Impossible Ethics

by Sarah Ackerman, PhD


The proper practice of psychoanalysis repudiates a rule-based code of ethical conduct. A conflict exists, however, between Freud’s rejection of the Biblical commandment to love one’s neighbor as oneself and his development of psychoanalytic techniques that demand something very much of this ilk. Other essential conflicts in analytic practice include the impossibility of removing the analyst’s desire from the analytic relationship, the unruly nature of unconscious processes in both analyst and analysand, and the après-coup nature of ethical recognition. A discourse of ethics is recommended in which analysts are called on to consider the ethical demands of each clinical moment. Ethical demands on the analysand, as well as the analyst, bring to light the way in which analysis rests on the foundational ethical situation into which humankind is born.

Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association. 68(4): 561-582, September 2020.

Link to Online Publication [fulltext can be requested from the library].

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.  She is the author of many articles, including recently published “I May Allow Myself to do This”: Conflict in Freud’s Writing of The Interpretation of Dreams and (How) Can We Write about Our Patients? and A Diagnosis for Psychoanalysis in the 21st Century: Freud as Medicine.

Previous Posts:

Cordelia Schmidt-Hellerau, PhD (2020). How Demagogy Works: Reflections on Aggression in Politically Fraught Times. Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 40:4, 234-242

Judy Yanof, MD (2020). A Separation: Breaking Up Is Hard to Do. The Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 73:1, 172-181.

Elsa Ronningstam et al. (2020). Psychotherapeutic Treatment of Depressive Symptoms in Patients with Narcissistic Disturbances: A Review. Journal of Contemporary Psychotherapy50, 21–28.

John C. Foehl (2020). Lived Depth: A Phenomenology of Psychoanalytic Process and Identity. Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 40(2), 131-146.

Cordelia Schmidt-Hellerau, PhD (2019).Body and Mind: Two Sides of One Coin. The Scandinavian Psychoanalytic Review, 42(1-2), 93-102.

Robin Gomolin, PsyaD (2019). The Intergenerational Transmission of Holocaust trauma: A psychoanalytic theory revisited. Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 88(3), 461–500.

Anna Ornstein, MD (2020). Mourning. In The Handbook of Psychoanalytic Holocaust Studies: International Perspectives, edited Ira Brenner. Routledge, 2019, p. 74-80.

Randall H. Paulsen, MD (2019). Scientific Theory on the Couch: A Response to Scott C. Taylor. American Imago, 76(3), 405-411.

Bernard Edelstein, MD (2019). Introduction: Stumbling on our Past, Reflections on James Baldwin’s “My Dungeon Shook”. American Imago, 76(3): 295-300.

Don Lipsitt, MD (2020). Is Today’s 21st Century Burnout 19th Century’s Neurasthenia? The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 207(9): 773-777, September 2019.

Elsa Ronningstam, PhD (2020). Internal Processing in Patients with Pathological Narcissism or Narcissistic Personality Disorder: Implications for Alliance Building and Therapeutic Strategies. Journal of Personality Disorders, 34 (Suppl): 80-103.

Dan Jacobs (2019). Three’s a Crowd: Stella’s Pregnancy and the Arrival of an “Other” in A Streetcar Named Desire. International Journal of Applied Psychoanalytic Studies. 16:3, 174– 180.

Click here to see a full archive of featured papers. All articles can be requested from the library.