How to Write a Psychoanalytic Paper by Glen O. Gabbard (2 pages)

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How to Write a Psychoanalytic Paper


Glen O. Gabbard, M.D.

Brown Foundation Chair of Psychoanalysis


Professor of Psychiatry

Baylor College of Medicine

Joint Editor-in-Chief

International Journal of Psychoanalysis

As I enter my sixth year as Joint Editor-in-Chief of the International Journal of Psychoanalysis, I
have developed many impressions about what constitutes a good psychoanalytic paper and have
sought to share these thoughts with many colleagues and students who wish to write. Perhaps
my fundamental message is that writing begins with reading. The psychoanalytic literature is
vast, but only by maintaining a reasonable familiarity with that literature can one know what is
missing from it. Too many psychoanalytic papers tread on familiar ground because the author
has not taken the time to review the PEP CD ROM and find out what has already been written on
the subject.

As an editor, I am always gratified when an author demonstrates scholarship by

reviewing the literature relevant to his topic, and positioning himself in the context of that
literature. Authors must convince their readers that they have something to say that has not
already been said. Originality is a high standard, given the fact that the psychoanalytic literature
has been around for over 100 years. However, a new idea is not an absolute necessity for a
meritorious psychoanalytic paper. Some authors are able to provide critiques of what has
already been written, and, in so doing, offer a fresh perspective on previous writings that informs
the reader and deepens our understanding of the topic. In any case, the successful author must
take pains to show how his or her ideas fit in with what has come before.

Good psychoanalytic papers often derive from clinical observations that strike the analyst

as novel or compelling. I’ve found it useful to allow my clinical observations to percolate in my
mind for a while, until they expand and grow in all directions. Often I spend a year or two
thinking about a paper and making notes on relevant clinical observations. For example, one of
my first psychoanalytic papers began with an observation that one of my patients always ended
the session with an exit line that reflected heightened transference not present during the session
itself. I noted this pattern for approximately two years before finally writing a paper on the
subject. By that time, I had numerous examples that illustrated the point in a persuasive way,
and I also drew examples from other patients and from cases that colleagues had treated to make
the paper broader and more useful to clinicians who read it.

Perhaps the most common error I see as an editor is attempting to do too much in one

paper. I often find that authors begin with a good idea, but become derailed on their journey by
taking one detour after another into interesting but peripherally related themes. By trying to
make one’s paper into the definitive work on the subject and by trying to bring out every relevant
idea that enters one’s mind, a good paper is often turned into a rambling, overly long disaster.

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