The Analyst’s “use” of Theory or Theories: The Play of Theory

Steven H. Cooper, PhD



Two clinical vignettes demonstrate a methodological approach that guides the analyst’s attention to metaphors and surfaces that are the focus of different theories. Clinically, the use of different theories expands the metaphorical language with which the analyst tries to make contact with the patient’s unconscious life. Metaphorical expressions may be said to relate to each other as the syntax of unconscious fantasy (Arlow 1979). The unconscious fantasy itself represents a metaphorical construction of childhood experience that has persisted, dynamically expressive and emergent into adult life. This persistence is evident in how, in some instances, long periods of an analysis focus on translating one or a few metaphors, chiefly because the manifest metaphorical expressions of a central theme regularly lead to better understanding of an unconscious fantasy. At times employing another model or theory assists in a level of self-reflection about clinical understanding and clinical decisions. The analyst’s choice of theory or theories is unique to the analyst and is not prescriptive, except as illustrating a way to think about these issues. The use of multiple models in no way suggests or implies that theories may be integrated.

Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 65/5: 859-882, October 2017.

Link to Online Publication (can be downloaded in, or requested from, the library).


Previous Posts:

Ayelet R. Barkai, MD (2017). Troubling Gender or Engendering Trouble? The Problem With Gender Dysphoria in Psychoanalysis. The Psychoanalytic Review, 104/1: 1-32.

Morris Stambler, MD (2017). 100 Years of Adolescence and its Prehistory From Cave to Computer. Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 70/1: 22-39.

Rita K. Teusch, PhD (2017). More Courtship Letters of Freud and Martha Bernays. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 65/1: 111-125.

John C. Foehl, PhD (2016). Hedgehogs at the Gate: A Review of Metaphor and Fields: Common Ground, Common Language and the Future of Psychoanalysis edited by S. Montana Katz. New York, NY: Routledge, 2013. 244 pp. Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 52/3: 434–456.

Alfred S. Margulies, MD (2016). Avatars of Desire and the Question of Presence: Virtual and Transitional Spaces Meet their Liminal Edge – from Pygmalion to Spike Jonze’s Her, and BeyondInternational Journal of Psychoanalysis, 97/6: 1697–1708.

Lawrence J. Brown, PhD. (2016). The Capacity to Tell a Joke: Reflections from Work with Asperger Children. International Journal of Psychoanalysis. 97/6:1609–1625.

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