(How) Can We Write about Our Patients?
by Sarah Ackerman, PhD
The ethical underpinnings of writing about patients are explored, the question of how best to undertake the writing of case reports being subordinated to a more general question about the ethics of choosing how or whether to write. An unsolvable paradox is encountered here: that we need to write or speak about our clinical work in order to conceptualize and understand the work we are doing, but that in the very gesture of doing so, we are breaking a fundamental bond with the patient. This conundrum is viewed from a number of vantage points. The controversy about how best to go about writing clinical accounts is first addressed, after which the literature is reviewed to draw out the ethical conflicts that writing about patients engenders in the patient. Next attention is given to undercurrents in the analyst’s motivation to write, again drawing on current literature. Finally, a consideration is provided of how, based on what we might learn from this review, these problems can be addressed.
Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 66(1), 59–81, March 2018.
About the Author
Sarah Ackerman, PhD, is a Training and Supervising Analyst at the Boston Psychoanalytic Society and Institute, co-chair of the Psychoanalysis Study Group sponsored by the Leslie Center for the Humanities at Dartmouth College, and Adjunct Faculty in the Department of Psychiatry at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth College. She maintains a private practice in Hanover, New Hampshire. Sarah Ackerman is also the author of recently published Reading Beyond The Interpretation of Dreams (American Imago, 75(2): 303-306, Summer 2008).
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