Incarnation, Crucifixion, and Resurrection in Psychoanalytic Thought1

By Hoffman, Marie T. | Journal of Psychology and Christianity, Summer 2010 | Go to article overview

Incarnation, Crucifixion, and Resurrection in Psychoanalytic Thought1


Hoffman, Marie T., Journal of Psychology and Christianity


The author reviews the uses of the construct "enactment" in the literature of family therapy, group therapy and psychoanalysis. She focuses on the current utilization of enactment in psychoanalytic theory and practice, giving particular attention to neuroscientific contributions to current understanding of enactment. The clinical case verbatim is then explicated by delineating the discrete but inter-connecting movements of incarnation, crucifixion and resurrection in the psychoanalytic therapeutic technique of working with enactments. These movements are individually examined to amplify the incarnation of the analyst/therapist who bears the patient's suffering, suffers in the place of the patient, survives this suffering, and "resurrects" as a new good father to the patient.

The accommodations were meager at best: a baby crib in the former granary, and our bed in the converted barn stalls. But the company was priceless. This describes the months in 1979 that we spent in the hamlet of Huemoz, the Swiss Alp hideaway of Francis and Edith Schaeffer called l'Abri. We fled there as immigrants from a famine of the soul that had left us despairing of the reality of Christian faith.

I will never forget the day that sitting in Farei house, that simple wood chapel that looked up to the snow-capped Dents du Midi, we heard for the first time the words to what is now my dearest hymn. Perhaps 100 of us seeking, wounded and despairing, 20-somethings uttered these profound words in the hope that the God who is there would possibly see and hear and respond:

My song is love unknown, my Savior's love to me. Love to the loveless shown that they might lovely be. Oh who am I that for my sake My Lord would take frail flesh and die.

And as we sang our songs and ate our meals and heard our talks, we saw that love incarnated and extended over and over. It was this enacted love, first of our heavenly Father, but then of His children, that re-dug the deep wells which fundamentalism had stopped up, the wells that had become filled with words and more words, and principle upon principle, that brought knowledge but not life.

The love of that Savior of whom we sang moved Him from being merely a hope, a wished for object encoded in the written words of the Old Testament prophets, to becoming incarnated as the Living Word to dwell among us. Why was Old Testament revelation not enough? Why was our learning truth not enough? Why is simply delivering cognitive principles many times insufficient for interrupting the passing on of the sins of the fathers and mothers to the children, as Jeff Terrell (2007) has suggested? These questions bring us to the heart of our symposium today and the answer to each of these questions surprisingly comes from psychology backed by neuroscience. Incarnation, not just instruction, was needed to break the bonds that shackled humankind. Similarly, in psychotherapy, incarnation in the form of "enactment" of relational configurations, is needed for the breaking of old object ties, and the experiencing of a new creation.

Understanding Enactment in Early literature2

In Family Therapy

Salvador Minuchin, structural family therapy theorist, described enactment as the technique by which the therapist asks the family to "dance in his presence" (1974). The family is encouraged to play out in the therapeutic setting the patterns that normally occur outside of the office :

The enactments that are set in motion at the behest of the family therapist are, initially isomorphic to and simulative of the normative family patterns. These simulations can be for purposes of assessment or for making obvious to the family what their normative patterns are, especially when the family therapist directs their attention to them. However, enactment's major use is the alteration of these simulated patterns (Seeman & Weiner, 1985, p. 145).

Other family therapists such as Virginia Satir, Jay Haley and Ross Speck regarded role-playing as a form of enactment.

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