Saturday, February 23, 2008

Christopher Bollas in Tampa

on Free Association and the Logic of Sequence

If the measure of our interpretations is the subsequent enhancement of facilitating the patient's narrative, free associations, and new material, then Christopher Bollas, hosted today in Tampa by the Contemporary Institute (Sarasota, FL), can not be found wanting. His presentation today generated "redolent" discussion on breaks, at lunch, even in the car pool home. Bollas declared himself a Freudian, noting that there are many Sigmund Freuds, depending on whom one asks. His model is pluralism and what comes to mind is based on the clinical material at hand [conflated inevitably with what the analyst has learned from theory]. Bollas is a Freudian in the classical sense of following Freud's privileging of analytic tasks of surrendering one's self to one's own unconscious in evenly suspended attention, not trying to fix in memory anything the analyst has heard, but rather in attempt to catch the patient's unconscious with the analyst's own unconscious. This is different from, what Bollas says is, the ego psychologist's having even temperament and being attentive. Bollas does not believe that what passes for classical analysis (the neutral blank screen who says little) is really what Freud meant, that is, is not really classical.

Bollas is especially laudatory about The Interpretation of Dreams because, in it, Freud recognizes that dreaming is another form of thinking, and that in Freud's having asked his patient to give their thoughts about specific dream elements, Freud discovered the value of the technique of free association. Bollas thought dreaming might actually be the most sophisticated and significant form of thinking that humans possess, for in dreaming, we can condense a multiplicity of ideas into a single image and express a simultaneity of a plenitude of thoughts. This remarkable ability of the mind is what inspires art, music, poetry. To interpret in the here-and-now is impossible because there are too many simultaneous levels happening in any given moment.

Freud understood that if one listened long enough to the patient's free associations, a pattern would emerge, a pattern that linked seemingly unlinkable thoughts. This is the logic of sequence [juxtaposition, contiguity]. (If content A is followed by content B, then this is read as AB.) And the unconscious mind functions with this logic! But, the patient needed to be instructed to be completely honest and not hold back even seemingly nonsensical, unimportant, or irrelevant thoughts.

Bollas added that Americans, as a culture, do not know how to free associate, whereas Europeans do. Americans communicate in and accept phatic [meaningless, insignificant, importless] language, only sharing a social reality but not really communicating. Therefore, analysands need to be instructed how to produce their narrative in a more meaningful way. [I had a difficult time reconciling this idea with evenly suspended attention and the faith in my unconscious being able to communicate with my patient's unconscious, but I invite explanations, please.] Later, he said all people free associate, that the unconscious poses questions, then comes to insights on its own, if we don't impede their free association with our comments. [I am aware of neuropsych research that shows the mind, particularly in dreams, does just that, organizing and problem solving.] It was noted that free association, in allowing the patient liberty to let the unconscious do its thing (as well as patient having become an attentive and dispassionate observer, too), is curative in itself, that is, comes to its own insights.

So when does the analyst make a comment? When the free associations indicate that the analyst's conclusion are evident. When the material at hand indicates and when the analyst is following the line of thought of the analysand. The purpose of listening (and interpretting), Bollas says, is to gain greater access to unconscious processes.

In a most illustrative way, Bollas gave a verbatim session of a supervised case. (He asked the attendees to free associate to the material [with which we complied so well, acting as patients, that we ignored the point of the lecture: finding the unconscious processes in the sequence of the material, or acting like analysts]. ) He then discerned aloud what the unconscious connections were thought to be, relying on the patient's associations, and the logic of sequence, as the evidence. It deserves reiteration: the analyst's conclusions are based on evidence from the patient's associations. This is why we must avoid interfering with the patient's associations.

These are just some of the thoughts after this stimulating and generative day. Let's hear from some of the other attendees. There was so much going on at one time, one can not possibly associate to every element in today's exciting workshop.


Anonymous said...

I was fascinated by the visit from "Kit" Bollas. His talk was a lot like his writings, a kind of free association in itself. I liked that the two points (Freud discovering the value of free association, and what the analyst can do with it) was distilled down for us by the blog.

I use the intimate "Kit" signifier because I would like to engage in some wild analysis, as if I knew Kit. After his comment about Bob Laings (sp?) never presenting a case of his own in public, I wondered why Bollas would also choose to present someone else's case. Perhaps because the case was about language, the mother tongue. I wondered if Bollas, having, after lunch, almost lost his British pronunciation was also struggling with which country in which to live and which 'language' to speak. I also wondered if his insistence that there was a relatively better way that an analysand must be trained to speak (meaningfully, not phatically) was not some parallel process to the presented patient's mother (speak Greek, not English) to be acceptable. Just some thoughts.

Anonymous said...

In keeping with previous comment and wild analysis, I had an idea about Bollas saying he would never again write about the topic he presented. I thought of the patient he presented who would say she would say it once and then be silent. Is this parallel process?

Anonymous said...

I also enjoyed the workshop and was really intrigued by his idea that the analytic process proceeds via communication that occurs "unconscious to unconscious" between analyst and patient. But given this perspective, it did surprise me that Bollas didn't think that more attention to the "here and now" is needed (transference, enactments, parallel process, etc).

Doesn't the unconscious influence our ability to perceive the past (our own and others) just as much as it impacts perception of the present moment?

Like the first two comments, I also wondered about the influence of the case on the presenter....and perhaps on us as the audience as well? After all, if communication occurs through the drift of the unconscious communication, it would make sense that there would be many different agents of interaction in play with the material.