Technique principal features Neutrality and abstinence

Based in the classical framework of libidinal theory, Freud made an explicit injunction against the analyst giving in to the temptation of gratifying the patient's sexual desire.(31> Obviously, this is primarily an ethical issue. However, within the psychoanalytic context it also justifies the analyst's stance of resisting the patient's curiosity or using the therapeutic relationship in any way that consciously or unconsciously could be seen as motivated by the need to gratify their own hidden desires. Within this classical frame of reference, the patient must also agree to forgo significant life changes where these could be seen as relevant to current psychotherapeutic work. In practice, such abstinence on the part of the patient is rare. Yet long-term psychodynamic treatment may founder if the emotional experiences of the therapy are obscured by the upheavals of significant life events.

The primary function of abstinence is to ensure the neutrality of the therapist. The therapist must resist the temptation to direct the patient's associations and remain neutral irrespective of the subject matter of the patient's experiences or fantasies. While it is easy to take this issue too lightly (and it is perhaps this aspect of the psychoanalysts' therapeutic stance that makes them most vulnerable to ridicule), it is probably genuinely critical for the therapist to retain emotional distance from the patient to a degree which enables the latter to bring fantasies and fears of which they feel uncertain. Nevertheless, neutrality at its worst denies the possibility of sensitivity; recent literature on the process and outcome of psychotherapy makes it clear that the therapist's genuine concern for the patient must become manifest if significant therapeutic change is to be achieved.

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