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Moral Stealth

How "Correct Behavior" Insinuates Itself into Psychotherapeutic Practice

Moral Stealth

How "Correct Behavior" Insinuates Itself into Psychotherapeutic Practice

A psychiatrist writes a letter to a journal explaining his decision to marry a former patient. Another psychiatrist confides that most of his friends are ex-patients. Both practitioners felt they had to defend their behavior, but psychoanalyst Arnold Goldberg couldn’t pinpoint the reason why. What was wrong about the analysts’ actions? 

In Moral Stealth, Goldberg explores and explains that problem of “correct behavior.” He demonstrates that the inflated and official expectations that are part of an analyst’s training—that therapists be universally curious, hopeful, kind, and purposeful, for example—are often of less help than simple empathy amid the ambiguous morality of actual patient interactions. Being a good therapist and being a good person, he argues, are not necessarily the same. 

Drawing on case studies from his own practice and from the experiences of others, as well as on philosophers such as John Dewey, Slavoj Žižek, and Jürgen Habermas, Goldberg breaks new ground and leads the way for therapists to understand the relationship between private morality and clinical practice.


“Arnold Goldberg is one of the most innovative and exciting contributors to psychoanalysis today. This fascinating volume examines the moral and ethical foundations of the field and, not surprisingly, Goldberg finds that many of our comfortable core assumptions—confidentiality, honesty, neutrality, appropriate superego functioning, and more—turn out to be devilishly complex when examined carefully. His meticulous and constructive explorations, sharp and witty, are in the service of understanding and enlightening our professional morality, much of which operates automatically, without scrutiny. Reading Moral Stealth will make you a more thoughtful—and better—psychoanalyst and psychotherapist.”--Arnold M. Cooper, author of The Quiet Revolution in American Psychoanalysis and past president of the American Psychoanalytic Association

Arnold. M. Cooper

“Moral Stealth is a profound clinical and philosophical reflection of how genuine moral dilemmas creep into psychoanalysis. Using the ethical models of philosophical pragmatism from William James to Richard Rorty, Goldberg focuses on the unique dynamics of the psychoanalytic relationship. Aware of its moral ambiguities, he avoids both moral absolutism and relativism by taking moral issues seriously while never allowing them to divert therapy from its main task—the analysis of the relationship itself. This is an important book for both psychotherapists and moral philosophers.”--Don Browning, emeritus, Alexander Campbell Professor of Religious Ethics and the Social Sciences, University of Chicago

Don Browning

“One of the leading psychoanalysts in the world, Arnold Goldberg is a clear and original thinker, an engaging writer, and an extraordinarily effective communicator. All of these characteristics are apparent in Moral Stealth. His argument that the nature of psychoanalysis is always at tension with unexamined accepted rules and moral standards is an original and stimulating one.”

Robert Michels, Weill Medical College of Cornell University

"Goldberg raises thought-provoking questions we need to explore. The book has made me question theoretical and practical issues that have been helpful to me, especially regarding confidentiality, neutrality, and the superego. I would recommend it to students as well as to longtime practitioners. I myself plan to use portions of it in an ethics course for advanced candidates. . . . A well-written, erudite monograph."

Theodore F. Mucha | Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association

"In this slender volume, Arnold Goldberg, who is well known as an incisive commentator on matters psychoanalytic, adds his reflections to what has become increasingly a matter of general concern and debate, not only for psychoanalysis but also for the profession of mental health care as a whole."

W.W. Meissner | Bulletin of the Menninger Clinic

"This book is brave and provocative in its challenge of the status quo. Goldberg asks therapists to analse their own behaviour in therapy and make moral decisions. . . . Psychotherapists are advised to read this book, and take up the challenge."

Preeti Chhabra | Journal of Mental Health

Table of Contents


1. Setting the Stage 
2. Positioning Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy for Moral Concerns 
3. Moral Stealth 
4. The Moral Posture of Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy: The Case for Ambiguity 

5. A Risk of Confidentiality 
6. On the Nature of Thoughtlessness 
7. I Wish the Hour Were Over: Elements of a Moral Dilemma 
8. Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis and the Problem of Ownership: An Effort at Resolution 
9. Who Owns the Countertransference?


10. Another Look at Neutrality 
11. Deontology and the Superego 
12. Choosing Up Sides 
13.  Making Morals Manifest 



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