Sunday, January 15, 2012

A Conversation With Bruce Herzog: Relational Templates

When the Tampa Bay Psychoanalytic Society, Inc offers a day-long program with a guest psychoanalyst, one of my favorite parts of the day is the early morning, intimate, small group “Conversation” with the expert speaker. On January 14, 2012, Bruce Herzog discussed his very accessible ideas about relational templates.

Repeated behavior becomes a relational template, and becomes procedural. He defines relational template as “an internalized relational pattern that has been learned through repeated exposure and applied to interpersonal circumstances throughout life”[1] and may be “activated” by specific, contextually-driven interactions. (Unlike Stolorow’s ‘invariant organizing principles’ which implies cognitive, relational templates are behavioral. Herzog‘s “relational expectancies” are more akin to the former. A relational expectancy includes an automaticity that assumes a relationship to be a certain way.)

Multiple templates exist, each with its own variable unconscious, and are hierarchical, the most frequently activated ones being the most accessible. He notes “a stockpile of templates waiting to be mobilized when needed”[2] The analyst can track shifts in relational states (often accompanied by a shift in affect), e.g. when a negative transference appears. Clinically, the analytic relationship offers the opportunity to encode new ways of being in relationship, new templates. For example, when a patient, long holding the expectancy to be ignored or misunderstood, finds that the analyst does not meet her/his expectation, a new template is encoded and now joins the repertoire of multiple relational templates. Herzog notes that each of us has the capacity throughout life to continue to grow and change when our expectations are confounded in this way.

Herzog prefers the term ‘template’ for its simplicity; Preferring ‘relational template’ to the unwieldy 'projective identification,' Herzog nonetheless notes that Klein described something useful to the clinician. For example, where Kleinian analysts might say a patient had projected disavowed sadism into the analyst and so now the analyst is feeling angry at the patient, Herzog would say simply that a sadomasochistic template has been activated.

Like an attuned parent who gives words to experience, thereby adding to the child’s comfort, mastery, or joy, Herzog says “naming and explaining” helps a patient. But, he notes, it is not simply content which is mutative, but that we bother to say something at all, for, along with tone, prosody, etc, this is also a procedural interpretation, the non-symbolic part of the verbal interpretation. [See his 2001 paper]

Patients may activate templates in the therapist just as analysts’ behaviors also activate patients’ templates. The therapist has certain capacities (e.g. what s/he can give) while the patient has certain capacities too (e.g. what s/he can take). In template theory, provision might balance expectation; it is as if the analyst is saying, ‘Even though you ask something of me in a way that makes me want to withdraw from you, I know you need it and so I will provide it.’ Having in the past been accused of being a ‘provision-ist,’ Herzog retorts that the accuser might be a ‘frustration-ist’ and recalls how Kohut advocated “optimal frustration” and Bacall, “optimal responsiveness.”[3]

Herzog finds that perhaps his foremost goal in treatment is to enjoy his work, which means enjoying his patient, which means the patient, perhaps for the first time, is enjoyed (thereby creating a new relational template). Herzog also reminds us that each therapist must ‘survive’ (in Winnicottian terms). He also seeks to find something he can love in every patient. [It is perhaps these final sentiments with which I most agree.]

[3] Bacal and Herzog (2000). Optimal Responsiveness and the Use of Specificity Theory
in Clinical Practice, Presented at the 23rd Annual International Conference on The
Psychology of The Self, Chicago, Ill.

Herzog, B. (2001). Procedural Interpretation and Insight: The Art of Working Between
the Lines in the Non-Verbal Realm. Presented at the 24th Annual International
Conference on The Psychology of The Self, San Francisco, Ca.

[1,2] Herzog, B. (2004). Reconsidering the Unconscious: Shifting Relational States,
Activators, and the Variable Unconscious. Presented at the 27th Annual
International Conference on The Psychology of The Self, San Diego, Ca.


Jaime said...

Lycia, thank you for summing it up so well. Loved the talk. I thought that Herzog used great examples to illustrate his points. "Templates are like a stack of records, the ones that are played the most are closer to the top." The example with the little boy at camp, too, was hilarious, demonstrating how seamlessly people can alternate between templates. And the story about giving Kernberg a piece of his mind! Guess Herzog doesn't like to be called a "hand holder," ha ha. It's clear that he loves his patients and did a very good job of demonstrating how he loves them by the way that he interacted with his audience and with the supervisees in the "fishbowl" at the end of his talk. I also liked the way that he challenged the sacrosanct notions of transference and the unconscious in a proud but humble way. Seems as if he's helping the field to move forward in this way. Great, fun talk. Looking forward to hearing more from Herzog in the future!

Jaime said...

Dear Lycia, thank you for summing up Herzog's talk and papers so well. I thoroughly enjoyed his presentation on Saturday, and I have found myself thinking in relational templates! The examples that Herzog provided to illustrate his most salient points were quite effective. So these templates are like "records that are stacked, with the most used ones on top." Also, the story about the boy at camp illustrated how seamlessly we can shift between templates. Herzog is unafraid to challenge the sacrosanct concepts of transference and the unconscious, too, and he helps to move the field forward in this way. Finally, I loved the story about Herzog telling Kernberg off - guess he doesn't like to be called a hand holder! Herzog does love his patients and his work, which was evident in the manner that he interacted with his audience and the "supervisees" on Saturday. I'm looking forward to hearing more from Herzog in the future.

Tim said...

He told Kernberg off? Awesome! I saw a fairly recent presentation by Kernberg and the contempt and disdain shown for his difficult patients was apalling.