Is Psychoanalysis Therapeutic Technique or Scientific Research?

A Metascientific Investigation
  • Carl Lesche


The term psychoanalysis can refer to either a science or a therapy. We shall first deal with it as therapy and introduce step by step the explicata. As our first explicatum, therapy will be regarded as technique and we shall examine the conditions under which it may be justified. A rational technique ought to be based on a pure science, which in this case ought to be psychoanalytical science. Second, therapy will be explicated as the treatment of illness. A justified rational technique ought to be based on an empirical science which permits descriptions that are explainable universal sentences. It is only in the exact natural sciences that we can find such sentences, not in the behavioral and human sciences. A natural-scientific, pure psychoanalysis is impossible; it cannot exist, since psychoanalysis strives for self-reflection and emancipation. We shall then recommend a third explication of psychotherapy, namely, as a technique in which the goal is described in intentional and phenomenal terms and valued in terms of health values. It is impossible to explain phenomenal explananda with physicalistic explanantia. At most, psychoanalytical therapy, psychopharmacological therapy, behavioral therapy, and psychosomatic medicine can be considered unjustified empirical (Machiavellian) techniques. The fourth, and final, explicatum of psychotherapy will refer to a technique the goals of which (and even the antecedent conditions and technical interventions) are described in phenomenal languages and evaluated in terms of health values and which is justified by pure experiential psychology (and not behavioral, learning-theory, motivational, or pharmacological psychology). If we introduce this explicatum, the only reasonable one, it implies that psychotherapy cannot be justified as technique. Thus the natural-scientific and therapeutic interpretations of psychoanalysis lead to an impasse. The only alternative left is to pursue psychoanalysis as a form of human-scientific research. Therefore, it is necessary to acquaint oneself with what characterizes the methods of the humanities, namely, understanding and interpretation. These do not inquire after explainable, universal descriptions of conscious phenomena; instead, the latter are systematized into intentional contexts of meaning. Of the various hermeneutics we shall consider only Apel’s hermeneutic-dialectical model of knowledge acquisition, self-understanding, and emancipation in a pure psychoanalytic situation. The psychoanalytic process cruises between a “hermeneutic phase” and a “quasi-naturalistic phase.” In the hermeneutic phase the analyst and analysand immediately understand each other. The function of the quasi-naturalistic psychoanalytical theories (“clinical theories”) is that in the event of failure in the pure hermeneutic understanding they may be used in order to get at the unknown intention with quasi-explanations. Freud also introduced another type of theory, his metapsychology. I propose to explicate Freud’s metapsychology as the metatheory of these quasi-explanations. It steers their construction by offering and accounting for concepts, rules, and patterns of those ”naked models“ borrowed from natural science. Thus the practice of psychoanalysis can either follow a pure psychoanalytical human-scientific method or a psychoanalytically based Machiavellian technique.


Human Science Explanatory System Psychoanalytic Theory Logical Empiricism Scientific Description 
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Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1985

Authors and Affiliations

  • Carl Lesche
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of StockholmStockholmSweden

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