Semiotic Transformations in Psychoanalysis with Infants and Adults

By Salomonsson, Björn | International Journal of Psychoanalysis, October 2007 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Semiotic Transformations in Psychoanalysis with Infants and Adults

Salomonsson, Björn, International Journal of Psychoanalysis

The author addresses issues that emerge when we compare psychoanalytic experiences with adults and with infants. Two analyses-one with a 35 year-old woman and one with a 2 week-old boy and his mother-illustrate that infant psychoanalytic experiences help us understand and handle adult transference. However, we cannot extrapolate infant experiences to adult work. Truly, witnessing the baby's communication widens our sensitivity to non-verbal layers of the adult's communication. Infant work also offers a direct encounter with the container and the contained personified by a mother with her baby. But we need to conceptualize carefully the links between clinical experiences with babies and adults. When we call an adult transference pattern 'infantile', we imply that primeval experience has been transformed into present behaviour. However, if we view the analytical situation as one in which infantile invariants have transformed into adult symptoms, we face the impossible task of indicating the roots of the present symptoms. The author rather suggests that what is transformed is not an invariant infantile essence but signs denoting the patient's inner reality. He proposes we define transformation as a semiotic process instead of building it on an essentialist grounding. If we view the analytic situation as a map of signs that we translate during our psychoanalytic work, we can proceed into defining containment as a semiotic process. This idea will be linked with a conceptualization of the mother-infant relation in semiotic terms.

Keywords: semiotic transformation, adult/infant psychoanalysis comparison, psychoanalysis of mother and infant, Bion, Kant, infant research

The reason why our cognitive theories frequently run into trouble could be due to the fact that we are inexorably embedded in a primal cognitive basis in which experiences escape from the limits imposed by words.

(Corradi Fiumara, 1995, p. 65)


Monica, an analysand of 35, bursts out on the couch, 'I can't bear it! Now I'm here again, it's terrible. Oh, God! I would do anything to come to my session, but when I'm here I can't stand it. Ahhh ... we really have a problem'. Her legs sway from side to side as she brushes her forehead and moans. There is panic and total frustration. It is hard for me, her analyst, to watch her suffering. I interpret her resentment for my having abandoned her since our last session, and her bewildered and bitter feelings when we meet again. She reacts with indifference. I convey the image of a baby who has been longing for her mother and now is screaming and moving in panic. She replies, 'That baby thing doesn't tell me anything!' I feel helpless and annoyed, as if I am to witness her shakes and sighs and yet be declared unable to help.

A year and a half into Monica's treatment, I start psychoanalysis with 2 week-old Nicholas and his mother Theresa. She had visited a baby clinic because of a wound on the nipple. It soon healed but the nurse, seeing her crying, recommended that she contact me. Theresa tells me she does not know if she wants to be a mother. She is constantly worried that Nicholas might get injured. She seems trapped, angry and desperate. Evidently, she also has warm and loving feelings for her son. While sucking the breast, Nicholas jerks and tosses his head as if shunning the nipple. He sucks it in entirely, rather than rhythmically working it. To see Theresa's anguished face while Nicholas fusses is poignant and alarming. Something must be done quickly or else their relation may get stuck in mutual resentment.

The line of argument in my paper is this: first I will show how infant work can inspire us to focus on primitive aspects of the personality of the analysand, regardless of age. It also helps us become aware of how we interact with the adult patient. Thus, Nicholas and his mother inspired my change of technique with Monica. Then my trajectory will change direction.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Semiotic Transformations in Psychoanalysis with Infants and Adults


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?