Sunday, September 18, 2011

Self and Relational Psychologies Face-off

Soon after Labor Day each year, The Tampa Bay Institute for Psychoanalytic Studies, Inc (T-BIPS) recommences its two (Self and Relational) Study Groups. On Friday, September 16, the TBIPS Self Psychology Study Group read the 2005 paper by Israeli analyst David G. Kitron The Unacknowledged Knowledge and the Need for a Sanity-Confirming Selfobject. It made for a lively discussion about whether or not an analyst could actually “temporarily” or “partially” “suspend his or her own subjective experience.” Self psychologists and the Stolorow et al Intersubjectivists tend to intimate that we can. Relational Intersubjectivists claim this is not possible.

No doubt that our profession aims at being helpful to our patients, which means being toward a focus, even with our own subjective experience, on the patient’s experience. Kitron aptly commends Ghent’s (1990) surrender over submission. He also reminds us that survivors of childhood trauma have had their reality-testing attacked, what he calls a failure of a sanity confirming self object. I applaud when he writes, “It is the therapist’s duty…to search for any mistake he might have made.” Not to do so would attack again the patient’s reality-testing (gas lighting) and re-traumatize. The analyst’s mistake, if denied by the analyst, becomes part of the “unacknowledged knowledge.”

Where Kitron and Relational thinkers may diverge is when does the therapist deem that “a side-by-side coexistence of two subjectivities is gradually made possible.” Kitron says “the therapist has to ‘step aside’ and suspend his subjectivity temporarily” until the patient has developed the capacity for intersubjectivity [mentalization, Fonagy would contend, is a component of this capacity]. I tend from the very beginning to lean toward the “hold in tension” philosophy. What I mean is that I do not want to obfuscate the part of the patient that is inevitably aware of my subjectivity [as even psychotic patients are] even while, because the patient has had the repeated experience of attack on her/his reality testing, the patient finds any other’s subjectivity unwelcome, even noxious or traumatic. To “suspend” my subjectivity might then be a mere reversal of where one “dominates and paralyzes the other.” I try, then, to hold my subjectivity in tension with the need of the patient to have her/his subjectivity exalted.

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