Psychoanalytic fieldwork


NETWORK: Newsletter of the Society for Psychotherapy Research U.K. Volume 6(1):8-9 March 1995. ISSN 1359-3706

Mounted by Chris Evans in July 1995, as part of NETWORK 6(1) {3kb} mounted as individual file to help people with slow connections 8.ii.96

Hunt, J. C. (1989) Psychoanalytic aspects of fieldwork (Sage University Paper Series on Qualitative Research Methods, volume 18). Sage:Newbury Park. ISBN 0-8039-3473-4 (pbk.), 93pp. £5.95

This book says: "Jennifer C. Hunt is Associate Professor of Sociology at Montclair State College and a Research Candidate in the full clinical training program of the Psychoanalytic Institute, Department of Psychiatry, New York University Medical Center." I'd not heard of "Research Candidate" trainees at psychoanalytic institutions, sounds a good idea to me. She has done her work on the police and the book is written for sociologists and anthropologists. She describes the Classical and Symbolic Interactionist theories of fieldwork and contrasts these with the greater appreciation of subjectivity in Existentialist theories but argues that neither incorporates unconscious determination.

She argues that dreams, parapraxes and associations should be recognised as crucial data. She illustrates this approach from her own work and a little from work of others. She further argues that these data provide interpretations of unconscious processes and structures of the respondents. Some of her own material seemed persuasive in relation to the police and there were also a couple of other vignettes that suggested that attention to classical analytical material can help the research process. Her material is framed as transference and, less commonly, as countertransference. The main problem, it seemed to me, was that you either accept or regard such interpretations as persuasive almost entirely in relation to your own experience of the analytic process. There are two prossible sceptical positions, each familiar to researchers of psychodynamic therapies. The first is total: "there is no such unconsciousness, you're mad" (usually framed a little more politely!) or the more subtle: "these thoughts throw a great deal of light on how you see your own mind but can't tell us much beyond that and are particularly suspect where you are working outside your own cultural origins". I thought that the book should have at least opened some of these arguments if only to clarify which of a variety of well rehearsed defensive positions Professor Hunt adopts.

My lesser complaint is Professor Hunt doesn't much utilise strong object relations theories to explain how these responses to others come about, sticking closer to an American variant of a drive/defence model I'd say. That leaves her, as she acknowledges, a bit exposed, working outside the traditional structure of the analytic session and without either a strong theoretical, or strong empirical set of methods by which we can evaluate her interpretations or pit them against others. I would interested to see someone use a rigorous Kleinian or Fairbairnian theory to frame her observations. I would have been even more interested to see her use methods described in the latest edition of Psychotherapy Research (volume 4(3/4) '94) to explore "transference" or to see her use psychometric and statistical techniques to assess inter-rater concordance in evaluating the vignettes or in matching them to interpretations.

In summary, this book is not central to psychotherapy research nor the final word in its own area but it is an interesting example of how much more seriously some other researchers can take psychoanalytic theories and methods than many S.P.R. researchers!

Chris Evans