The theory of transference and the centrality of its interpretation have been hallmarks of psychoanalysis since its inception. But the time has come to subject traditional theory and practice to careful, critical scrutiny in the light of contemporary science. So holds Joseph Schachter, whose Transference: Shibboleth or Albatross? undertakes this timely and thought-provoking task. Schachter begins by surveying the non-clinical grounds of Freud's belief that his theories of neurotic development could be demonstrated through historical reconstruction based on the patient's participation in the treatment relationship. By identifying the weaknesses and inconsistencies in Freud's premises, Schachter sets the stage for reviewing the potentially devastating findings of contemporary developmental research. He demonstrates how this research across a variety of domains effectively overturns any theory that posits a linear deterministic relationship between early children and adult psychic functioning, including the adult patient's treatment behaviour toward the analyst.
No less trenchantly, he shows how contemporary chaos theory complements developmental research by making the very endeavour of historical reconstruction - of backward prediction - intellectually suspect on purely logical grounds. Nor, Schachter continues, has the clinical evidence normally adduced in support of transference theory provided the firm bedrock of data that most analysts suppose to exist. What one finds, he holds, are endlessly reiterated claims of identifying determining historical antecedents sustained only by descriptions of current behaviours through a gloss of theory. In short, the traditional theory of transference, once a valuable heuristic aid, now entangles the modern analyst in scientifically insupportable and therapeutically irrelevant assumptions that cloud our understanding of treatment. As an alternative, Schachter proffers a view of psychoanalytic treatment characterised by an openness to investigate unconscious factors in the context of what he terms Habitual Relationship Patterns as they emerge in the present interaction.
He concludes by showing how this revised appreciation of the past can be applied clinically without sacrificing the broadened scope of inquiry provided by a psychoanalytic understanding of unconscious dynamics.
Joseph Schachter, M.D., Ph.D., was trained as a clinical psychologist in the Department of Social Relations at Harvard University, obtained his medical degree from New York University - Bellevue Medical School, and received his psychoanalytic training at the Columbia University Center for Psychoanalytic Training and Research. In mid-career he spent a number of years in full-time physiological research with infants and children. He subsequently returned to psychoanalytic practice, and was a Training and Supervising Analyst at the Pittsburgh Psychoanalytic Institute. Recently retired, Dr. Schachter now resides in New York City.