Sunday, January 29, 2012

Mutual Recognition in a Fly Bottle

The Tampa Bay Institute for Psychoanalytic Studies, Inc boasts two Study Groups, each every other week, one on Relational Psychology, alternating Fridays with Self Psychology. For several years now I have been looking for places where the two psychologies happily marry. In the past month our discussion groups have seen the rocky courtship of Self and Relational psychology in the papers found in 2010 IJPSelfPsychology by Donna Orange with commentaries by Jessica Benjamin, Philip Ringstrom, and Malcolm Slavin.

It was Orange in Recognition as: Intersubjective Vulnerability in the Psychoanalytic Dialogue who first seems to misrecognize recognition by characterizing the relational usage of the term to mean “demand”ing that the patient deal with the subjectivity of the analyst. She writes that most of her patients who “come from families where they were excessively required to validate the parent’s experience...become adults excessively attuned to the needs of others...The last thing these patients need…is an analyst who is preoccupied with a therapeutic agenda to get patients to recognize her as a subject.” [I am under the impression that most relational therapists would see the capacity for intersubjectivity (to recognize an Other as a subject) as a result of treatment, not a requirement for treatment, and that Orange has overstated her characterization.] Orange goes on to advocate for the use of empathy [called mutual attunement these days by Self psychologists trying to find their way to a two-person psychology] to find our way into the patient’s predicament (Wittgenstein’s fly bottle) and to stay close to the patient’s experience in order to help the patient find a way out. Orange utilizes “close emotional attunement” to access the patient’s emotional experience “through verbal and nonverbal conversation where we establish and identify together the nature and rules of a particular language game [Wittgenstein]…” [what, I think, relational therapist would call negotiation] .

I was very pleased with Orange’s response to Ringstrom, Benjamin, and Slavin, for she humbly admits to her misrecognition. While I agree that the psychoanalytic endeavor strives to hoId the patient asymmetrically central, I still do not understand Orange’s Levinasian inclination to put herself below, instead of on par, with the patient. (She intimates throughout her writings that this is a personal relational template for her.) I also wonder why, when using Winnicottian ideas so often, Orange would place “destruction” outside her language game (perhaps she wants to safe guard from confusion her own term “world-collapsing”). And, moreover, why not become familiar with the language games of other schools, holding more lightly the theories of her own camp, and "stretching" toward pluralism?

Benjamin, I think, writes with a greater clarity than Orange, perhaps unencumbered with arabesques of philosophical side leaps, and explicates the usefulness of an analyst with her own subjectivity who “assumes a reality independent of the patient’s worrisome anxieties about having to be a caretaker for the analyst…[T]he analyst, being a subject in her own right, means she is the one who can take care of herself and regulate herself…” The patient is not re-traumatized by the “demand” to take care of and regulate, as the patient once did for the parent, the analyst.

Ringstrom wonders if Orange does not idealize [perhaps holding less than lightly] empathy (in much the same way classical analysts idealized anonymity, abstinence, and neutrality) because, when empathy fails, as it inevitably will, Orange does not offer alternative ways in, and out of, the fly bottle. Ringstrom offers an alternative: enactment. “Enactments allow access to self-states that are typically coded in implicit procedural memory…” Orange eschews Hegel [also a misrecognition, or being willfully obtuse, or merely a failure to enter Hegel’s language game?]: “…we should give up the search for the Hegelian self-conscious subject, with its implied demand for the other to re-cognize and create it.” And she eschews use of the term dialectic, preferring the term dialogic. Ringstrom, I think, describes a lovely dialectic that even intersubjective self psychologistslike Orange might recognize when he, using Benjamin’s inevitable negation, writes “assertions of self that take the other for granted (negation) often result in ruptures that force awareness (recognition) and often precipitate repair (mutual recognition).”

It is Slavin who stands easiest in the spaces between Self and Relational psychologies, balancing the tension between the two as he gives in his clinical example an elegant use of his subjectivity to meet the patient in her experiential world. His vignette describes how, in admitting his disinclination to be with the suffering of his patient, he paradoxically reaches the patient. Orange added her own vignette of a time when she, too, self disclosed her own failure to go into the fly bottle with her patient. She says about this disclosure, “I had given her what she needed to recognize me so that I could recognize her…” This, I think, is where Orange marries the relational subjectivity with self psychology’s empathy (neither the exclusive purview of the other, though often mischaracterized as if it were, as Orange did) and recognized that sometimes empathy allows us, consciously or unconsciously, to recognize that what the suffering other needs from us in this moment is our subjectivity.

Orange, D.M. (2010). Recognition as: Intersubjective Vulnerability in the Psyc... Int. J. Psychoanal. Self Psychol., 5:227-243.
Benjamin, J. (2010). Can We Recognize Each Other? Response to Donna Orange. Int. J. Psychoanal. Self Psychol., 5:244-256.
Ringstrom, P.A. (2010). Commentary on Donna Orange's, “Recognition as: Intersubjective Vulnerability in the Psychoanalytic Dialogue”
Int. J. Psychoanal. Self Psychol., 5:257-273.
Slavin, M.O. (2010). On Recognizing the Psychoanalytic Perspective of the Other... Int. J. Psychoanal. Self Psychol., 5:274-292.
Orange, D.M (2010). Revisiting Mutual Recognition: Responding to Ringstrom, B... Int. J. Psychoanal. Self Psychol., 5:293-306.

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