The Technique of Psychoanalysis, Seven Lectures : 1930 [1950] : Ella Sharpe

by Julia Evans on January 1, 1930

Published as Collected Papers on Psychoanalysis, London : Hogarth Press, 1950

The seven lectures comprise :

1.  The Analyst, International Journal of Psycho-Analysis IJPA, v11, p25, p9 of Collected Papers

2. The Analysand, IJPA, v11, p263, p22 of Collected Papers

3. Survey of Defence-mechanisms in General Character-Traits and in Conduct, IJPA v11, p361, p38 of Collected Papers

4. The Dynamics of the Method the Transference, IJPA, v11, p374, p53 of Collected Papers

5. Anxiety : Outbreak and resolution, IJPA, v12, 1931, p24, p67 of Collected Papers

6. Variations of technique in different Neuroses, IJPA, v12, p37, p81 of Collected papers

7. Technique in Character Analysis, IJPA, v12, p52, p98 of Collected Papers

Available at  /authors by date or authors a-z

Cited by Jacques Lacan

– p72 of Cormac Gallagher’s translation :

As reference [24] in The Direction of the Treatment and the Principles of its Power:10th-13th July 1958 : Jacques Lacan : See here

[24] Sharpe, Ella, “The Technique of Psychoanalysis,” Collected Papers (London: Hogarth Press, 1950). See pages 81 (on the need to justify one’s existence); p12—14 (on the knowledge and techniques required of the analyst).

p81 of Ella Sharpe (on the need to justify one’s existence) ;6. VARIATIONS OF TECHNIQUE IN DIFFERENT NEUROSES : Reprinted from Int. J . Psycho-Anal., 1931, Vol. XII, p. 37. p81 of Collected Papers, DELUSION. PARANOIA. OBSESSION. CONVERSION TYPES 

I have been arrested by the phrase “justify my existence” used in two days by three patients whose psychological mechanisms are of very different types. There came to my mind a remark made by a very brusque member of a teaching staff I knew many years ago. A lanky overgrown boy of sixteen was standing miserably self-conscious in a classroom, undecided whether he would sit or stand. “Oh, try not to look as if you were apologizing for your existence!” was the class-teacher’s remark. 

The people who enjoy the greatest ease, and to whom work and conditions in life bring the greatest internal satisfaction, are those who have justified their existence to themselves. They have won through to a right to live, and a right to live means a life in which physical and mental powers can be used to the ego’s advantage and well-being, which means to the advantage and well-being of the community. 

p12—14 of Ella Sharpe (on the knowledge and techniques required of the analyst).

Reprinted from The Analyst, International Journal of Psycho-Analysis IJPA, v11, p25

The urgency to cure motivates the physician. A deep-seated interest in people’s lives and thoughts must in a psycho-analyst have been trans­ formed into an insatiable curiosity which, while having its recognizable unconscious roots, is free in consciousness to range over every field of human experience and activity, free to recog-[p12]nize every unconscious impulse, with only one urgency, namely, a desire to know more and still more about the psychical mechanisms involved. “Benevolent curiosity” is Dr. Jones’s admirable phrase. When we come across a habit of thought, a type of experience, to which we reply: “I cannot understand how a person can think like that, or behave like this,” then we cease to be technicians. Curiosity has ceased to be benevolent.

Tolerance emerges out of an acquaintance with one’s own unconscious. A capacity for kindly scepticism and suspension of judgement is the accompaniment of a curiosity that has been purged of the infantile elements.

One would expect, as a result of this special interest and orientation towards human life, that a person capable of acquiring a specialized technique in dealing with human nature would have a technique above the average in ordinary human contacts. It may well be that a person with capacity for this has been hindered by internal difficulties, but these difficulties being removed, the would-be technician must surely be a technician in general before being one in particular. We are talking of psychology in practice, as an art, not as knowledge of theories. A practical technician cannot be an adept with human material in the laboratory and continually make gross errors in human contacts in the outside world. The capacity to get on to under­ standing terms in the external world with types of people differing from one’s self, the capacity to sustain and maintain friendly relationships in spite of stresses and differences, are indicative of essential qualifications for acquiring a special technique for a special object.

Whatever qualification is necessary in the way of knowledge of pathological states of mind, the future technician will have gained his knowledge of human nature not only in the consulting-room, but in actual living. He will also have ranged to some extent through some pathway of literature ; biography, history, fiction, poetry or drama. In some field of literature he will have met, in addition to his actual contacts with people, phases of life and conduct that will have given him that broad general sympathy with life and people which no textbook of scientific principles can ever inculcate.

I will give you a specific application of what I mean by knowledge of life and living as a necessary part of the equipment of a psycho-analyst. A physician correlates a description [p13] of symptoms with his deeper knowledge of anatomy, physiology and organ functions. He gets from the patient all the data that can be obtained. The data from the analysand has to be elicited in many forms. The unconscious has to be inferred from its representations. The more we are versed in forms of representation the quicker we shall be in understanding what is represented. Technique stands a chance of being more subtle when­ ever we have a first-hand knowledge of the things a patient is talking about. We proceed from end-result to origin, from pre-conscious to unconscious.

Take as an example the following: a patient halts in the train of thought she is expressing. She says : “I’m suddenly interrupted by thinking of Portia, not that Portia, but Brutus’ Portia. I won’t think of her, I don’t like her.” The patient reverts to her original line of thinking. Now, if I know the history of Brutus’ Portia, I know at once the unconscious theme towards which the resistances are directed. I know there is a correlation between the conversion symptoms of this particular patient and the fact that Brutus’ Portia inflicted on herself a wound for a special purpose. The patient has unconsciously, with unerring instinct, selected a representation of her own un­ conscious psychology. If I do not know the role of this Portia in the play, I shall be slower in getting on to the track of the un­ conscious motivation. Take another example of the same kind. The patient suddenly thinks of the words “Like a worm i’ the bud.” She repeats the phrase several times. She cannot recall the context, nor why the words were said. If I remember that the context is, “She never told her love,” then I have at once the clue to the unconscious theme.

I have registered during one week a number of things which, had I personally known more about them, would have enabled me to reach more quickly the unconscious themes that were being given to me in a representative way. In one analysis I needed an intimate knowledge of Peer Gynt, and a swift recognition of the rôles that Asa, Ingrid and Solveig were playing at that moment in terms of the patient’s own identifications. In another an immediate recall of a Dutch picture would have given me the link I needed between an actual scene and an un­ conscious phantasy. The knowledge of the exact duties of a trustee ; the differences between two ways of calculating commission on sales ; a knowledge of the differences between two [p14] makes of motor cars; the appearance of a cider-press and the way it works ; the precise meaning of football terms ; an under­ standing of the processes of etching—all these would have enabled me to grasp more quickly than I did the unconscious significances that were being represented.

We stand to gain all the time by having the knowledge the patient has in terms of consciousness. Every branch of learning, every variety of experience of the way life is lived, adds to the analyst’s possibilities of acquiring technique. We need not be disheartened on account of ignorance if we make adequate use of the fact, if we do not slur ignorance over. I asked for a description of the cider-press. I asked for the etching processes to be described. If I had not known about Brutus’ Portia, I should have taken the patient back to that association and asked what she thought of Portia, why she disliked her, etc. But I give this aspect of analysis here to illustrate that it is the stuff of life we need to be most interested in, to know more and more about it in whatever direction we can obtain it. We need also to have a very clear conception and a very real belief that all sublimation in adult life, sciences, arts, mechanics, buying and selling, housewifery, is the outcome of childhood interests. Every successful analyst of adults must finally, therefore, know much about the child.

In the analysis of an adult the reconstruction of childhood days is an essential process. The phantasies, the make-belief, the games played, the games not played, will be the main road leading to the unconscious life. In any reading for analytical qualification I would make compulsory the following books: Nursery Rhymes, the Alice books, Hunting of the Snark, Grimm, Andersen, the Brer Rabbit books, Water Babies, Struwelpeter, Undine, Rumpelstiltskin, Peter lbbetson, Greek Myths and Tragedies, Shakespeare’s Plays. Were I an arbiter of training, I should set an examination on those books as a final test by which the would-be analyst should stand or fail. My final examination for qualification would run on these lines :—

(1) Quote in full a verse in which “London Bridge is falling down” occurs.

(2) Give briefly the story of three blind mice.

(3) If the mice were blind, how came they to run after the farmer’s wife so purposely? Account for the cutting of their tails.

[p15] Illustrate what unconscious drama is being staged when a patient thinks of himself as one of the blind mice.

What inference concerning the health of the ego do you draw from the fact that the tails were cut off instead of the mice being killed?

Somewhere in that list of immortal stories we shall all find an unconscious phantasy of our own. To understand even the tale of the three blind mice is to have a conception of what those crystallized terms id, ego and super-ego really mean in terms of the drama of life. Faced by a cross-examination on children’s nursery rhymes in terms of psycho-analytical theory, with an application to the struggles going on in ourselves or in our patients, would any of us do more than scramble through it? To pass it creditably would mean that one had a good chance of being a creditable technician.

– p33 of Cormac Gallagher’s translation, Direction of the Treatment : Outside this hearth of the dispersed Hungarian school whose firebrands are now scattered and will soon be ashes, only the English with their cold objectivity have been able to articulate this gap to which the neurotic bears witness in wanting to justify his existence, and hence implicitly to distinguish from the inter-human relation, with its warmth and its allurements, that relation to the Other in which being finds its status.

We have only to cite Ella Sharp and her very relevant remarks as she follows the neurotic‘s true concerns [24]. Their power lies in a sort of naivete reflected in the justly celebrated brusqueness of her style as both therapist and writer. She is far from ordinary in the extent to which she glorifies the analyst by requiring him to be omniscient if he is to read correctly the intentions of the analyser‘s discourses.

We must be grateful to her for having given literary culture pride of place in the training of practitioners, even if she does not seem to realise that in the minimum reading list that she gives them, there is a predominance of works of the imagination in which the signifier of the phallus plays a central role beneath a transparent veil. This simply proves that the choice is no less guided by experience than is her felicitous initial advice.


Note : If links to any required test do not work, check If a particular text or book is missing, contact Julia Evans


Julia Evans

Practicing Lacanian Psychoanalyst in London & Sandwich, Kent


Further posts:

Some Lacanian history here

Of the clinic here 

Topology and the clinic  here  

Dreams  here 

Translation Working Group here 

Seminar VI : towards NLS in Ghent  here 

Reading Seminar VII: The Ethics of Psychoanalysis  here 

By Sigmund Freud here 

Notes on texts by Sigmund Freud  here 

By Jacques Lacan here      

Notes on texts by Jacques Lacan here 

By Ella Sharpe  here   

By Julia Evans here