
essential parts of its methodology, both with regard to the collection of its evidence and with regard to the formulation of its

Relation of Psychoanalysis of Other Scientific Theories

It would be inaccurate and unfair to Freud if we were to leave the impression that the entire process of theory formation was
inductive. Freud was not bashful in reaching out to other areas of human knowledge for principles that would assist him in
advancing the understanding and formulation of his theories. This was particularly true in his attempts to give a more general
theoretical footing to his formulations, although he himself admits (1938) that it is often not clear whether such theoretical

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underpinnings can be regarded as postulates or as products of his own research. In trying to systematize his thinking, he regarded
some of these postulates as absolutely essential. He was particularly concerned to place his libido theory on a firm biological
foundation. The most important of these biological principles, which he enunciated at several points in his career was the
principle of constancy. The principle stated that the function of the nervous
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apparatus was to reduce stimuli to their lowest possible level and to maintain the organism in an unstimulated condition. This
principle underlies the stimulus-response reflex-arc physiology of Freud's day on which he based much of his thinking. Freud
regarded it as a necessary postulate in contradistinction to the division of instincts into ego and sexual instincts. The latter was a
working hypothesis which was to be retained only in so far as it proved useful for the understanding of data. Freud doubted that
the further understanding of instincts could be arrived at only on the basis of psychological material. He felt that further
understanding could be achieved only by the application of assumptions concerning instinctual life which would be derived from
other branches of knowledge and applied to the psychology of the instincts (Freud, 1915a).
At the same time, he recognized the necessity of avoiding the contamination of the methodology of psychoanalysis with that
of other sciences. He pointed out that psychoanalysis must keep itself free from any alien hypotheses whether they were
anatomical, chemical, or physiological, and that it had to operate with purely psychological ideas (Freud, 1916-17). The
biological postulates were used to give coherence and unity to his psychological theories. Freud was mindful of the distinction of
his own methodology from that of biology and that its requirements were quite distinct from those of the other sciences, that
psychological data could not be used to confirm biological theories or vice versa.

The Problem of Validation

Activity of the Analyst
One of the leading problems with which Freud was continually confronted and which has continued to plague psychoanalysis
is the validation of psychoanalytic theories. Psychoanalysis suffered when compared with the crisp logic of hypothesis formation,
the testing of intervening paradigms, and the confirmation of hypothetico-deductive inferences. Freud, however, dealing with the
unexplored thicket of the unconscious, could not afford the luxury of such precise tools. Despite his protestations that his
approach was empirical and that he allowed the data to speak for themselves, we
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cannot ignore the fact that he himself was an active constituent of the data-selecting process.
That he approached the clinical situation with a considerable amount of activity and vigor is undeniable. In his early work on
hysteria, one finds frequent reference to this activity. He tells us particularly, in describing the way in which he dealt with
resistances in treatment, that he had to force the patient to see things his way. In discussing the resistance of Elizabeth von R., for
example, he tells us (Breuer and Freud, 1895) that he had to convince himself of the trustworthiness of his technique, that he
could not accept her declaration that nothing had occurred to perturb her, but insisted that she be completely objective and tell
him anything that came into her mind. He even went so far as to insist that something had occurred to her and that she was not
telling it to him. He had to force her to admit her sexual feelings and insist upon them even in the face of her desperate efforts to
reject the explanation. He phrased this effort in terms of the need to overcome a force in the patient which was opposing the
coming to consciousness of pathogenic ideas (Freud, 1898).
The experiences contained in these accounts ultimately gave birth to the important concepts of resistance and defense, but we
cannot entirely absolve him of having used a considerable amount of suggestion. The element of suggestion, of course,
diminished as Freud drew closer to the development of the method of free association, but it continued to be a working part of the
analytic procedure. Every analyst has experienced the work of overcoming resistances. It is, perhaps, in this area that the
interests of research and therapy begin to diverge. Freud (Breuer and Freud, 1895) said toward the end of the Studies on Hysteria
Even when everything is finished and the patients have been overborne by the force of logic and have been convinced by the
therapeutic effect accompanying the emergence of precisely these ideaswhen, I say, the patients themselves accept the fact that they
thought this or that, they often add: "But I can't remember having thought it." It is easy to come to terms with them by telling them
that the thoughts were unconscious [p. 300].
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He found himself forced to call their attention to repressed sexual ideas in spite of all of their protestations and tells us indeed
that one can only awaken the trace of such precocious infantile sexual events under the most energetic pressure of the analytic
procedure and against enormous resistance (Freud, 1896a).
The touchstone of verification for Freud in such cases was the intensity of emotion that was unleashed in such recognition on

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the patient's part (Freud, 1896b), but it is not difficult to see how misleading this could have been for him when we consider the
early convictions he held about seduction and the evidence that he acquired which seemed to support that position. The matter of
repression and resistance, however, is real. The fact that Dora rejected Freud's position with an emphatic "no" did not prevent
him from seeing her reaction as an expression of the strength of her repression. "No" can mean "yes" and often does (Freud,
1905a), (1925b). The problem for psychoanalysis, however, both clinically and theoretically, is to determine when no means no
and when it means yes.
Throughout his career Freud was frequently criticized for using suggestion as a clinical technique. The criticism was made,
for example, that little Hans' father was instilled with Freud's views and prejudices and that the entire outcome of the case may
have been determined by this element of suggestibility. Freud's reply is important. He points to some elements that are of
considerable significance in evaluating psychoanalytic evidence. He appeals first of all to the principle of psychic determinism.
The assertions of children are neither arbitrary nor are they untrustworthy. Little Hans' replies are as determined as are any
adult's. And secondly, Freud appeals to the quality of analytic relationship and the impressions that can be grasped only in vivo.
He said:
On the contrary, we can quite clearly distinguish from one another the occasions on which, being undecided himself, he agreed
with his father (so that what he said must not be taken as evidence), and the occasions on which, freed from every pressure, he burst
into a flood of information about what was really going on inside him and about things which until then no one but himself had
known. Statements made by adults offer no greater certainty. It is a regrettable fact that no
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account of a psycho-analysis can reproduce the impressions received by the analyst as he conducts it, and that a final sense of
conviction can never be obtained from reading about it but only from directly experiencing it [Freud, 1909, p. 103].

The matter is more subtle if one thinks about the influence of suggestion on dream material. Freud speaks of "corroborative"
dreams which, as it were, tag along behind the analysis. Forgotten experiences are often recalled only after the analyst has
constructed them out of the material of the analysis; the corroborative dreams follow. The evidential value of such dreams is
suspect, but the analyst is in a difficult position, for if he does not interpret and construct the material, he does not obtain access to
repressed material. Moreover, what may be thus reproduced may not be a real but forgotten event, but rather the production of an
unconscious fantasy or screen memory. The final judgment on the validity of such dream material can be made only in terms of
the subsequent course of the analysis (Freud, 1923b). Besides, said Freud, suggestion is not as easy as many of those who object
to psychoanalysis would believe:
These accusations are contradicted more easily by an appeal to experience than by the help of theory. Anyone who has himself
carried out psycho-analyses will have been able to convince himself on countless occasions that it is impossible to make suggestions
to a patient in that way [19161917, p. 452].

The analyst can instruct the patient, but this has an effect only on his intelligence, not on his illness. Conflicts are not solved
nor are resistances overcome if these ideas do not tally with what is real and significant to the patient. The doctor's inaccurate
conjectures merely drop out in the course of the analysis to be replaced by something more accurate and correct. In fact the work
of analysis is to overcome in the resolution of the transference the effect of suggestive processes. At the end of analytic
treatment, the transference itself must be cleared away so that if success is obtained it rests not on suggestion but on overcoming
resistances and on the internal changes that have come about in the patient (Freud, 19161917).
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The validity of Freud's method and the evidence he collected had ultimately to rest upon his own experience in the course of
the analysis. In commenting on the case of the Wolf man (1918), he wrote,
Every analyst knowsand he has met with the experience on countless occasionsthat in the course of a successful treatment the
patient brings up a large number of spontaneous recollections from his childhood, for the appearance of which (a first appearance
perhaps) the physician feels himself entirely blameless, since he has not made any attempt at a construction which could have put any
material of the sort into the patient's head. It does not necessarily follow that these previously unconscious recollections are always
true. They may be; but they are often distorted from the truth, and interspersed with imaginary elements, just like the so-called screen
memories which are preserved spontaneously. All that I mean to say is this: scenes, like this one in my present patient's case, which
date from such an early period and exhibit a similar content, and which further lay claim to such an extraordinary significance for the
history of the case, are as a rule not reproduced as recollections, but have to be divinedconstructedgradually and laboriously
from an aggregate of indications [p. 51].

Such apparent recollections can sometimes be confirmed by dream material. With regard to such recollected evidence, Freud
(1918) goes on to say,
What was argued at first was that they were not realities but phantasies. But what is argued now is evidently that they are phantasies
not of the patient but of the analyst himself, who forces them upon the person under analysis on account of some complexes of his
own. An analyst, indeed, who hears this reproach, will comfort himself by recalling how gradually the construction of this phantasy
which he is supposed to have originated came about, and, when all is said and done, how independently of the physician's incentive
many points in its development proceeded; how, after a certain phase of treatment, everything seemed to converge upon it, and how

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later, in the synthesis, the most various and remarkable results radiated out from it; how not only the large problems but the smallest
peculiarities in the history of the case were cleared up by this single assumption [p. 52].
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But in seeking such evidence and such confirmation the analyst is in fact walking a methodological tightrope, balancing
neatly between excessive activity and excessive passivity. The collection of data and the understanding of dynamics does not
begin anew with each case. On the basis of his immense experience, Freud (1898) observed
that a doctor who is experienced in these things does not meet his patient unprepared and as a rule does not have to ask them for
information but only for a confirmation of his surmises. Anyone who will follow my indications as to how to elucidate the morphology
of the neuroses and translate it into aetiological terms, will need the addition of very few further admissions from his patients; in the
very description of their symptoms, which they are only too ready to give, they have usually acquainted him at the same time with the
sexual factors that are hidden behind [p. 266].

If there is much in any given case that can be presumed, there is much more that needs to be confirmed. What is presumed
does not avail itself of confirmation; the analyst, caught up as he so often is in the practical exigencies of treatment, must make a
certain number of presumptions that do not allow for immediate confirmation, but which are still susceptible of confirmation in
the broader context of meaning provided by the whole course of treatment and the inner dynamics of the case.
An interesting question of this kind was the matter of the interpretation of dreams as wish fulfillments. Freud suggested that
after he had gained the insight into wish fulfillment through the analysis of the Irma dream, his enthusiasm gave him the
conviction that he had uncovered a universal characteristic of dreams. In his usual way he carried his new-found insight into the
testing ground of analysis. His patients, he reports, subjected his theory of wish fulfillment to a remorseless criticism. They
contradicted him and brought him dreams that apparently could not be reconciled with his ideas. He gives us a number of such
dreams in The Interpretation of Dreams, but does not offer an explanation until the 1909 edition. He attributed these dreams first
of all to the wish that he would be wrong about his theory so that the counter-wish
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dreams could be regarded as a form of resistance; and secondly that the counter-wish dreams could be regarded as wish
fulfillment in the service of masochism (Freud, 1900).
While there may have been some point to Freud's pressing on in the face of what he felt to be resistance, it also seems that it
was the force of his own conviction that led him to override the objections of the patients. It took the accumulation of experience
and greater objectivity to appreciate that the principle of wish fulfillment was an excessively simple and overly generalized
explanation of the motive force and function of dreams. The hypothesis of wish fulfillment in dreaming had broad applicability,
but it can now be seen as a special case that does not require the somewhat labored explanations that Freud brought to its support
in the face of his patient's objections.
The tension between presumption of evidence and confirmation is perhaps irresolvable, but the balance struck in any given
case depends upon the quality of the patient's resistances and degree of analytic activity or passivity that is required for
therapeutic effectiveness. Freud's (1913) comment is to the point:
The cases of illness which come under a psycho-analyst's observation are of course of unequal value in adding to his knowledge.
There are some in which he has to bring to bear all that he knows and from which he learns nothing; and there are others which show
him what he already knows in a particularly clearly marked manner and in exceptionally revealing isolation, so that he is indebted to
them not only for a confirmation but for an extension of his knowledge. We are justified in supposing that the psychical processes
which we wish to study are no different in the first class of cases from what they are in the second, but we shall choose to describe
them as they occur in the favorable and clear examples afforded by the latter. Similarly the theory of evolution assumes that in the
animal kingdom, the segmentation of the egg proceeds in the same manner in those cases where a high degree of pigmentation is
present and which are unfavorable for observation, as it does in those cases where the object of study is transparent and poorly
pigmented and which are on that account selected for observation [p. 193].
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Inductive Confirmation
We know that Freud was aware of the limitations of his methods and of the incompleteness of his results. He saw himself as
an explorer into the unknown regions of the hidden past, a sort of archeologist of psychic realms. He was fascinated by the
developments of archeology in his time and perhaps saw himself as the Schliemann of man's hidden psychic past when he wrote:
In the face of the incompleteness of my analytic results, I had no choice but to follow the example of those discoverers whose good
fortune it is to bring to the light of day after their long burial the priceless though mutilated relics of antiquity. I have restored what is
missing, taking the best models known to me from other analyses; but, like a conscientious archeologist, I have not omitted to mention
in each case where the authentic parts end and my constructions begin [1905a, p. 12].

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And like the archeologist, he discovers pieces of historical data that to some extent explain themselves, but cannot be fitted
into an over-all pattern of meaning without interpolation and interpretation. Both the interpretation and the interpolation must rest
upon the inner meaning that is revealed by, even as it is hidden by, the artifacts that the archeologist's shovel yields from the
depths of the earth. Freud (1913) wrote:
If his work is crowned with success, the discoveries are self-explanatory: the ruined walls are part of the ramparts of a palace or a
treasure-house; the fragments of columns can be filled out into a temple; the numerous inscriptions, which by good luck, may be
bilingual, reveal an alphabet and a language, and, even when they have been deciphered and translated, yield undreamed-of
information about the events of the remote past, to commemorate which the monuments were built. Saxa loquuntur [p. 192]!

If the image of the psychoanalyst as a sort of psychic archeologist, dredging up remnants of the infantile past from the depths
of the unconscious has a certain validity, the material nonetheless remains fragmentary and incomplete and needs to be set in an
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over-all context of meaning by the analyst's interpretation and reconstruction. The pieces are never all available, and the analyst
is faced with the problem of assuring himself that his reconstruction reflects the reality of the patient's experience and its meaning.
This is substantially the central issue of the problem of confirmation. Freud pictured the analyst's understanding of analytic
material as a kind of reading and rereading until the inner meaning of what was contained became apparent in the material itself.
But the meaning of any fragment depended upon the meaning of the whole. The full interpretation of the dream or of any
fragment of the analysis had to wait for the completion of the analysis in order that an approach be made to its understanding.
Similarly the meaning of a single symptom cannot be understood except in the context of the full analysis. During the course of
the analysis if a fragment is turned up here, another there, and another somewhere else until they can all be pieced together to
provide a total context and pattern of meaning, the symptom and its understanding can elude us (Freud, 1911).
But Freud, in fact, complained about the problem he had in backing his dream interpretation with the appropriate evidence.
The supporting evidence could be convincing only if treated in the context of the interpretation of the dream as a whole. Taking
it out of context destroyed that essential meaning; but if the dream interpretation was carried even a little below the manifest
surface, the material became so voluminous that it was difficult to follow and to illustrate (Freud, 1900). This was particularly
true of the childhood memories that are often represented in the manifest content by only the slenderest allusion, so that the
material must be arrived at by means of interpretation. Such instances were not very convincing, since in general there was no
other evidence to testify to the reality of the childhood experience. Justifying their occurrence from the dream material could be
supported only by the conjunction of a number of factors in the analytic work, which were sufficiently consistent and trustworthy
to form an over-all pattern of meaning which the evidence fit (Freud, 1900).
Freud several times used the analogy of the jig-saw puzzle. Early in his career (1896b) he wrote:
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It is exactly like putting together a child's picture-puzzle: after many attempts, we become absolutely certain in the end which piece
belongs in the empty gap; for only that one piece fills out the picture and at the same time allows its irregular edges to be fitted into
the edges of the other pieces in such a manner as to leave no free space and to entail no overlapping. In the same way, the contents of
the infantile scenes turn out to be indispensible supplements to the associative and logical framework of the neurosis, whose insertion
makes its course of development for the first time evident, or even as we might often say, self-evident [p. 205].

Psychic fragments however are not static pieces of cardboard. Freud's conviction of the highly specific interlocking of
psychic contents to provide a consistent pattern of meaning was based upon his underlying presumptions of psychic continuity
and determinism. The work of interpretation, therefore, was not a matter of arbitrary choice, but rather a matter of experience,
skill, and understanding. The interpretation of dreams and the whole work of analysis involves a personal factor which is
unavoidable and varies widely from analyst to analyst. Freud argued (1916-17), nonetheless, that the intersection of multiple
factors selects a single pattern of meaning which lends intelligibility to the data. The analytic verification rests on the analyst's
ability to find that meaning and its determinations and to reject the others as unserviceable.

Clinical Induction
It seems obvious that the multiple methodological vectors we have been discussing point in a single direction. Analytic
methodology is ultimately forced to rest upon the single case history. Therein lies its strength and, of course, its weakness. Freud
recognized these limitations quite clearly. In commenting on the Dora case (1905a) he wrote:
It is, on the contrary, obvious that a single case history, even if it were complete and open to no doubt, cannot provide an answer to
all the questions arising out of hysteria. It cannot give an insight into all the types of this disorder, into all the forms of internal
structure of the neurosis, into all the possible
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kinds of relation between the mental and the somatic which are to be found in hysteria. It is not fair to expect from a single case more

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than it can offer. And anyone who has hitherto been unwilling to believe that a psychosexual aetiology holds good generally and
without exception for hysteria is scarcely likely to be convinced of the fact by taking stock of a single case history. He would do better
to suspend his judgment until his own work has earned him the right to a conviction [p. 13].

Freud himself exercised this caution inasmuch as he was unwilling to extrapolate his findings from single case histories to the
general area of hysteria (Freud, 1905a).
Advances in the analytic knowledge, therefore, must necessarily be slow. There is a great urge to resort to a statistical
method in which the confirmation of theory rests upon the numbers of cases examined, even though they be superficially
examined (Freud, 1921). It is clear that Freud did not see psychoanalysis as a methodology based on statistical resources. The
statistical and analytic method are to that extent opposed, or it might be better to say that they complement each other. Analysis is
not concerned with the repeatability of data from case to case, but rather with the inner consistency and pattern of meaning that
obtains within each case. It is not therefore so much concerned with matters of selection and objectification of observation, two
elements which are primary and essential to a statistical method. It approach has little to do with hypothetico-deductive schemata
and the forming and confirming of null hypotheses. The approach therefore to analytic data based on an intervening variable
paradigm and confirmation of predictive hypotheses is at best only a limited and secondary aspect of analytic method (Meissner,
Another important consideration is the fact that the analyst's subjectivity plays an important role, not only in the collection
and appraisal of analytic evidence but also in its selection and reporting. The analyst is to some extent an active agent in the total
process of theoretical understanding in analysis. The subjective aspect of analysis, while it must be regarded as a disruptive
contaminant in statistical approaches, is nonetheless essential and integral to the analytic approach. As Freud (1912) said:
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Nevertheless, it must be borne in mind that exact reports of analytic case histories are of less value than might be expected. Strictly
speaking, they only possess the ostensible exactness of which "modern" psychiatry affords us some striking examples. They are, as a
rule, fatiguing to the reader and yet do not succeed in being a substitute for his actual presence at an analysis. Experience invariably
shows that if readers are willing to believe an analyst, they will have confidence in any slight revision to which he has submitted his
material; if, on the other hand, they are unwilling to take analysis and the analyst seriously, they will pay no attention to accurate
verbatim records of the treatment either. This is not the way, it seems, to remedy the lack of convincing evidence to be found in the
psychoanalytic reports [p. 114].

Perhaps the greatest danger in analytic theorizing is the temptation to premature closure. It is essential, given the basic
elements of an analytic methodology, that it remain open to the continual influence of evidential input. And perhaps the greatest
trial to the analyst is to be able to tolerate the ambiguity and uncertainty that that continual openness requires. Freud (1916-17)
It would be a mistake to suppose that a science consists entirely of strictly proved theses, and it would be unjust to require this. Only
a disposition with a passion for authority will raise such a demand, someone with a craving to replace his religious catechism by
another, though it is a scientific one. Science has only a few apodictic propositions in its catechism: the rest are assertions promoted
by it to some particular degree of probability. It is actually a sign of a scientific mode of thought to find satisfaction in these
approximations to certainty and to be able to pursue constructive work further in spite of the absence of final confirmation [p. 51].

Freud knew intimately the difficulties and anxieties of such a path and he advised those who were unable to tolerate such
ambiguities and uncertainties not to try to walk that path. If a man sought higher certainties and more elegant deductions in his
scientific thinking, psychoanalysis was not for him (Freud, 1916-17).
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It seems as though this quality of the capacity to tolerate uncertainty and ambiguity was one that formed a kind of scientific
ideal for Freud and sustained him through the long years of intellectual turmoil and insecurity. Ernest Jones (Beres, 1965) recalls
that Marie Bonaparte once presented Freud with a copy of Poincar's Le Valeur de la Science with the comment, "Those who
thirst before everything for certitude do not really love truth." Freud replied, "Mediocre spirits demand of science a kind of
certainty which it cannot give, a sort of religious satisfaction. Only the real, rare, true scientific minds, can endure doubt which is
attached to all our knowledge" (pp. 402-403).

This examination of Freud's thoughts about methodology makes it clear that what he evolved in the course of his struggles with
the unconscious was not only a new understanding of the human psyche, but a distinctive methodological approach to it. From
his years of training and research in basic science and later in neurophysiology and neuroanatomy, he brought a singular
dedication to clinical data. His thinking remained anchored to its empirical moorings and he continued to return to the clinical
setting to validate and re-examine his hypotheses.
The most significant methodological development was his inclusion of the subjective aspect of his clinical experience as part of

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the empirical basis of psychoanalysis. Not only was his own self-analysis of crucial importance in the development of his
theoretical views, but, even more significantly, his awareness of the subtle interplay between the analyst's observations and the
introspective data provided by the patient through free association on one hand and the analyst's subjective experience and
awareness on the other, was a most crucial and distinctive contribution. In developing a method which embraced both objective
and subjective data, Freud made of psychoanalysis a scientific hybrida scientific approach to human subjectivity.
In addition, Freud recognized the importance of the analyst's presence and self-presentation in all phases of the analytic process
and theorizing. He saw the analyst as an integral part of the total
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analytic process, clinically and theoretically, and understood that one cannot eliminate him and reduce analytic data to observable
parameters without at the same time eliminating what is unique and distinctive in the psychoanalytic contribution to the
understanding of human experience.
What also becomes apparent in Freud's work, if not in his thinking, is that there is a close link between theory and technique.
Freud's shift from a hypnotic to an associative technique not only reflected a shift in his thinking about neurotic processes, but
also opened the way to new evidence and experiences which served as the bases for further theoretical developments. Analytic
technique, as Hartmann (1939) has observed, was used not only for therapeutic objectives, but also as a determinant of the scope
of observation. Similarly, theory serves to focus and integrate data as well as to focus attention on relevant and sometimes new
data. The clinical, theoretical, and technical aspects of psychoanalysis are interdependent and exercise important reciprocal
Freud formulated an implicit theory of verification which he seems to have felt was consistent with the nature of psychoanalytic
data and his methodology. He placed the primary emphasis in the verification of analytic theories on internal consistency of
meaning. That meaning is not provided whole cloth by the patient, but is produced by the analyst in an open-ended and ongoing
process of concurrent clinical hypothesizing and scientific theorizing. The analyst must derive the pattern of meaning from the
patient's productions and from his own subjectively attuned inner experience and must fit them into a pattern of coherent
significance. The meaning depends on empirical data, but is completed and integrated through the analyst's constructions.
Although the data are as unique and individual as the life experiences from which they derive, the consistency of meaning from
case to case provides both the material for an emergent psychoanalytic theory and the guarantee of the validity of the theory.
In Freud's view, then, psychoanalysis stands closer to the ideographic pole than to the nomothetic pole in the continuum of
sciences. It is based on the uniqueness and individuality of meaning of the individual's life history and experience. Further it has
built into its methodology a subjectivity that is basic to human
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experience. Many attempts have been made in recent years to reconceptualize psychoanalytic methods and concepts in terms of
more positivistic methodologies (Rapaport, 1960). The attempts have merit in that they can serve the objectives of
systematization and thus enhance the internal consistency Freud envisioned. But they must be taken as partial attempts which
violate the inner meaning of psychoanalysis when they seek to circumvent the methodology that Freud provided. It should also
be noted that Freud did not dispatch other more nomothetic and extrinsic methodologies as irrelevant or unimportant. Their value
needs no defense here, but Freud's insistence was that psychoanalysis has a unique contribution that other approaches do not
embrace. It would seem to me that progress in analysis lies in its being true to its own methodology. Under the banner of a
general theory of psychoanalysis raised by Hartmann (1939) and solidified by Rapaport (1967), we have entered into an era of
cross-fertilization between analysis and other methodologies. For this effort to be analytically productive, the clarification and
direction of analytic methods needs reinforcement. A reconsideration of Freud's methodological views may offer some of that.

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Article Citation [Who Cited This?]

Meissner, W. W., S.J. (1971). Freud's Methodology. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association 19: 265-309

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