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Spontaneous Remissions: Norman Reider's Forgotten Paper, Part I

The Psychoanalytic Quarterly

Published online on


Almost sixty years ago, Norman Reider published a paper about spontaneous “remissions” he had observed. He discussed the manner in which psychoanalytic theory provided a way to partially explain these otherwise mysterious remissions or improvements in symptoms, some without benefit of either psychoanalysis or psychotherapy. Especially important were his comments about the negligible role of interpretation or insight in these examples. His conjectures reflected controversies that were current at the time and that remain unsettled. Of special interest is his introduction of some highly original ways to think of applying psychoanalytic ideas to supportive psychotherapy. But few analysts today have heard of this paper. A reconsideration of his paper allows us to be vividly reminded about our enduring and profound confusion about exactly what constitutes a “cure” at all. Spontaneous shifts in the severity of symptoms may be viewed as experiments of nature that we have neglected to investigate as valuable restraints on our immodest therapeutic claims.