Tuesday, September 17, 2013

A new first year class commences

Some institutes start training with the historical beginning of psychoanalysis, but at TBIPS—because what is taught first is often best learned—we jump right in with the  contemporary view and bring Freudian, Kleinian, Kohutian and others’ concepts in as we go along, comparing and contrasting their contributions. A couple of useful papers we start with are from Aron (1991) and Hoffman (1983). From the get go we challenge the idea that the analyst is the arbiter of reality and distortion, that the analyst could possibly remain anonymous, and that transference emerges solely from the intrapsychic life of the analysand. In this way we can begin with a focus on the analyst’s personhood. We ask the candidate -student to inquire about her/his own subjectivity: Who are we and why did we choose this profession? By delineating contemporary and classical views on ideas such as transference, countertransference, and anonymity on day one we can from the beginning define and reconfigure the vocabulary we use to describe our professional experience.   

Aron juxtaposes classical concepts with contemporary ones. In teaching Aron’s paper in the beginning course Introduction to Psychoanalytic Concepts it is important for the students to place this paper in the historical context of the Freudian tripod of abstinence, neutrality, and anonymity, and of Freud’s technique of making what is unconscious conscious via interpretation. Classically, only the contents of the analysand’s mind were of interest (referred to as a one-person psychology), but as Aron notes, just as children are interested in the minds of their parents and in what their parents think of them, so, too, do analysands take an interest in their analysts’ minds and attitudes. What analysands fantasize, perceive, discern, or know implicitly about their analysts is also something important to make explicit as this information, too, reveals the mind of the analysand and facilitates the “inevitable and essential part of how patients begin to think more psychologically” (p. 36).  An important aspect of making the unconscious conscious is to bring into awareness and articulate the patient's denied observations, repressed fantasies, and unformulated experiences about the analyst. Transference acts not just as carrier of infantile wishes, and defenses against these wishes,  but patients also inevitably and persistently seek to know the minds of their analysts, not only because they want to turn the tables on their analysts defensively or angrily but also, like all people, because they want to and need to connect with others, including their analysts.

Subjectivity is a sense of one’s own agency, one’s self as the initiator of thought, the source of will and desire. The analyst’s subjectivity will greatly influence, both explicitly and implicitly, the work co-created by analyst and analysand. Just as patients can not entirely know themselves, neither are we the authority on the accuracy of our patients' perceptions of us. Just as patients learn about themselves from us, so we learn, often uncomfortably, about ourselves from patients. Both importantly inform the work we do together.

Hoffman’s paper more directly sets the historical context for us. Right away the question is posed: What is difference between classic and contemporary views? Re: transference, Hoffman notes the classical idea:
           unfounded ideas, … neurotic, intrapsychically determined fantasies about the therapist …a distortion of reality (p.392) 
and notes that transference can instead be seen as
              a selective attention to and sensitivity to certain facets of the analyst's highly ambiguous response to the patient in the  analysis. (p 409)
Likewise, Hoffman casts a new light on objectivity:
             "objectivity, " [is] the tendency which is inclined towards understanding more than enacting  (p 413; 414).
Hoffman notes the inevitable influence (dialectical, by the way) known implicitly by the analysand, that the analysand has on the analyst’s so called objectivity:
the analyst in the analytic situation is continuously having some sort of personal affective reaction that is a response to the patient's manner of relating to him. What is more, every patient knows that he is influencing the analyst's experience and that the freedom the analyst has to resist this influence is limited (p.411)
This is a lot for the beginning analyst to think about, but well worth her/his consideration.

Hoffman’s (1983) paper: The Patient as Interpreter of the Analyst's Experience. (Contemp. Psychoanal., 19:389 -422).

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