Contact and Psychoanalysis

views updated


Josef Breuer was known in Vienna as the "man with hands of gold" because he "made contact" in a friendly, non-objectifying way with his patients. It was with him that Bertha Pappenheim invented the psychoanalytic method. Sigmund Freud began as Breuer's student and Breuer sent him patients and "monitored" the evolution of their treatment. When Freud began to distance himself, the shift from chair to couch was gradually promoted: "Don't touch me! Keep quiet!" as Emmy von N. said.

In Totem and Taboo (1912-13a), a festival of "touching," die Berührung, appears more than seventy times in sixty pages in Part II, entitled "Taboo and Emotional Ambivalence." In Laplanche and Pontalis's The Language of Psycho-Analysis, however, the word does not appear. In chapter 3 of Totem and Taboo, "Animism, Magic, and the Omnipotence of Thoughts," Freud refers to Frazer's distinction between magic based on similaritywe destroy a statue representing the being whose death we desireand magic based on contiguitywe spread grease on the weapon that produced the wound (1912-13a, pp. 81-83). Roman Jakobson (1963) pointed out that the very essence of speech, the Freudian holy of holies, is directly bound up with Totem and Taboo : metaphor and metonymy are at work in Freud's dream analysis as they are in Frazer's magic.

"The two principles of associationsimilarity [Ähnlichkeit ] and contiguity [Kontiguität ]are both included in the more comprehensive concept of 'contact'," Freud writes. "Association by contiguity is contact in the literal sense, association by similarity is contact in the metaphorical sense [im übertragenen Sinne ]. The use of the same word for the two kinds of relation is no doubt accounted for by some identity in the psychical processes concerned which we have not yet grasped" (1912-13a, p. 85).

The realm of touching permeates these writings of Freud's. It takes in touching that is prescribed, essential from the very beginning of life, beneficial, soothing, healing. And it also includes proscribed touching, the touch of evil, the touch that kills. The realm of touch is par excellence a social realm.

But how does contact differ from touch? Touch is objectifying, it manipulates the body or objects. Contact is emotional; it establishes a relationship with a living being. By promoting "benevolent neutrality" in place of freundlich and Wohlwollen (to amicably desire what is Good and Gratifying for the other), analysts have distorted the Freudian message in a very particular way. To say "I'm listening" is to acknowledge the existence of the patient; to say "I understand" is to emphasize the reality of his or her thoughts, which the "haptonomy" of Franz Veldman (1998) describes as "existential affirmation" and "rational confirmation" of existence. But without real emotional contact, it is impossible to help a human being develop his or her sense of "basic security," affective confirmation being essential to the growth of every individual. In Velman's terms, it is the mobilization of "philia " that "unveils the Good of the other, recognizes him in the Good he can be." Some have said that recognizing the other is the Supreme Good, "because where love awakens, the self, that somber despot, dies" (Giordano Bruno, cited in 1911c [1910]).

Bernard This

See also: Anna O., case of; Emmy von N., case of; Neutrality/benevolent neutrality; Taboo; Tenderness; Totem and Taboo .


Freud, Sigmund. (1911c [1910]). Notes on an autobiographical account of a case of paranoia. SE, 12: 9-79.

. (1912-1913a). Totem and taboo. SE, 13: 1-161.

Jakobson, Roman. (1963). Essais de linguistique générale. Paris: Minuit.

Veldman, Franz. (1998).Haptonomie, science de l 'affectivité (7th ed.). Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.