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Keywords:

  • countertransference;
  • enactment;
  • interpretation;
  • psychoanalytic psychotherapy;
  • technique;
  • theory of technique;
  • transference;
  • resistance

The underlying concern of this paper is that psychoanalysis as practised today is in danger of losing its specificity and so losing its way. The author suggests this is possible for three reasons: the problem analysts face in responding to the strong emotional demands the great majority of patients necessarily place on them, the unintended consequences of the apparent success of ‘here and now technique’ and the absence of good clinical theory. The paper mainly discusses the author’s ideas about some core elements of the clinical theory that all psychoanalysts must use when they are working and proposes (at the risk of being facile) some relatively simple heuristics related to them which are meant to be helpful. Recalling Kurt Lewin’s maxim that ‘there is nothing so practical as a good theory’, he will suggest that continuous reflection on how one is using theory in daily practice is highly practical, if the theory is good enough. Theory in fact is a necessary ‘third’ in psychoanalytic practice which, if kept in sufficient working order close enough to clinical experience, provides an ongoing and very necessary check on our sense of reality. But, of course, as a third it can, like reality itself, be the focus of both love and hate with equally problematic consequences. The paper starts with a clinical example of a difficult but apparently successful analysis reaching its end, which will be used throughout the paper to illustrate and elaborate the theoretical ideas set out.