Problems of Metascience and Methodology in Clinical Psychoanalytic Research
On re-reading this now more than 30-year-old paper, we are pleased to note that it has remained current and has received significant attention, as for example in Rubovits-Seitz’ (1998) substantial work Depth-Psychological Understanding: The Methodologic Grounding of Clinical Interpretation. Such studies from years past have been of vital help in clarifying our position as clinicians and researchers. The following argument of John Wisdom (1970), a philosopher close to the Kleinian school, is one we have taken to heart:
It seems clear that a clinician cannot handle research into clinical hypothesis without having his area demarcated from the rest. More importantly, a psychoanalyst who wishes to test his theories empirically … cannot begin his work, until the morass of theory, ontology, and Weltanschauung has been “processed” by philosophy of science. (pp. 360−361)
Without being aware of it, therapeutically successful clinicians are continually testing-in the broadest sense of the word-their theories. The problems of empirical therapy research on the single case are commonly underestimated. Hypothetically assumed causal connections between symptoms and their unconscious causes follow statistical probabilities and therefore cannot be deduced from scientific laws. This is one of the reasons why the Hempel-Oppenheim (1953) schema on the parity of post-
diction and prediction is not applicable to the human sciences (see section “Description, Explanation and Prognosis in Psychoanalysis”). This was pointed out already by the mathematician von Mises (1939; engl. 1951), with whose work we were not yet familiar in 1973: “it seems justified to point out that the totality of the observations in this field seems to correspond more to the assumption of a statistical than of a strictly causal correlation” (p. 238).