Rules in the psychoanalytic situation

  • Anton Mooij


In the previous chapter a picture of the psychoanalytic situation was drawn as a situation in which rules apply. The first, and because of its fundamental importance, basic rule, implies that the client or analysand agrees to say everything which comes to mind. However, treatment never occurs in a vacuum but is carried out within a framework of space and time. A second rule thus pertains to the spatial environment, in which the analysand lies on a couch and the analyst sits, out of sight, behind him. The third rule concerns time: whereas the duration of the total treatment is not predetermined, that of individual sessions is; it is constant and the frequency of sessions is high, in principle it is daily. A fourth and final rule — already mentioned in the previous chapter — defines the task of the psychoanalyst, who is to maintain neutrality and who refrains from evaluation or criticism in order to be able to interpret the material presented by the client without prejudgement.


Basic Rule External World Individual Session Constitutive Rule Previous Chapter 
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  1. 1.
    The term ‘constitutive’ was chosen rather than the possible alternatives ‘regulative’ or ‘institutional’. The disadvantage of the term ‘regulative’ is the Kantian connotation in the antithetical terms ‘regulative-constitutive’. The principle of causality is constitutive for nature and allows of no exceptions. According to Kantian thought, nature can also be viewed as if designed for a purpose. Such an ‘as if’ view is called ‘regulative’. Psychoanalytic rules lack such an ‘as if’ character and therefore the term ‘regulative’ is less suitable. Some exceptions however are allowed: the agreement that the analysand say what he thinks does not prevent him from opting to remain silent. Also, on the basis of the contrafactual validity of the rules in question, they could be called institutional. (De Boer, 1983, p. 104117). The term ‘constitutive’ has been chosen to emphasize that these particular rules, even if they allow exceptions in some instances, do shape the psychoanalytic situation as such.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Wittgenstein, 1958; Winch, 1958; von Wright, 1963.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    The rules referred to here are called constitutive or transcendental precisely because they allow for certain behaviour to take place: they provide the conditions for that behaviour. L. Wittgenstein clearly describes the constitutive, or in his words ‘grammatical’ function (1958, par. 251, 373, 401).Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Wittgenstein, 1958, par. 244–266.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Wittgenstein writes (1965, p. 24): “A rule is neither a command - because there is no one who gives the command - nor is it an empirical statement of how the majority of people behave”.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Kenny, 1963, p. 187–202; Wittgenstein, 1958, par. 256; Merleau-Ponty, 1945, p. 242.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Freud, 1913b, p. 187.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    There is probably a similarity between what is here referred to as imaginary world and Winnicott’s intermediate area, but there is also a difference. The similarity lies in the semi-symbolic function which occurs in both. A difference is that the imaginary world includes a regressive movement, while the intermediate area develops into the potential space of the culture and thus expresses a progressive tendency. (Winnicott, 1980b; Khan, 1974 ). There is also similarity and difference with regard to the imaginary order in the sense of Lacan. The imaginary order is also larger than the imaginary world and it contributes to culture by way of the image and it is therefore not concerned exclusively with regressive phenomena, such as illusion. More generally, psychoanalysis would probably benefit if a study were made of traditional theories concerning imagination and illusion which have been formulated in western thought: for instance, Plato’s doxa, Spinoza’s knowledge of the first kind, Kant’s transcendental illusion, and more recently, the critique of ideology.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    In Lacan, the length of individual sessions changes; apparently the constitutive rule here is that the duration of sessions is not constant. The disadvantage of this is that - in spite of appearances to the contrary - the timeless nature of the primary sphere which Lacan also consistently refers to, is not honoured, for the constant length of the sessions makes the point that neither party may suddenly call a stop. That which best expresses the timelessness of the primary sphere in the total duration of treatment, has the opposite effect in individual session length. A second disadvantage of this flexibility, is that in this way the duration becomes an intervention factor and does not remain a factor of the setting. Furthermore, since only the analyst determines the moment of conclusion, a real dependency relationship is fostered. (Cf. Lacan, 1977, p. 44; Viderman, 1982, p. 306 ).Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Freud, 1912, p. 108; Gill, 1982.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 1991

Authors and Affiliations

  • Anton Mooij
    • 1
  1. 1.UtrechtThe Netherlands

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