The Resistance to a Real Science

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The Peer Review Process *

A major obstacle encountered during efforts to introduce the researches and results that led to a science, was the state of journal peer review practices in the fields of Psychoanalysis, Psychotherapy, Psychiatry, Academic Psychology (in some situations) publishers of books in those areas. In the course of development of the Metapsychological Formulation Method, attempts to circulate descriptions of research design, process and results in Basic and Applied form, were stopped at the point of submissions for publication, and the phenomena responsible became worthy studies of a psychosocial kind.

Objectivity was sorely missing, and subjectivity that produced gross misreadings was frequent. A general lack of knowledge of the principles of the Scientific Method was evident, and theoretical biases were common. And there was no recourse to address and right such problems at the upper editorial level.

The following paper, that introduced the method when it had sufficiently taken shape in 1998, along with an analysis of the problem and a proposed solution, is included, as part of this website’s general effort to help the above professions identify barriers to progress that are understandable and can be changed for the benefit of all involved.


METAPSYCHOLOGICAL FORMULATION
A NEW SCIENTIFIC METHOD OF PSYCHOANALYTIC
CLINICAL RESEARCH AND PRACTICE

Harry M. Anderson MD D.Psych FRCP

ABSTRACT

Many claim that Metapsychology is of no use in the clinical situation and should be abandoned. The author’s researches show that this attitude is the result of an incomplete scientific evolution of the theory. If enabled to mature, it provides a sound foundation for the creation of a true science of clinical research and practice.

On entering the field of psychoanalysis, the author assumed that metapsychology would be its “basic science” and that its “applied” (“technical” or “clinical”) theories would be created from it. In keeping with this belief, he steeped himself in its study and developed respect for some parts of the theory before discovering that his assumption was wrong. His curiosity persisted in spite of collegial disinterest, however, and he was drawn into a long series of surprising and unusual encounters that produced: a scientific method of clinical research; several original researches; an unusually effective self-analytic method; an intellectual bridge between psychoanalysis and its neighbouring sciences; and a technical theory impervious to inappropriate subjective influence.

This paper introduces a formulation method that is rooted in scientifically developed metapsychological concepts and principles and makes primary use of the clinician’s conscious, cognitive mental processes. It should have special appeal to those who sense the nearness of a fine marriage between psychoanalysis and cognitive-emotional science followed by a scientific revolution.

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The Reviews

Note: No part in either of the following reports is the product of an objective read, and neither reviewer is aware of such. The questions then become, “Why?”, “How can the phenomenon be understood?”, and “What can be helpfully done to solve it?”

The chief editor’s covering letter also reveals an aspect of the problem, and it will be discussed.

REVIEW #1

(with problem parts bolded)

“This paper is difficult to review.

The reason for the difficulty is that the author does not SEEM to offer an argument. Instead he offers WHAT SEEMS TO BE a dichotomous point of view, whose FLAVOR is extremely defensive. Within this point of view, the author presents himself as someone “with a wide-ranging empathic capability obtained by dismantling serious and severe symptoms at root level” while the rest of the profession, for the most part, is characterized as otherwise.

The author presents his “M.F. Method” for formulation as though it is an innovation. For clinical support, he makes use of an apparently recorded telephone call in which a patient seeks consultation. He then applies his formulation method to this material.

I have been teaching psychodynamic formulation for approximately 20 years, and the author’s proposed method made no sense to me. The author makes use of familiar and unfamiliar concepts. The familiar ones-primarily “transference” related-are put to use in a way that STRUCK ME AS without care. Addressing the “clinical” material, the author SEEMS TO ASSUME an instantaneous awareness of the caller’s transferential meanings. He gives the reader no conceptual guide as to what grounds his awareness, what principles the reader might extract from the presentation. The author’s unfamiliar concepts include “technically-significant transference”, “intermediate transference”, “manipulation transference”. None of these terms is elucidated. It SEEMS that the reader is to greet them as though, on their face, they are valuable. I found no value in them. The author’s supporting text, laced with self-congratulatory references, does not support his claim that indeed an innovative method is before us. Instead of something innovative, I FOUND pallid nostrums, laced with inessential, idiosyncratically constructed jargon, that led nowhere.”

 The review examined

There are two basic problems here.

Non-objective types of reading are accepted from the start, e.g. “strikes me”, “seems to me”, “whose flavor is”, “struck me as”, “seems”, “I found”

Assessed by such means, the paper becomes repeatedly lacking from the start and the author very symptomatic (“extremely defensive”), until part of it is lifted from its context and quoted, and the source of the problem becomes clear. In it, the author is described as elevating himself (in terms of empathy and the depths of his analysis) and putting almost all other analysts down – a behaviour that, if true, would be symptomatic and insulting to anyone.

 The reviewer’s quote

“ …. the author presents himself as someone “with a wide-ranging empathic capability obtained by dismantling serious and severe symptoms at root level” while the rest of the profession, for the most part, is characterized as otherwise.”

The context from which it was removed

Common Misconceptions that Collect about this Method

Because presentations of the M.F. method to psychoanalysts for the first time were met with a number of unchecked assumptions and gross misconceptions, some effort to dispel misunderstandings at the start of this report will be made.

(1) The Method and Empathy: This paper is only intended to outline the method’s concept, development and approach to creating clinical formulations, not to describe all aspects of its application. It should be understood that those who use it are driven by a wide-ranging empathic capability obtained by dismantling serious and severe symptoms at root level. It is not the “rigid” and “obsessional” product of a “defensive” mind, but the scientific yield of one freed of symptoms by long, hard, original work on the self after a typically “incomplete” training analysis.”

Analysis

The context of the part quoted by the reviewer is very clear, and the passage contains no elevation of self or put down of others whatsoever. Objectivity and context were replaced by subjectivity and a symptomatic act that supported a negative perception of the author, his paper, and a rejection for publication. That is, the reviewer had a non-observed, and thus uncontainable, transference to the author (to be elaborated shortly).

 REVIEW # 2

(problem parts bolded)

“The author does not have the correct definition of metapsychology at hand. The ideas of metapsychology are not transference and symptoms as listed on page 2. Metapsychology refers to the points of view of topography, structure, adaptation, genetics and economics. These are not principles that can he “exposed to research designs” and tested. The paper is unusually self referential, as the author injects autobiography into what should be a scientific paper. The author misunderstands Holt (p.6); he seeks to end metapsychology, not revive it. I do not really understand the author’s description of a “minimal intervention” strategy and how that makes this research scientific.”

The review examined

 The main problem here is two-fold: (a) an illogical acceptance of the idea that someone writing exclusively about Metapsychology and its further development would not know a lot about the subject; (b) an acceptance of reviewer assertions of author lacks of knowledge without effort to verify, the result being that the reviewer is lacking such without knowing so.

 The reviewer’s statements

 1: “The author does not have the correct definition of metapsychology …… Metapsychology refers to the points of view of topography, structure, adaptation, genetics and economics

 The real facts

There was no “Adaptive” theory among Freud’s famous “five theories”. The reviewer replaced the Dynamic theory with it.

Refer to: S. Freud, SE 20, “An Autobiographical Study”, p.58-59: “Later on [in 1915] I made an attempt to produce a ‘Metapsychology’. By this I meant a method of approach by which every mental process is considered in relation to three coordinates, which I described as dynamic, topographical, and economic, respectively;”

2: “The author misunderstands Holt (p.6); he seeks to end metapsychology, not revive it.”

The reference as cited in the paper

 “Robert Holt, (1989): asked (p.323) that metapsychology be brought from the brink of death and made into a vital science able to explain clinical phenomena;”

The reference quoted from Holt’s book, Freud Reappraised

 “If metapsychology is dying from impalpability and inconsistency, let it be reborn into a vital psychoanalytic science by the effort to account for our original and always most stimulating data, the transactions of the psychoanalytic hour.”

Analysis

 Once again, objectivity is replaced by subjectivity from start to finish and the result is an unwitting, and therefore uncontained, operative transference that determines the reviewer’s read and the paper’s rejection.

 An extended analysis of the phenomena and answers (as possible to-date) to the questions raised earlier

 “Why?”

In both cases, non-self-observed, negative, operative transferences acted out, have developed at once. Each reviewer is dealing with a different type of fantasied author, and, in each case, the details of the self’s responding behaviours allow some of the internal object features to be hypothesized and compiled, along with the specific categories and forms of aggressive-drive reactions it generates.

REVIEWER #1

The object elevates itself in terms of professional achievement (e.g. the account of its work is “laced with self-congratulatory references”) and others in the same field, “for the most part”, are disesteemable by comparison.

The aggressive drive response, released from defense by the anonymity of the report, is of the Oppose (i.e. everything the object says is reduced to nothing) and Revenge types (i.e. the object itself is reduced in a crescendo of anger and disesteem – to being a fool of sorts (i.e. that writes “pallid nostrums”, using “inessential, idiosyncratically constructed jargon”.

REVIEWER #2

Nothing the object says is correct (“does not have the correct definition of metapsychology”, does not know that its parts “are not principles that can he ‘exposed to research design’ and tested”, “misunderstands Holt”) and the self knows what is correct in each case.

 The aggressive drive response, released from defense by the anonymity of the report, is of the Oppose type alone. In the transference fantasy, there is no elevating of self, disesteeming of the reviewer, or angry, vengeful ending. The reviewer’s self appears to know in advance that everything the object says will be incorrect and nothing will need checking. It then systematically and dispassionately identifies the mistakes, replaces them with what is correct, and rejects what must be an internal object’s effort similar to (but not actually) getting itself in print (e.g. an adult pressing ideas on a self that it knows are wrong, but cannot say so directly or even indirectly due to a threat without an assuredly protective defense – the anonymity in the current situation).

 “How can the phenomena be understood?”

 In the same way that transferences can be understood in clinical work with analysands.

The consultee develops a similar type of transference at once (in treatment, an “Operative Transference Resistance”) In keeping with the MF Method’s definition of a transference (“What we have experienced is what we expect, and sometimes it is what we think we are getting.”) he(she) negatively misperceives the analyst and has no idea that the misperceptions are subjectively-determined.

Then the analyst begins what will continue to be one part of his helper role to the completion of the treatment, i.e., he identifies the first transference, provides consultee’s Observing Self with the theory needed to understand the concept, and illustrates the difference between reality and the misperception by use of the hard data that made the distinction possible for him.

 But this situation is not a treatment

Of course not, but when one acquires the tools that allow the identification of transferences using concrete, objectively-observable data processed by one’s conscious cognitive-emotional mind, it becomes clear that undetected transferences are ubiquitous in human life beyond the clinic. They are unwitting interactions that wreak destruction in marriages, friendships, work, international affairs, etc., and without testable and tested transference theory, no one knows what is happening.

Analysts, themselves, get caught up in them without awareness. Transferences and countertransferences acted out, between individuals and groups in analytic Societies, are common, and the author here, might have been eternally caught up in some in reaction to the above reviews, had he not previously had the benefit of MF research and applied the results in a self analysis, as earlier described.

And why is that?

Because no analysis can yet be completed. The basic and applied theories necessary for reaching ultimate depths and dismantling conflict at that level do not exist. And as transferences are the surface products of deeper-lying core conflicts and symptoms of them, they remain inevitable.

“What can be helpfully done to solve it?”

Some things to a point at this stage

As transferences are aroused more readily when the “blank screen” phenomenon is in place, removing that problem in the Peer Review process would not be difficult, i.e. stop the practice of reviewers assessing the work of anonymous authors.

Then, as Operative Transferences are layered, with a Transference of Defense lying surface to a Transference-of-Impulse (aggressive drive form), and anonymity for the reviewer, provides the symptomatic self with a defense, stop that practice, too.

And as the conflicts revealed by transferences were not created by the reviewer, and criticism (that is common to every human behavior regardless of logic) would be symptomatic in itself, realize such and change some ethos. Do not assume that no analysis can ever be complete, and invite the person to become one of many researchers into what has limited them. And point out the facts that the results will be good for all involved – one’s self, one’s engagements with others (e.g. reviewing a paper), and the fates of possible gratifying relationships.

But how is the reviewer to be helped identify his transferences?

A change of professional group attitude towards the reality and nature of transferences would be useful, especially in the areas of what a transference is, how the roots of it were developed, places in which it unwittingly asserts itself, and the benefits of identification and containment.

But who is to help him identify them?

 At this point then and beyond, the research begins. If no analysis is complete, and that includes those of all trained analysts, how can anyone who is certain to have countertransferences do so? They cannot.

Is there, though, anything that anyone can do to start the process?

Yes, for all to wonder what conflicts are left in self and why, identify the transferences that lead to answers by concrete indicators (that can be provided), conduct a self analysis (the means for which can also be provided). And do so directed by the following truth, “Good things in analysis are good for everyone involved.”

 THE CHIEF EDITOR’S COVER LETTER

 “Dear Dr. Anderson

Thank you for sending to ……………….., your paper “Metapsychological Foundation”. The paper was reviewed by two editorial readers. As you will note in the enclosed reports, they do not recommend publication. Their sense is that your ideas as you present them are quite idiosyncratic and would not resonate with our readers. I regret not being able to give you a more positive response but I do appreciate your considering ……… …… ………………….. as a venue for your work.”

Yours very truly.

The letter examined:

There are problems here that can be fixed if they are identified, and the solutions are implicit in the details of their descriptions.

One is the absence of the editor’s awareness that transferences in reviewers can result in what has been described above, all of which is destructive to everyone involved – the author, the editor himself, the reviewers, the journal, analysands, and the reputation of psychoanalysis at large.

Another is that what the reviewers say or imply, that the author’s ideas are quite idiosyncratic (i.e. “peculiar”) based on their “senses”, is accepted without question, and the paper itself is mistitled.

Then the one possible realistic avenue to improvement of the situation is nullified when a letter to the editor from the one person (the author), who was able to analyze the problems in detail, received no reply.

Note: It is also clear from the author’s analysis of the situation that he could have constructively assisted the two reviewers himself, had there been a mechanism for doing so and had they been willing. And if he could do so, why not an editor.

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