Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

The Analyst's Implicit Alpha-Function, Trauma and Enactment in the Analysis of Borderline Patients

Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

The Analyst's Implicit Alpha-Function, Trauma and Enactment in the Analysis of Borderline Patients

Article excerpt

The present paper discusses situations in which patient and analyst are involved in obstructive collusions, non-dreams-for-two, shaping enactments. Specifically, it describes explosions in the analytical field, acute enactments, which the analyst assigns, at first sight, to his faulty conduct. The subsequent amplification of the analytical dyad's capacity of symbolization makes the analyst investigate his presumed fault. The present work shows how acute enactments revive traumatic situations that were concealed by previous obstructive collusions, or chronic enactments. During chronic enactments unconscious exchanges occur between the dyad, in which the analyst provides implicit α-function to the patient, little by little recovering the traumatized parts. When there is enough recovery, the protective collusion is undone and the trauma is revived as acute enactment. This revival will not be traumatic because there are mental resources ready at hand to symbolize it. These situations are articulated with borderline patients. The patient clings to the analyst, using him as a protective shield against reality traumas. The implicit and explicit α-function exerted by the analyst contributes to the processing and symbolization of this reality, recovering the injured mind and elaborating the trauma. So the patient creates a triangular space to dream and think.

Keywords: alpha-function, analytical technique, borderline patient, dream, enactment, non-dream, reversible perspective, trauma, theory of thinking

The conditions under which psychoanalytic work takes place allow the patient to externalize, in the analytical field, mental states, phantasies, objects and internal object-relationships. This externalization takes up the form of affects, actions, scenes, plots and narratives. The manner in which this manifestation occurs discloses features of the mind's functioning. It is for this reason that, during the analytic process, the analyst gets in touch not only with the patient's internal world but also with his own thinking apparatus (Bion, 1962a).

The working of this apparatus manifests itself through a continuum that discloses the performance of the patient's α-function:

i. When the α-function is safeguarded it is possible to think, to bestow a psychic quality on non-mental facts (known as β-elements), which are thereby transformed into alpha elements. These elements manifest themselves, in a first instance, by means of predominantly visual images, the affective pictograms (Barros, 2000). The connections between those pictograms make up scenes and plots with a strong visual character, and, in a wider sense, are what we call dreams (both of wakefulness and sleep) (Bion, 1962b). These dreams are related and experienced in the analytic field. Before them, the analyst infers that he is in contact with the working of the non-psychotic part of the personality (Bion, 1957) capable of symbol formation. Dreams, as compromise formations, simultaneously disclose and conceal aspects of the internal world and of the mental functioning. They indicate, furthermore, how repression and other defences are constituted. The analyst is transferentially included in the patient's dream. The features of that inclusion reveal how reality is processed and the vicissitudes of the relationship between the internal and the external world.

Thus, as far as the non-psychotic functioning is concerned, the patient places his dream in the analytic field, stimulating the analytical ability of the analyst. The latter grasps, by means of his analytically trained intuition (Sapienza, 2001), aspects of the patient's dream which, although a part of the symbolic net of thought, were deformed or blocked by the defences. The analyst then re-dreams the dream, altering its circumstances, thus allowing the formation of new symbolic connections and amplifying their meanings. Analyst and patient get involved in a dream-for-two.

ii. When the patient's α-function is not available it is not possible to think of the world. …

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