Battling the Life and Death Forces of Sadomasochism; Clinical Perspectives

By Banbury, Samantha Anne; Charlton, Megan | Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality, Annual 2014 | Go to article overview

Battling the Life and Death Forces of Sadomasochism; Clinical Perspectives


Banbury, Samantha Anne, Charlton, Megan, Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality


Battling the Life and Death Forces of Sadomasochism; Clinical Perspectives

Harriet I. Basseches, Paula L. Ellman, and Nancy R. Goodman

CIPS series on the boundaries of psychoanalysis, KARNAC Books Ltd, London, 2013, 294 pages. Paper Back. [pound sterling]26.99 (paperback)

This book presents a beautifully descriptive psychoanalytic account of the clinical boundaries and the life and death forces involved in sadomasochism. The text eloquently examines four patient cases providing detailed insight into the unconscious collision between transference and countertransference forces. Transference refers to unconscious feelings being directed from the patient to the therapist. Conversely, counter-transference refers to the re-directed unconscious feelings from the therapist to the patient (Etchegoyen, 2005; Freud, 1960; Kapelovitz, 1987). The authors are psychoanalysts from varying schools of thought and collaboratively provide an illustrative and intuitive means of guiding such driving forces involved in the therapeutic arena. The authors refer to psychic sadomasochism, a term used to describe sadomasochistic relationship images in the psyche which are enacted onto others, including the analyst, within the therapeutic arena. The authors stress that: "Most of these patients do not overtly enact sexual sadomasochistic scenes" (Basseches, Ellman & Goodman, 2013, p. 5). Therefore, this does not refer to the consensual giving and/or receiving of sexual pleasure in the context of enacting out pain and/or erotic humiliation. The understanding of how the psychic sadomasochistic communication unfolds during the analytic process has been acquired via the authors' extensive clinical experience as presented in the clinical case studies.

This book is part of the CIPS Book Series on the Boundaries of Psychoanalysis. The book aims to expand the reader's understanding of psychic sadomasochism by using varying theoretical perspectives following each of the case examples; indeed, each of the presenting four cases is followed by three case discussions. This is both an intriguing and captivating means of drawing the reader into the fascinating world of human pathology. Such patient descriptions prompt an array of emotions and possibly even that of relatedness amongst readers. For example: "The analysis seems impossible. In our study group we came to identify as sadomasochism the hold these patients were having on us and our analysing capacities. Each of us felt tempted by despair. Were we incompetent, or were our patients unanalysable?" (Basseches et al., 2013, p. 3).

The book is clearly outlined and well structured. It commences with an introduction to psychic sadomasochism in the clinical realm and the intersecting forces and development of psychic sadomasochism. This is followed by descriptions of the case studies and subsequent discussion of each one. All presenting cases are very well detailed and provide a means of applying the conceptual aspects of psychic sadomasochism into an understandable clinical context. Further the presenting cases include a component of the transcript embellishing the case descriptions. Whilst a heavy read, these descriptions are essential; indeed, their absence would have resulted in the provision of a superficial overview. Despite varied contributions being made, it is evident that the descriptions provided have an element of unity, and hence overlapping congruent themes depicting the therapeutic psychic sadomasochistic forces involved. The descriptions are captivating and encourage the reader to further explore the sometimes subconscious torment of the patient, analyst and even the reader. Arguably, the intertwined psychic sadomasochistic elements involved in transference and counter-transference reaches beyond the written text and highlights the vulnerabilities of the therapist. Each chapter has a wide range of references and are cited very clearly.

In chapter 3, which is entitled, "Sadomasochism in work and play with Diane" (p. …

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