Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Revisiting the Classics of Countertransference and Free Association

As far as I know Heimann was the first to expand countertransference from “transference on the part of the analyst” to include “all the feelings which the analyst experiences towards his patient.” She noted that feelings for another can be both transference feelings and “refer to another person in his own right and not as a parent substitute,” that is, “not everything a patient feels about his analyst is due to transference.” Moreover, Heimann noted, this countertransference was not to be eschewed, but to be used as an important tool to understanding the patient’s unconscious, stating that the analyst’s feelings in response to the patient are “the most dynamic way in which the patient’s voice reaches” the analyst. She evoked Freud and contemporary analyst when she wrote “the analyst’s unconscious understands that of his patient.” Heimann also stressed that the analytic situation is “a relationship between two persons.” [her italics]

Even if contemporary analysts then part ways with Heimann— who interpreted the psychological world through drive and defense and the structural theory, did not see enactments as inevitable, and may have over interpreted the transference and underemphasized attachment needs— we laud her relational use of countertransference and her intimation of its co-creation –here I give the benefit of the doubt that she could not help but see what came from the patient and was received by the analyst was a co-creation though she does not insert the ‘co’: “the analyst's counter-transference is not only part and parcel of the analytic relationship, but it is the patient's creation.”

Forty years later, Aron notes how psychoanalysis, as contemporarily practiced, often neglects the free association method. The classical technique of free association, unlinked from drive and defense and  updated  by a two-person psychology, remains useful, he writes, to avoid the pitfalls of the analyst’s being overly self referential as to transference and projective identification. While Heimann noted that the patient contributes to the analyst’s countertransference, likewise, in its converse, Aron notes, the analyst contributes to the free association of the patient. Aron does not, however, advocate an a priori bias toward interpreting implicit transference resistance nor toward interpreting the interactional impact of the analyst, but says that the analyst must follow the patient’s lead (associations) in deciding when and how to intervene. He concludes with : “The[free association] method presupposes that all that the patient says can be meaningfully tied together and shown to belong to a continuum of psychic life…”

Aron, .L. (1990). Free Association and Changing Models of Mind. J. Amer. Acad. Psychoanal., 18:439-459.

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