The power of the past: Can psychoanalytic theory do without early childhood experiences?

A. Govrin

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


One of the main tenets of psychoanalytic theory is that a person's development is determined by often forgotten events in early childhood and that caretakers are significant in shaping personality (Westen, 1998). For years, this assertion separated psychoanalysis from other psychotherapies. The formative role of childhood has long been a controversial issue in psychology (see Kagan, 1980; Kagan & Zentner, 1996). In recent years, psychanalysts themselves, especially from the relational approach, are trying to minimize the role of childhood in psychoanalytic technique (Chodorow, 1999, Mitchell, 1988, 2000; Wachtel, 2017). The controversy about establishing casual relations between past and present is part of a larger debate within psychoanalysis about the validity and usefulness of etiological hypotheses (Mitchel, 1988). In the modern era of psychoanalysis finding casual relations between past and present was and still is a cornerstone in psychoanalytic thought and one of the main characteristics of the technique. Postmodern critique expressed by the relational approach is not about developmental theories as such, rather against the traditional tendency of theory-oriented analysts to favor infancy and early childhood in their consideration of transference issues. In this lecture I briefly examine different views that oppose the casual relationship made between development theories and transference –Nancy Chodorow (1999) and Paul Wachtel (2017). Both argue against the extreme use of development theory in therapy. They both stress the importance of the here-and-now interactions between therapist and patient, not as a direct and simplistic one-to-one connection of past experiences, but as a lively ongoing subjective interaction in its own right. Wachtel is even disappointed from relational analysts who are using in a too pervasive manner words like "primitive" "archaic" and "infantile". I intend to show a) An enormous body of research in cognitive, social, developmental, and personality psychology now support the origins of many personality and social dispositions in childhood and developmental dynamics. b) Through the case studies of both Wachtel and Chodorow I show that the actual accomplishment of analytic work still constitute the tying up of past and present whether directly or indirectly, and that if one wants to be called “psychoanalytic,” it is very hard to avoid the causality that exists between childhood and transference.
Original languageAmerican English
StatePublished - 2019
EventINPACT International Psychological Applications Conference and Trends - , Portugal
Duration: 4 May 20197 May 2019 (Website)


ConferenceINPACT International Psychological Applications Conference and Trends
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