Charles brenner: A practitioner's theorist

  • Friedman L
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Abstract

To avoid certain errors in practice, Charles Brenner offered an holistic substitute for the Freudian structural model of the mind. He used the term compromise formation ambiguously to refer to both actions and states, so as to render unnecessary what he considered artificial, judgmental attitudes embodied in images of psychic structures. He believed that a theory of conflicting structures transforms the phenomenological drama of the patient's actual life-world into an artificial drama of contending intrapsychic parties that may reflect the analyst's values. According to Brenner, the meaning of life, with its desires, fears, and regrets, is structured forever in the first articulation of the family drama, and that is all the structure a practitioner should have in mind. In principle, the ambiguity of the term compromise formation allows for observed continuities in human life, and might have inspired an ambitious theoretician to exploit that option for an account of character, but that aspect of theory moves in a direction opposite to Brenner's practical mission. For the same practical reason Brenner refused to acknowledge gradations of mental operation, such as differences in maturity, or style or level of thinking, so the theory cannot say how change can take place, analytic or otherwise. These lacunae in theory were unblinkingly (if implicitly) accepted in pursuit of Brenner's goal, which was not to polish up theory but to cleanse the analyst's mind of concepts that subtly interfere with the essential nondirectiveness of treatment. His theoretical minimalism and exclusive concern with practical consequences can be recognized as a peculiarly North American attitude to psychoanalysis.

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Authors

  • Lawrence Friedman

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