Sunday, January 10, 2010

"A Day with Robert Stolorow"

On Saturday, January 9, 2010, the Tampa Bay Psychoanalytic Society, Inc hosted Robert Stolorow, PhD who spoke in the morning on “The Historical Evolution and Clinical Application of Intersubjective Systems Theory”.

Like Heinz Kohut, who wrote that scientific theory should be consistent with its method of investigation, Stolorow, along with George Atwood, Bernard Brandchaft, and, later, Donna Orange, advocate keeping close to the phenomenological, that is, to what one can observe through empathy and introspection, and eschew metapsychology (theoretical structures which are not observable, such as ‘the id’) in the clinical setting. Over the decades, he and colleagues sought to develop a theory of personal subjectivity which could account for both observed phenomena and theories themselves.

Stolorow et al differ with Self Psychology in three important aspects: 1) in the reification of self experience as ‘the Self;’ 2) they see the deficit or defects model as reductionistic, defined by what is absent; and 3) the generalization of narcissistic disorder’s narcissistic transference to a theory of total personality.

Stolorow et al define intersubjectivity as any psychological field created by the interplay between two subjective worlds, even if the two subjects have not yet developed the capacity for mutual recognition. Recall that Jessica Benjamin describes intersubjectivity as a developmental achievement which allows one to recognize an other, not simply as a person separate from oneself (Dan Stern’s infant research), but as a subject with a separate center of experience. [see later blog].

Stolorow highlighted Brandchaft’s work on the negative therapeutic reaction : Freud’s explanation about why theoretically correct interpretations make the patient worse (unconscious guilt; Klein’s was the destructive envy of the analyst’s goodness). Brandchaft wrote that neither had considered that their interpretations might be incorrect, nor considered the analyst’s subjective impact on the patient. Likewise, they never considered that faulty interpretations might retraumatize a patient.

Organizing principles” are what Stolorow et al call their affective schema, which constantly organize experiences: “The organization of the child’s experience is a property of the child-caretaker system of mutual interaction, and recurring patterns of intersubjective transaction within a developmental system give rise to principles that unconsciously organize subsequent [italic, mine]experiences.” This Intersubjective theory is without supposition as to what the organizing principles are, or how many exist, as they are a product of each unique, individual personal history. Stolorow prefers ‘organizing principles’ to ‘transference’ and sees, with Frank Lachmann, transference as an expression of the unconscious organizing principles, i.e. sees transference as an organizing activity, inherently contextual and inherently intersubjective.

He described two dimensions of transference/organizing principles: developmental and repetitive. Developmental are a patient’s longings for experiences that were lost, missing, or prematurely aborted during the formative years (more than just narcissistic needs, such as the longing to be protected or to be with someone with own emotional pain). Repetitive dimensions are patient’s fears, expectations, or actual [re] experiences of the developmental trauma, leading to conflict and resistance. The psychoanalytic situation routinely lends itself to the repetitive dimension, e.g ending the session [a rejection], or a misattuned interpretation where patient again feels painfully misunderstood, left alone with unbearable affect.

He also described intersubjective conjunction, where there is an overlap between the patient and analyst’s organizing principles or their meanings, and intersubjective disjunction, where there is not. Either, when outside of the analyst’s self awareness [presumably these unconscious organizing principles have been or will be made conscious?] can impede the therapeutic process.

In this morning presentation, I found the freshness of Intersubjectivity theory’s contributions to the clinical situation, such as how the fluidly interactive worlds of the patient and analyst mutually influence one another, obscured by the painstaking but exquisite delineation of the speaker’s personal, historical contributions and by the jargon. I also found the lack of needing to recognize an other as a subject mind-boggling when considering intersubjectivity.

Lycia Alexander-Guerra, MD

1 comment:

Jean Austin-Danner said...

I found Dr. Stolorow's reference to 'organizing principles' instead of 'entities' like 'the self' to be a bit confusing. To me, the term 'organizing principles' also implies an entity. But, I do get that he is aiming to capture 'self'' as a more dynamic, fluid, interactive process that changes within the intersubjective dynamic.

I believe our Self is a 'fluid entity' ...manifest differently in different situations, yet also a continuity of Self through all of it. So, I think there has to be something that is kind of solid and stable inside that I recognize as my self. I do agree with Stolorow that how we organize ourselves will be a product of our own intersubjective history. I might include factors such as our genetics (is it possible that we have an intersubjective relationship with the experience of our own biology?), the collective unconscious what I might call implicit knowing and we agree that most are hardwired with such a capacity (if it exists, as Jung believes), our cultural experiences, etc. In other words, I see that intersubjective field as potentially very wide-ranging.

I would add to Stolorow's conception of the developmental class of organizing principles, longings that come from inherent pulls in humans to develop and grow---he focused on longings that emerge from what was missing or had been distorted developmentally. Maslow did some work on something like this.

I strongly resonated with Stolorow's statement that becoming immersed in a developmental longing can be re-traumatizing.

I kind of liked that he sang.

I did not experience Dr. Stolorow as attacking, just not very willing to try to integrate other viewpoints into his own perspective. I haven't decided yet what I think about that. He did say that he doesn't think it is possible to integrate it all. I guess I'll just hold that possibility in tension with my desire that it is possible and see what emerges from that!!

-Jean Austin-Danner