Reason and Research

The hyper-rationalism of the public service demand for evidence, even in those ‘sciences’ concerned with human beings, prompted thoughts about the kind of research we need to be doing in psychoanalysis. I was provoked by the rather willing acceptance of RCTs (random control trials) as the arbiter of psychoanalytic thinking. And the germs of a new strand began. Outcome studies are important, but so long as we know what treatments they are the outcomes of. Less and less attention is paid to the conceptual research that explores the theoretical background leading to techniques whose outcomes need to be measured. Too many different theories now make up psychoanalysis, and give rise to all sorts of technical innovations that can all be lumped together as psychoanalysis for the purposes of outcome evidence. Much more rigorous methods of conceptual research need to be developed, and adopted as standard. This line of thinking has led eventually to a book on the way the clinical work, can be used as research, and clinical material can be used as research data.

2008 Repression and splitting: towards a method of conceptual comparison
International Journal of Psychoanalysis 89 503-521.
By the time I had spent 10 years at an academic institution (The University of Essex) I had puzzled over how psychoanalytic research could be conducted more effectively. The situation within psychoanalysis was dire, as its popularity was declining, spawning many desperate attempts to develop more sympathetic theories to entice the public and each other. I took two terms, splitting, and repression, as signifying two different schools of psychoanalytic thought, and tried to formulate ways in which a rigorous comparison of them could be made using clinical material as research data.

2010 Psychoanalytic research: Is clinical material any use?
Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy 24: 362–379.
Following on from the last paper, this is another attempt to study the process of psychoanalytic studies itself. The paper attempts to rescue some reflection on the more or less total rejection of single case studies, typical of experimental psychology. A general argument is made to reconsider a case study as potentially decisive in psychoanalysis; the argument rest in part on the fact that natural science (as opposed to experimental psychology) relies on a single well-designed experiment. So the conditions for the design of a psychoanalytic case study need to be equally determined and rigorously applied.

2013 Research on the Couch: Subjectivity, Single Case Studies and Psychoanalytic Knowledge
(published in the New Library of Psychoanalysis) London: Routledge
This book brings together the necessary thinking on psychoanalysis ‘as a science’, given it is not a standard science at all, neither a natural science nor a medical or psychological science. The issues involved in research design described in a preliminary way in the previous paper, are elaborated considerable, and especially in relation to some contemporary philosophy of science. The argument that material from single cases can be adequate research data provided the research question is precisely enough formulated, and the use of the data conforms to the conditions of a precise research design, is then followed by an even more difficult issue – the gathering of data which is subjective, not objective, and the fact that the instrument of observation is itself subjective (the psychoanalyst’s mind). Very precise forms of clinical observation for generating such data are argued for, and eventually a number of examples from the literature are re-examined using the tools elaborated here – a binary research question, a critical clinical situation that will be decisive, and a precise protocol of observation. The fact that the interpretation of meanings is the stock in trade of psychoanalytic work, the formulation of such a hermeneutic approach with a science-like mode of empirical work, brings together one of the rifts with contemporary psychoanalysis – that between the hermeneutic approach and the psychoanalysis-as-science approach.