Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

Seeds of Illness, Seeds of recovery/Psychoanalysis as Therapy and Storytelling

Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

Seeds of Illness, Seeds of recovery/Psychoanalysis as Therapy and Storytelling

Article excerpt

Seeds of illness, seeds of recovery By Antonino Ferro Translated by Philip Slotkin New York: Brunner-Routledge 2002. 125 p.


Psychoanalysis as therapy and storytelling By Antonino Ferro Translated by Philip Slotkin London and New York: Routledge, 2006. 148 p. Reviewed by Irene Cairo, 5 West 86 Street Apt. 6A, New York, New York 10024 -

In suggesting a joint review of these two books by Antonino Ferro, the IJP implicitly recognizes the unitary nature of Ferro's work. Indeed, there is in each piece of Ferro's basic oeuvre a recognizable preoccupation, as evocative, and almost as recognizable, as the melodic theme that runs through a composer's piece, even as variations are played on it.

Ferro trained in Italy and early on, working as a child analyst, was interested in infantile mental development and in serious psychopathology. In an environment that gives an important place to the teaching of object relations in general, and to Kleinian thinking in particular, Ferro gravitated towards Bion's ideas for which he has become a major European voice. Such voice is enriched by many influences, notably, besides European authors, many important South American ones, most significantly, Madeleine and Willy Baranger. These two books-like The bipersonal field (1999) and In the analyst's consulting room (2002)-spring naturally from Ferro's clinical work, his elaboration of Bion's ideas, and the integration of these with the major contribution of the Barangers (1961-2), the idea of the 'psychoanalytic field'.

In each of these books, Ferro outlines Bion's basic theory of mind. In each there is ample illustration of his teachings, clinical instances, and examples of his style, technique and the use of the session. Yet, the experience of reading Ferro is a renewed excitement about his work and the clarity with which he describes it. Even when referring to ideas that have been presented by other authors, Ferro's descriptions are richly evocative for the clinician.

I want to highlight the spin he puts on theory, and then the clinical focus he so masterfully maintains. Although both vertices are present in his thinking, Ferro is not a representative of what in the United States is called an intersubjectivist, or of a relational analyst. Yet he maintains total clarity about both how there is no avoiding the acknowledgement of the subjective nature of the analyst's perspective, and how the process of analysis is a result of the relationship between analyst and analysand. Thus, Ferro of course dismisses any authoritarian approach to the clinical material. He maintains a clear focus on how the analyst is the expert of only the theory and the method. He acknowledges the asymmetry of the relationship as unavoidable, since one person is a sufferer, a fact that poses an enormous responsibility on the analyst. From his perspective, although there is clearly a suffering person, the patient, the process of psychoanalysis does not offer a 'cure'. The first thing psychoanalysis offers is, specifically, a relationship with another mind: whereas rooted on a profound understanding of the unconscious, Ferro's idea of the analytic process is that it is based on the transformative capacity of human relationships.

Following Bion's ideas, suffering and all psychopathology result from a failure of mental development. The processing of raw experiences in the infant mind requires from the beginning the mind of another (the mother). The raw experiences the infant cannot process will be metabolized by the mother's mind and thoughts. It is in the failures of that process that the full spectrum of psychopathology will result. In Bion's language, the raw experiences of the infant are β-elements which, through the reverie of the mind of the mother, will become 'α-elements', the building blocks of 'dream thought'.

Ferro speaks of the 'narrative derivatives' of Bion's waking dream thought. In a language that is attractive and relatively easy to understand-unlike many of Bion's complex and strange formulations-Ferro speaks of 'a protovisual film', the result of α-function (Seeds, p. …

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