Sigmund Freud’s cases are often held against him. What could be worse, it is argued, than his founding a would-be science – psychoanalysis – on the basis of his own case and those of patients he happened to treat in Vienna? He thereby contravened Aristotle’s ruling that “what is individual…cannot be an object of knowledge”. Yet we arrive at universal truths only by extrapolating from individual instances.
This is true of anthropology, where theory building results from interpreting a set of observations within an intelligible frame. So too with law, which, at least in England, proceeds through comparing cases, one with another. The physicist operates similarly. He uses past exemplars as means of learning, John Forrester observes, “to see his problem as like a problem he has already encountered”. And in medicine, doctors, faced with individual cases, consider ways they are akin to and different from those that they have seen before.
The same is true of psychoanalysis. Forrester illustrates this point by showing how the psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott’s treatment of Patrick, a patient who became ill after his 11th birthday when his father drowned, is both similar to, and different from, other cases. Although like many other cases it involved the therapeutic value of “the holding environment”, it differed from them by bringing to mind an image not of mothering but of Patrick’s father supporting the family when he was alive, and St Christopher holding, sheltering and protecting a child over water.
Forrester also considers an example that serves to illustrate ways that individual cases shape the thinking of both patients and their psychoanalysts. He focuses on a young woman named Belle, her experience of her psychoanalyst Robert Stoller, and his experience of her. He shows how Belle had a daydream in which, at the behest of a film director, she is raped by a stallion that turns into “a disreputable, ugly old man”; and how her experience led Stoller to develop a new theory about hostility generating and enhancing sexual excitement.
|Thinking in Cases|
Source: Times Higher Education