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Smith, David L. (1999).  Approaching Psychoanalysis: An Introductory Course.  London: Karnac.  Softcover. 238 pages.  ISBN 1 85575 157 7.
Reviewed by Keith Haartman

David L. Smith’s Approaching Psychoanalysis: An Introductory Course offers a compact, yet highly readable, lucid, and comprehensive account of the development of psychoanalytic theory in both Europe and America.  The book masterly combines theoretic complexity with elegant simplicity. Because it is engaging, accessible and unencumbered by technical jargon, the work serves as an ideal text for undergraduate and other introductory settings. As Smith puts it, Approaching Psychoanalysis provides “a compass” for navigation “through the strange seas of psychoanalysis.” Smith’s major chapters are devoted to Freud, Wilhelm Reich, Klein, Winnicott, Mahler, Kernberg, Kohut, the philosopher Adolph Grunbaum, and Robert Langs. Although Smith apologizes for excluding chapters on such important players as Hartmann, Bowlby, Fairbairn, Balint and Anna Freud, many of these names appear throughout the pages as necessary “supporting cast.”

    Smith’s stance is at once critical and sympathetic. Throughout, he demonstrates a sensibility for intellectual history and intellectual links and influences seldom remarked by other authors. As a result, the book speaks not only to beginners, but also to those with an advanced understanding of psychoanalysis.
    For example, Smith’s treatment of Freud (eight chapters that span almost half of the book) evinces a thorough, chronological account of the major transformations in Freud’s corpus.  The chapters commence with a helpful summary overview of the state of psychiatry, psychology and neuroscience prior to Freud’s arrival. Smith shows how Freud’s nineteenth century rationalism and his materialistic bias undermined the legacy of Cartesian dualism and revolutionized the science of the mind. Smith also gives historical evidence that suggests Freud’s primary focus on sex and anxiety was in part shaped by the circumstances of his era: the prevalence of venereal diseases, unreliable contraception and the widespread belief in the pathological consequences of masturbation.
    Smith gives Wilhelm Reich primary status as an important contributor, despite the dubious nature of his later writings.  The focus on Reich reflects Smith’s concern for early sources of influence and historical continuity. He chronicles Reich’s work on the “impulsive character” and argues that Reich pioneered the psychoanalytic theory of the borderline personality disorder. Smith points to a significant convergence between Reich and Melanie Klein.  Klein attended a controversial 1925 paper Reich delivered in Berlin.  Here, Reich claimed that impulsive characters struggle with a savage, “merely organ” or part-object superego formed shortly after birth, a notion that would be central to Klein’s later renovation of Freudian theory.  Furthermore, Reich’s leadership of the Vienna Technical Seminar from 1924 to 1930 led to the first systematic case presentations and the first clinical seminar and supervision group. In these meetings, Reich’s focus on character and resistance clarified a coherent and structural approach to clinical procedure and paved the way for the top-down, defense analysis so central to American ego-psychology.
    The attention to lesser known sources of influence gives Smith’s book a unique critical edge. Winnicott’s seminal ideas on post-natal omnipotence, the transitional object and holding space are convincingly linked to Ferenczi’s 1913 “Stages in the Development of Reality,” while Kohut’s empathic approach to narcissism is traced back to Federn’s phenomenological studies of “ego-feeling.”    
    Smith’s attempt to offer a “non-doctrinaire, critical text-book” presumably informs his decision to include a chapter on Adolph Grunbaum and his critique of psychoanalytic methods of proof.  Smith states that while psychoanalysis is “‘still the only game’ in town when it comes to our emotional life,” its evolution is tainted by the absence of scientific rigor.  The inclusion of Grunbaum’s critique of psychoanalysis as a failed science, a unique move for an introductory survey, broadens the intellectual scope of the book. Smith’s balanced approach invokes a healthy skepticism in the reader, while it also makes clear the indispensable value and intellectual richness of psychoanalytic theory.
    The closing chapter on Robert Langs’ communicative psychoanalysis underscores the originality of Smith’s approach.  The chapter sheds light on an important theoretic development neglected in other introductory texts. Smith draws attention to two facets in Langs’ work. Firstly, Langs’ model highlights the inherent rationality and interpersonal intelligence of the unconscious. The latent subtext of the analysand’s narrative conveys extremely perceptive observations of and commentaries on the analysand’s immediate, here and now experience of the analyst. The narrative conveys specific responses to specific interventions, or triggers, and often voices legitimate, insightful criticisms of the analyst’s behavior.  Secondly, Smith provocatively suggests that because the “law-like” relationship between triggers and narratives permits experimental predictions, communicative psychoanalysis may provide a working model for the kind of disciplined, clinical validation that Grunbaum seeks.

    Given the consistent clarity and appeal of the writing, and the innovative selection of theorists, I find it unfortunate that Smith’s admitted aversion to Lacanian thought prevents him from discussing what he himself claims is “the most widely practiced form of psychoanalysis in the world.” Even so, Approaching Psychoanalysis is an impressive pedagogical tool that renders a challenging area of thought highly accessible. For this reason, it deserves attention.

Keith Haartman, Ph.D., teaches in the Departments of Religious Studies and Professional Writing at the University of Toronto. He is a psychoanalytic psychotherapist in private practice and a seniour candidate in psychoanalytic training at the Toronto Institute for Contemporary Psychoanalysis.




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