developed by Howard Bacal against the backdrop of the innovative thinking of Sandor Ferenczi and from his personal work with Michael Balint, Wilfred Bion, Donald Winnicott, and Heinz Kohut, is a process theory of psychotherapy, which holds that each analyst-patient dyad constitutes a unique, reciprocal system.
From the perspectives of specificity theory, therapeutic possibility is co-created in the specificity of fit between that patient’s particular therapeutic needs and that therapist’s capacity to respond to them, both of which will emerge and change within the unique process of each particular dyad.
Specificity theory challenges us to reconsider how psychoanalytic therapy is optimally practiced and taught. It questions the traditional method and epistemology of psychoanalysis, and invites re-conceptualization of its concepts. It recognizes that what each therapist effectively offers a particular patient may or may not include the application of established theories and their prescribed techniques.
The perspectives of specificity theory are corroborated by Gerald Edelman’s neurobiological findings about the development and functioning of the brain. Edelman has shown that the human mind is continuously formed and transformed through ongoing selective, specific interactions with itself and its environment. Specificity theory calls upon the psychoanalytic psychotherapist to hold in mind what follows from this reality: that each interaction between persons is unique, unpredictable, and specific to them and that moment. Edelman also observed that the brain naturally tends toward closure when it has found meaning. Specificity theory’s central focus on the specificity of emerging process promotes the efforts of our brain to forestall closure prematurely.
Dr. Bacal comprehensively presents specificity theory in his book, The Power of Specificity in Psychotherapy: When Therapy Works – And When It Doesn’t (Jason Aronson: Lanham, MD). Practical training in the application of specificity theory is available through participation in Dr. Bacal’s clinical discussion groups or through individual consulation.