Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

The Body of the Analyst and the Analytic Setting: Reflections on the Embodied Setting and the Symbiotic Transference

Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

The Body of the Analyst and the Analytic Setting: Reflections on the Embodied Setting and the Symbiotic Transference

Article excerpt

The analytic setting or frame1 is generally thought to include the establish- ment and maintenance of the physical setting and of the psychoanalytic contract, which includes negotiation of the time, frequency of sessions, use of the couch and money, and the role of the analyst (Bleger, 1967; Langs, 1998; Winnicott, 1956). Some analysts also include within this notion the delineation of 'the data of analysis', namely the patient's free associations (Busch, 1995) and the analytic attitude. Many would also include the ana- lyst's internal setting, that is, the setting as a structure in the mind of the analyst - "a psychic arena in which reality is defined by such concepts as symbolism, fantasy, transference, and unconscious meaning" (Parsons, 2007, p. 1444). Others still bring into the notion the analyst's theoretical leanings (Donnet, 2005). In this paper the term 'analytic setting' denotes both the pragmatic parameters and the analyst's internal setting as defined by Parsons (2007). It is this definition that provides the basis for the elabo- ration of the 'embodied setting'.

The function of the setting has been written about extensively. It has tra- ditionally been understood to be the essential 'background' that provides the necessary containment and stimulus for the gradual unfolding of the patient's transference. Within an object relational model one would add that it allows for the emergence of the unconscious phantasies that give the transference its dynamic specificity. Accordingly, the role of the analyst is to be the custodian of the setting. This requires that the analyst not only pays close attention to how the patient reacts to the setting (the unconscious phantasies and resistances it may generate), but also carefully monitors her own internal processes which can both facilitate (through free- floating attentiveness) or hinder (through the analyst's own resistances and 'blind spots') the unfolding of an analytic process.

The aim of this paper is not to review the vast literature on this subject; rather, I will restrict myself primarily to the seminal paper by Bleger (1967) whose conceptualization of the setting adds an important dimension because he highlights that we are always working with two settings: the one provided by the analyst and the one brought by the patient (what he called the 'meta-ego'). His ideas, I will suggest, are especially helpful in under- standing the particular way that patients who develop a symbiotic transfer- ence, and whose core primitive anxieties relate to non-differentiation from the object, need to relate to the analyst's body as an invariant part of the setting, as if it were part of the background and silent. For this kind of patient any sign of aliveness and separateness in the analyst's body heralds a catastrophe which cannot initially be reflected upon. I will illustrate these dynamics through my work with a patient - Ms A - who started three times weekly sessions on the couch for two years and then moved into a four times weekly analysis for a subsequent five and half years. I will focus on how Ms A first related to my body as a 'non-process' (Bleger, 1967) and only later as a dynamic feature which she could make use of to understand her need to fuse with the object in a destructive symbiotic tie.2

In this paper I am also taking the opportunity to initiate an exploration of whether there may be some merit in conceptualizing the body of the analyst as a part of the setting. I am using the term 'embodied setting' in two ways: (a) to denote the way that the analyst's physical appearance and presence - their sensoriality, if you like - provide an embodied form of containment such that changes at this level may mobilize particular anxieties and phanta- sies in the patient; and (b) to underline that the analyst's somatic counter- transference is an important cornerstone of her internal setting, that is, the analyst also uses the body's free associations to listen to the patient, not least as they may relate to the patient's 'embodied phantasies' (Bronstein, 2013). …

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