Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

Bion and Tustin: The Autistic Phenomena

Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

Bion and Tustin: The Autistic Phenomena

Article excerpt

This article examines the implications of the proposal of autistic transformations within the general context of Bion's theory of Transformations. The aim is to confirm the coherence of this proposal of autistic transformations within the overall structure of Bion's theory of Transformations. She examines the relation between emotional links and their negatives, particularly -K. She questions in which of the dimensions of the mind the autistic phenomena are located, the relation between autistic phenomena and beta elements, and where to place them in the Grid.

The author tries to form metapsychological support for the incorporation of the autistic area in Bion's theory of Transformations. She argues that, despite the incongruence and imprecision of this incorporation, such autistic phenomena cannot be excluded from the complexus of the human mind and should therefore be accounted for in Bion's transformations. She discusses the idea that the theory of transformations includes the field of the neurosis and psychosis and deals with emotions, whereas the autistic area is dominated by sensations. The author asks how to add the autistic area to Bion's theory. Clinical material of a child for whom the non-psychotic part of the personality predominates and who presents autistic nuclei provides material for the discussion.

Keywords: autistic phenomena, autistic transformations, Bion's theory, beta elements, emotional links, exist and not exist

The complexity of the relation order/disorder/organization arises when one empirically verifies that the disordered phenomena are necessary in certain conditions, in certain cases, to produce organized phenomena, which contribute to the increase in order.

(Morin, 1990, p. 85)


From my clinical practice, my interest has focused on the investigation of the specific way in which some patients, who are particularly sensitive to the experience of bodily separation between self and object, organize themselves psychically. Each patient, independent of his degree of commitment, will organize himself within his own defensive system, according to his greater or lesser capacity to tolerate mental pain. When mental pain is extreme, patients will use equally extreme protections (Mitrani, 2001) as a way of avoiding unbearable experiences of non-integration and disintegration.

Some individuals experience the separation between self and object in such an abrupt way that they need to develop powerful protective maneuvers as a way of maintaining a sense of bodily continuity with the object and thus achieve a state of internal cohesion. For Tustin, the way the individual handles the awareness of bodily separation from the object is the core of all human existence, and it is this experience that will determine the development of his whole personality. She mentions that since birth there are "fluctuating states of consciousness" of bodily separation from the object, and that these states constitute the foundation of the mental states through life (Tustin, 1981, 1986).

It is in this area that the singularity of the psychic organization of each individual is delineated. If we think about these modes of organization in terms of a gradation we will find in one extreme thinking, knowledge and areas of symbolization and, at the opposite end, a range of possibilities of mental functions that oscillate from areas of projective identification and areas of hallucinosis, to autistic areas.

For me, the analytical work with neurotic patients with autistic nuclei has been a constant challenge due to the immense complexity that these phenomena encompass. This challenge is largely due to the dissonance that is created between the functioning of the analyst's mind and that of the patient.

In my clinical work, I have adopted Bion's theory, in particular his idea that the field of the analyst's work is that of learning from emotional experiences, and Transformations is a method of observation of the mental phenomenon in this field. …

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