Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

Clinical Theory at the Border(s): Emerging and Unintended Crossings in the Development of Clinical Theory

Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

Clinical Theory at the Border(s): Emerging and Unintended Crossings in the Development of Clinical Theory

Article excerpt

This paper is written in the spirit of trying to help psychoanalysts think more about emerging and unintended crossings in the development of clinical theory in a pluralistic psychoanalytic world. I will highlight how analysts are often unwittingly communicating about common clinical problems in conceptual frameworks and language that extend beyond his or her particular orientation. I will try to address some of the particular characteristics that may give rise in clinical situations to types of thinking that find resonance with a broad variety of analysts.

I explore clinical contributions that are written by analysts who are not putting on offer an intended link to other analytic approaches. Instead, I will draw attention to something that is emergent in the development of theory that is likely to involve an unwitting reach and unintended linking. Put another way, I have no stake in the question of whether we live in a productively pluralistic world or a 'mythically pluralistic' one (Green, 2005). I do, however, believe that, since particular analysts are reaching analysts outside his 'parent' theoretical framework, it is interesting to think about some emergent properties that these developments hold in common.

Given the breadth of theory being described here and some of these emergent trends in solving common clinical problems, it is necessary for me to emphasize that I am not proposing integrations of very separate and often incompatible clinical theories. I am, however, suggesting that we are able to learn from thinking about how we develop clinical theory, including very different types of theory.

In agreement with Canestri (2005) and as I have proposed earlier (Cooper, 2000, 2012), I do not consider different theories of internal object relations and conflict to be compatible at the level of clinical theory. However, in the work of individual practitioners, the relationship between theory and practice is not always as close as we may be taught, an idea suggested by Canestri (2005). This point was also emphasized much earlier by Sandler (1983) who noted that the analyst at work is in the process of creating constructions or partial constructions that account for the most useful possible ways to work with specific patients. Thus I would suggest that some clinical theory, borne of adaptations to working with specific patients, may be particularly amenable to linking with a broader array of analysts.

I am also describing emergent trends in how we read theories from outside our parent theory. Some of the theorists whom I describe in this paper are particularly usable and applicable to a broad swathe of analysts. The reason for this applicability probably relates to how these authors are gifted at articulating and formulating some common clinical problems in analytic work. How we read, transform, and utilize various technical suggestions and theoretical concepts is also related to the elasticity of the concepts themselves (Sandler, 1983).

It is likely that there are also even regional differences in how much we believe in the exercise of comparative psychoanalysis. For example, I have the sense that, in the United States, there has been an emergence of diverse models of psychoanalytic theory even focusing strictly on IPA-approved institutes. In turn, this multiplicity of models may make the exercise of comparative psychoanalysis a more necessary, more useful tool for developing our own theories of mind and technique as we develop as analysts.

The emergent theory to which I refer works at a different level of discourse than explicit attempts at comparative translation of psychoanalytic concepts. The latter was essentially the task of the early phases of comparative psychoanalysis and has been accomplished now for many years with regard to concepts such as object relations and drive (e.g. Greenberg and Mitchell, 1983; Sandler, 1983), defense (Cooper, 1989; Sandler, 1983), transference and countertransference (Kernberg, 1993); conflict (Hirsch, 1995), and epistemology (Mitchell, 1997; Schafer, 1983) among many other contributions. …

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