Remembering, Repeating and Working-Through

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Written and published in 1914, "Remembering, Repeating and Working-Through" clearly established Freud's position on analytic technique, in which the cathartic method had yielded to the associative method. It thus deserves notice as one of the few technical writings to complement the great metapsychological edifice of 1915.

Freud begins the essay by citing the cathartic method, without doubt in order to mention how much he owed to it for having "acquainted him with certain analytical processes," but above all so that the reader could recognize how much technical progress had been made with the new associative method. During this period, 1914-1915, treatment began to involve real psychic work for the patient for whom passive hypnosis is no longer clinically effective. The goal of this effort is to remember, "to fill in gaps in memory," as Freud states, and to "overcome resistances due to repression" (p. 148). The growing complexity of analytic technique was opposed to the simplicity of the hypnotic technique, which responded only to the simplest form of remembering.

This required that forgetting, a psychic fact that had been previously thought to be negligible, be reconsidered in all its amplitude and complexity. "Impressions" and "experiences" (p. 148), insofar as they have a rapport with forgetting, were opposed by Freud to psychic reality, that is, to "phantasies, processes of reference, emotional impulses, [and] thought connections" (p. 148). From this point on, memory, a favorite theme of Freud's since his work on aphasia, was to become an extensive subject for investigation. Yet remembering is not a straightforward process; thus, while the encounter between analyst and analysand might stimulate the repetition of the past, it is does not always take the form of a memory, but might reside also in actions.

Repetition as action rather than as memory led Freud to examine the links between the three concepts of transference, repetition, and resistance. Transference is simply a "piece of repetition" (p. 151), and repetition is only the "transference of the forgotten past" (p. 151) onto the analyst but also onto "all the other aspects of the current situation" (p. 151). Freud then identified a further type of repetition, "the compulsion to repeat," which replaced the "impulsion to remember" (p. 151) exposed by the analyst and which demonstrated the powerful resistance to analysis mounted by the defenses. Respect for this resistance, and an acknowledgement of it in analytic technique, is necessary if the work of analysis is to comprehend the full extent of the psychic apparatus; hypnosis, conversely, totally suppresses this resistance. The psychoanalyst's interest is in the contents of memory and the meaning that he can attribute to them, but he must remain particularly attentive to the means by which these memories are recalled.

The handling of the transference then becomes an essential task for the analyst while the treatment is underway. Too intense an amorous transference, or, conversely, a hostile transference toward the analyst, will bolster the resistance, causing the analysis to slide into repetition (as act). In this case, repression is the customary defense mounted by the resistance, which deprives the analysand's thought of memorable ideational content and displaces the corresponding quota of affect onto the act.

It is clear in this article that the instinct's quantitative potency can be made to signify so long as resistance to it is not excessively powerful, an a priori structuring, then, of the psychic apparatus around the transformation of instincts. Freud also provides some technical advice on how to advance the treatment towards a successful conclusion. Some of these recommendations are represented in the figure of the analyst and the analysand struggling against a common enemy: a state of morbidity. Freud wrote that the task of the analyst consists in treating the illness "not as an event of the past, but as a present-day force. . . . which consists in a large measure in tracing it back to the past" (p. 151). This approach should lead to "a change in the patient's conscious attitude to his illness. . . . [and allow him to] find the courage to direct his attention to the phenomena of his illness." (p. 152); so that it can ultimately "become an enemy worthy of his mettle" (p. 152). So long as the analyst continues to observe "the fundamental rule of analysis" (p. 155), neither the framework of the analysis nor its influence on the transference will be affected.

Freud admits that it is not always easy to derive ideational mnemic content from acting out. Thus near the end of the text he writes that occasionally, "it is bound to happen that the untamed instincts assert themselves" (p. 153-154), the effects of which can be witnessed in the repetitive act whereby "the bonds which attach the patient to the treatment are broken" (p. 154), or through other instances of negative therapeutic reaction. Freud advised that in these difficult cases "The main instrument [. . .] for curbing the patient's compulsion to repeat and for turning it into a motive for remembering lies in the handling of the transference. We render the compulsion harmless and indeed useful, by giving it the right to assert itself in a definite field. We admit it into the transference as a playground in which it is allowed to expand in almost complete freedom" (p. 154). In order to transform the morbid state into "an artificial illness, which is at every point accessible" (p. 154) to analytical intervention, the analyst should not rely only on the "working-through" of the patient, but rather on an extension of his knowledge of metapsychology, as well as an acquaintance with aspects of his own character that might pose an obstacle to the cure.

Freud's conception of the psychic apparatus in 1914 was still based on the first topography; however, in order to properly account for treatments whose virtually unassailable resistances obstruct the progress of the treatment, by mobilizing an entire procession of negative phenomena, he had to wait for the introduction of the "death drive" and the further complication of the psychic apparatus by the second topography.

Thus, while Freud spoke of rendering "the compulsion harmless, and indeed useful, by giving it the right to assert itself in a definite field" (p. 154), he ended the article on a less optimistic note only a few lines later. The demonstration to a patient of their resistance is often not enough to overcome it, and indeed frequently intensifies it, which is why Freud stressed the importance of "working in common" (p. 155) and the continuation of analysis, even if the endeavour eventually becomes "a trial of patience for the analyst" (p. 155). This advice, in a form more suited to the realities of the analytic treatment, was reiterated and endorsed by the theoretical developments introduced in his 1937 article "Analysis, Terminable and Interminable."

Freud's emphasis on the repetition compulsion from 1914 onwards might make it the precursor of the repetition compulsion of 1920, the consequence of an instinctual dualism between the life instincts and the death instinct. The compulsion to repeat of 1914 differs from that of 1920 in that the former is under the sway of the pleasure principle. In Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920g), Freud identified compulsive instinctual phenomena that repeated psychic formations foreign to the pleasure principle, thus placing the repetition compulsion of 1920 in an entirely different relationship to the pleasure principle.

"Analysis terminable and interminable"; Displacement of the transference; Remembering; Repetition; Silence; Transference neurosis; Working-through. Source Citation

  • Freud, Sigmund. (1914g). Errinern, Wiederholen und Durcharbeiten (Weitere Ratschläge zur Technik der Psychoanalyse, II). Internationale Zeitschrift für ärtztliche Psychoanalyse, 2, 485-491; Remembering, repeating and working-through. SE, 12: 147-156.