Sunday, April 5, 2009

OLD SCHOOL ACCENT ON THE NEW: Tampa Bay Psychoanalytic Society Hosts Robert Michels, MD

In an early morning conversation with Tampa colleagues, Robert Michels, MD described transference as an accent. Like a language learned early in life that will always color future learned languages, transference will color all interpersonal relationships. Current relationships are always influenced by early relationships. While accents enrich experience, hopefully there will be enough learned phonemes for there to be flexibility.

Both in early conversation and in his morning presentation, Michels gave an historical approach to the competition of orthodoxies. He noted how difficult it was last century for analysts to liberate themselves from Freudian ideas and Freud's mythos. He noted, as well, the major shift from attention to (unconcious and repressed) content, managing both the transference and the resistance, to attention to process and the way one chooses not to reveal content; a shift from defense analysis to character analysis.

In the 21st century, with the popularity of the Relational approach and with the recognition of the negative effects (such as narcissistic injury), of austerity, clinicians now think of themselves, not as 'expert,' but as collaborative colleagues with patients. Today, clinicians are less committed to one theory, and, instead, pluralism (in theory) exists. Analysts are less authoritarian, and less able to sit comfortably assured that their theory or technique or shibbolith is the one. Michels advocated having as many tools as possible, and then skillfully using the one applicable to the moment.

Michels is a brilliant mind, facile enough to have his finger on the pulse of changing theory and technique. Ironically (or maybe not), the presentation, as one attendee noted, was an enactment of the difficulty in giving up what was learned early in career (ego psychology) in order to flexibly apply or adapt to the new. Michels thick 'accent' on contempoary theory was noticeable, but the morning was none the less accessible and enjoyable.

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