Thursday, January 26, 2012

Herzog and Shifting Relational States

On the morning of January 14, 2012, Dr. Bruce Herzog presented to the Tampa Bay Psychoanalytic Society, Inc his 2004 paper Reconsidering the Unconscious: Shifting Relational States, Activators, and the Variable Unconscious. “The unconscious is not a fixed structure, … thus what is conscious in one state of mind can become an unconscious entity in another… When an event is encoded into memory, it occurs within the specific relational state that is active at the time. …Hence, what I am conscious of at any particular moment has much to do with the relational state that I am in.” [When I read this paper a few years ago, these statements of Herzog’s were a kind of eureka moment for me: what he wrote had made profound sense (with a forehead slapping “Of course!’) and yet I had not heard it articulated that way before.]

Herzog continues: “… each relational state has its own particular consciousness and unconsciousness. …In any individual, the unconscious is in no way fixed, but is rather a continually changing phenomenon. I have chosen to name this the variable unconscious. … The notion of a variable unconscious proposes that people, when shifting from state to state, have a level of awareness and unawareness that shifts along with them. The unconscious is no longer considered a fixed phenomenon, but is something that moves and adjusts according to what state one is in. A shift to a new relational state can grant access to certain affects, memories, and relational behaviors that may have been previously unconscious [inaccessible].” Herzog calls his concept of shifting relational states, activators and the variable unconscious: template theory.

Herzog gracefully utilizes both traditional interpretation and relational theory: “…it is not only an interpretation’s content, but … the act of interpreting [italics added] can trigger a shift to a new state that can give rise to a different awareness.” [Here I like the integration of interpretation itself, its content making conscious what was heretofore unconscious, with the act itself having meaning separate from the meaning of the content. This deconstructs somewhat the privilege heretofore given to narrative interpretation, and insight, as a mutative power.] One aim of psychoanalytic treatment has always been to increase the capacity for self reflection, in Herzog’s terms, to activate a reflective state and increase the frequency of its activation. In treatment this can allow access to previously disavowed self states or to newly co-created (in therapy) self states.

I particularly liked finding new ways to consider transference, repression, interpretation, and the goals of treatment: “The transference might be seen as the activation of a particular relational state, and the interpretation could be seen as a means to help the patient organize the procedural (non-verbal) elements of the [that] state into symbolic thought (Herzog 2001; see previous post). The entire process serves to improve the reflective capacity of the individual, by allowing the current relational state to be consciously apprehended, understood, and modified - from within an overriding reflective state established in the analysis.” And where “repression comes in the form of disavowal of certain relational states …
What’s reported to the analyst is limited to what can be accessed in the state the patient is in when seeing the analyst.”

Herzog concludes: …”my patients [are] shifting through relational states, moving between the various possibilities within their relational repertoire, and having each state of mind containing its own unconscious elements… Pathology in the individual comprises rigid denial of the existence of parts of the self, whereas emotional health involves a general awareness of all parts of the self and controlled, flexible movement between them. …The analytic dyad’s growth-promoting behavior and ability to comment on the relational changes that are being fostered will lead to the development of a new repertoire of more functional relational behaviors, and a capacity to recognize and access them.”

I thoroughly enjoyed my day with Bruce Herzog, a presenter who embodies what he says, thereby providing the best educational experience: when procedural learning accompanies the symbolic or spoken lesson. I did regret that Dr. Herzog often chose to put aside for the day, leaving unexplored, the contribution the analyst makes to a shift in a relational template, and thereby, momentarily, eschewing elaboration of a two-person psychology.

1 comment:

kaney said...

There are many theories as to what the conscious and unconscious minds are. The truth is that you cannot prove the existence of the unconscious mind, and philosophers have been debating what it is to be conscious for hundreds of years! However, the evidence for the conscious and unconscious partnership is extremely compelling and answers many questions as to why we are the way we are.

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