Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

Response

Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

Response

Article excerpt

I believe that Vic Sedlak is correct in asserting that there is a distinction between intersubjectivity as it is understood in some psychoanalytic literature (usual in his cultural context) and the idea as it appears in relational analysis (which may indeed be radical but is common in North America). The idea that the data and the relationship between analyst and patient are co-created means something different in each context, and we define this difference differently. In order to address the clinical manifestations it seems wise to clarify the very different assumptions at work.

I should start with Sedlak's statement that (1) what defines the intersubjective approach is the necessity of using our own personality subjectivity to understand the patient, and (2) that it is an unfortunate fact that we have no other means, or measuring instrument to judge meaning and emotional quality, so we must make the best of a bad job. My view, by contrast (see Benjamin, 2005) is developmental and postulates that (1) intersubjectivity is constituted by the fact that from the beginning of life we depend on creating patterns of mutual regulation and recognition with the other in order to develop. Experiencing and understanding together these patterns and failures associated with them form the heart of our work. (2) Since recognition of intentions and feelings of one by another are the crucial building blocks of attachment and all subsequent personal engagement, it is not a "bad job" that we use ourselves in analysis. Rather it is the essence of psychic life and determining for psychoanalysis that one subject needs to be known by another like subject.

Neither fortunate nor unfortunate this condition of psychic life is (as we used to joke about gravity) 'not just a good idea, it's the law'. The idea of the moral third relates not to morality as commonly understood but the idea that patterns of engagement are necessary to human interaction, and when things go well create the sense of a lawful world in which intentions are recognized and ruptures in expectation are acknowledged. Acknowledgment means that even when individuals fail somewhat in satisfying or recognizing the other, the lawful quality of experience is upheld. This makes attachment positive rather than a source of terrible pain and anxiety.

Since this dependency of one subject on another can readily have such painful outcomes, and has often been a very bad job for those who seek our help, the felt need to be held and reflected in the other's mind of another subject (rather than an objective presence) can be scary or painful. Still, being a subject for them is the only way to meet this need and not simply the only way to measure or understand. The reparative opportunity of analysis is not merely acquiring insight but doing so within an experience of being held in mind by another equivalent center of subjective feeling. This intersubjective experience is essential to secure attachment and frees up a person's development of reflection as well as providing a basis for overcoming traumatic or painful injuries that block engagement (Bucci, 2008). The psychoanalytic process requires a safe but enlivening encounter with the other's subjectivity in which both sides can have impact and be recognized, albeit in very different ways.

This view of intersubjective relatedness as a goal does also affect our view of enactments. We relational analysts do of course recognize unconscious mutual influence, and the "thing" (what I call the third or pattern of engagement) that results from "the outcome of two personalities meeting" but we do not restrict our sense of the engagement or the meaning of enactments to this notion. We have sought a way to transform the psychoanalytic thinking regarding enactments not only because we recognize the unconscious role of the analyst but because we believe that dissociated traumatic material and painful affect can usually be activated only within such relational enactments (Bucci, 2008). …

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