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Keywords:

  • psychoanalytic psychotherapy;
  • clinical single case study;
  • unconscious fantasies;
  • prenatal diagnostics

As is well known, Freud described the clinical practice of psychoanalysis as the ‘loam’ of his cultural-theoretical work, an assessment which is shared by many psychoanalysts up to the present, including the authors of this paper. The complex interplay between unconscious phantasies on the one hand, and the real experiences arising from the new possibilities opened up by prenatal diagnostics on the other, is described with reference to a report of an intensive, long psychoanalysis with an analysand from a family burdened with a genetically transmitted illness (haemophilia). The holding and containing function of the analyst enabled this analysand, despite traumatic experiences with the miscarriage of a healthy child triggered by a prenatal diagnosis and the later abortion of a haemophiliac baby, nevertheless to have the courage to go through another pregnancy and give birth to a healthy girl. The intensive clinical investigation of the unconscious phantasies, conflicts and traumas around the prenatal diagnostics proved to be not only therapeutically fruitful for the analysand, Ms F. It also facilitated insights into those individual chances and risks which appear to be an integral part of the opportunities presented by todays prenatal diagnostics and, through them, it lead to a cultural-critical look at the ambivalence of medical-technical progress. These insights, which are only attainable through psychoanalysis, can represent a distinctive contribution of psychoanalysis to a multi-disciplinary dialogue with medical practitioners, geneticists, ethicists and health policy-makers. By referring to a large EU study on ‘Ethical Dilemmas due to Prenatal and Genetic Diagnostics’, this paper gives a practical example of such a discussion. Ms F. was psychoanalytically interviewed as part of this study, 16 years after the conclusion of her analysis. The summary of these interviews, which is set against the account of the treatment, offers an impressive insight not only into the long-term effects of a psychoanalysis under very particular personal circumstances, but also into the lasting consequences of decisions made in the context of prenatal diagnostics. Finally, the results of the individual case study are brought together with the clinical outcomes of the EU study, and some considerations are formulated concerning the protective and risk factors facing women during and after prenatal diagnostics. The paper is an appeal to psychoanalysts, with their specific competence in dealing with unconscious phantasies and conflicts and their high level of professionalism in dealing with traumatised patients, to get involved in fresh dialogue with prenatal diagnosticians and their patients.