Monday, April 27, 2015

Conference on Countertransference and Ethics

An erotic transference can stir up anxiety in the analyst. I recently had opportunity to view a teaching film in which a male analyst is asked by a female client whether or not he is attracted to her. 

She begins the session modeling her new dress. The analyst says she must be going somewhere [after]. She sits and looks glum. The analyst asks her ‘what’s the matter?’ She says she had felt so foolish because she had gotten “no response” from him upon revealing in their previous session that she had a “crush” on the analyst. He disagrees that she should feel foolish [attacking her point of view/ the validity of her experience] and she reiterates that she indeed felt foolish. Again he disagrees and tells her that her revelation took courage. The client again complains that the analyst had said nothing about how he felt about her. The analyst gives an explanation about the asymmetry of the therapeutic relationship.The client persists in saying she felt stupid because the analyst did not speak to his feelings about her. He empathizes with her difficulty [saying nothing about his own]. He does state a dilemma: if he tells her he is not attracted to her she will be devastated and feel more like the fool; If he says he is attracted to her, the atmosphere will shift and she will feel less safe to say what she feels [He apparently does not consider the possibility that his honesty might model and engender further honesty from her]. The client stated again [third or fourth time, by now] that she still wanted to know if he finds her attractive.The analyst complains that what he is saying is being ignored. The client persists, “Am I attractive?” and the analyst complains he is being steamrolled in the way that her previous boyfriends have complained she tried to control them and dismissed their POV.  The client persists, wanting an answer to the question asked at the beginning of the session. The analyst [in an attempt to force mentalization, I think] accuses the client of not caring what he feels. The client says the analyst is being “stubborn” by not answering “a simple question.” The analyst says the client does not want him to be her therapist. She denies this and becomes tearful as she complains that he will not do what she wants. The analyst seizes this opportunity to tell her she wants to control men. The client acquiesces [or has insight?] and says she does not know why [controlling men] is so important to her.  The analyst tells her that she fantasizes if she can control men then they won’t leave her. Hanging her head, moving her tongue side to side pressing the insides of her cheeks, she says she can see that. The analyst adds that her father, asserting his independence, left her and her mom, so the client repeats the same thing over and over not getting the outcome she wants [you know, the definition of stupidity]. The client says she sees, but does not like it.

If an analyst’s anxiety can be measured by how much he/she talks and/or intellectualizes, the audience was certainly privy to the anxiety of this analyst in the video who talked significantly more than his patient did and who intellectualized with her instead of speaking to the affective relationship in the room. The audience was divided in their response, some seeing the analyst as deflecting, using ‘neutrality’ and abstinence and accusation [interpretation] as a shield; some seeing the analyst as handling the transference perfectly appropriately and using interpretation to impart insight. In this situation, I, too, have been made anxious. It is difficult for the analyst to stay empathically immersed (as Geist was able to in his 2009 paper on mutually constructed boundaries) when faced with confusion about the best way to proceed. How do we validate the client’s POV and still have a differing one conveyed? How do we speak to the emotions in the room present in both therapist and client and still keep open the potential space [instead of foreclosing space by reifying through action]?  Certainly I have failed multiple times in this regard. What is missing in the therapeutic relationship in the consulting room that the client, or analyst, is willing to throw it over in favor of something else? How do client and therapist alike speak to and mourn what cannot be, and still remain in relationship? Analysis, in addition to everything else it is, after all, is also simply 'two people in a relationship.'

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Frankenstein's Monster

Alternately titled Modern Prometheus, we are led to think that Dr. Frankenstein wished to rival the gods (or women) by creating life. For a woman in 1817 to write a masterpiece was not simply unusual, it was considered, like Prometheus' stealing of fire, an act of hubris. But more than hubris, Frankenstein is a story about attachment and the longing for restoration of lost relationship.

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, the author of Frankenstein (1818, 1831), lost her own mother at only eleven days old from complications (infection) of childbirth. Her parents had hoped for a boy. Childbirth was perilous in Shelly's day. Shelley herself, as a teen, lost her first child within days of her daughter's premature birth. Her second, named after her father, and third child, also died very young. Shelley experienced multiple miscarriages and only one son lived to adulthood. Shelley was a widow by age 25.

Did Mary grow up believing she had killed her mother? That her mother had abandoned her because Mary was an unlovable monster just as Dr. Frankenstein abandoned his creation at its birth? It is immensely plausible to speculate that a small child would wish for restoration of the lost mother. Not only had Shelley lost her mother, so does Victor Frankenstein, and his bride, as did Shelley's husband Percy, upon whom Victor was partially modeled. Shelley, who dedicated the book to her father, might have wished as well for reparation with him for he had cut off all ties with her when she ran way with the already married Percy. 

Victor, unseen or misrecognized by his parents, misrecognizes his creation. Dr. Frankenstein's monster becomes the Brombergian 'not-me': the loss, the envy, the rage of the abandoned child, and it vengefully and relentlessly pursues its creator-mother just as Mary, as a child, spent countless hours at her mother's grave (and it was there that she and Percy fell in love). 

A child learns to see itself first in its mothers face, her gaze, her mind, and learns to regulate its emotions from its mother's lending of soothing and containment of distressing emotions and sensations. 

Frankenstein's creation had none of these advantages, a monstrous child, indeed, left to long ragefully for connection. 

Film with Boris Karloff shown today at 200pm.