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The New Analyst's Guide to the Galaxy: Questions about Contemporary Psychoanalysis

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This book consists of a dialogue between a young psychoanalyst, Luca Nicoli, and a renowned teaching analyst, Antonino Ferro. It touches upon many of the key areas of contemporary psychoanalysis: setting, technique, theory, as well as post-Bionian models and the 'BFT' - the famous Bionian Field Theory devised by Ferro.Using a friendly informal style, Ferro and his colleague Nicoli challenge the certainties of orthodoxy, leading the discourse toward the unknown and the as yet undiscovered. Both young and experienced analysts will find not only practical advice in this book, but also challenges to their own theoretical and emotional assumptions in the unexplored, ever-changing encounter with the patient. Reading this guide is guaranteed to make them reassess their working methods.

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Chapter One: Identity

ePub

CHAPTER ONE

Identity

This book is meant to be a self-defence handbook for new, usually young, analysts. What do new analysts have to defend themselves from?

To begin with, I believe that young analysts should defend their opportunity to be young. A few days ago I was reading about an Italian colleague who, in reference to an analyst of sixty-two years, maintained that he had better respect the views of older analysts rather than engage in polemics with them. So an analyst of sixty-two years is still considered a young analyst.

I would hope that young analysts will be, in a matter of not too much time, thirty or thirty-five. That is, that the professional age of the members of psychoanalytic associations can be aligned with their actual age, whereas now there is a twenty, thirty years “bonus” of sorts, so that a young associate is sixty-two years old, a young ordinary is sixty-five, and so on.

And this is a relevant first point. But I'd wager there's more…

 

Chapter Two: The Rules of the Game

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CHAPTER TWO

The rules of the game

While we are on the subject of games, the first thing you do when you begin playing is to establish some rules, without which the game is something else. So we start by fixing the rules that constitute our setting. The British once did five sessions a week. In Europe one generally travelled “by car”, on four wheels. In France they have the tricycle…

…or the sidecar.

Or the sidecar. New analysts and many therapists have, when things go well, a motor scooter, when things go badly a push scooter. On this subject, some say that anything less than three sessions per week is not analysis, because the method of free association loses its meaning in a low frequency relationship. Moreover you mentioned among the analyst's tools the deconstruction of actual speech; to what extent does doing this kind of transformation remain viable in a low frequency analysis—that we might even call psychoanalytic psychotherapy? These are situations in which external reality is knocking very loudly on the door.

 

Chapter Three: Beginnings

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CHAPTER THREE

Beginnings

And now let us leave the accountant to get back to the office and meet our patient for the first time. The first interview. At the start of training it was quite clear to me that the consultation interviews were the easiest part of the job. In Italy, psychologists that are not specialised psychotherapists can legally do them, and oftentimes interns and trainees do the first interviews in public healthcare. Even in the analytic literature that I studied the books talk about an initial phase, which should be short enough, that comes before the transference neurosis.

Do we still believe in transference neurosis?

I'm just telling you what I read: relata refero!1 And here I thought this was going to be the easy part, while the stormy one was supposed to come later. By dint of losing patients I learned firsthand that the first interview is actually central. And I think that, in particular, analysis with teenagers helped us to leave behind the idea of these two, maximum three interviews, and to take our time, at last achieving in due time the construction of the setting. How could we rethink these first interviews? The part that comes before the constitution, the construction of the constitution.

 

Chapter Four: Matters of Theory

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CHAPTER FOUR

Matters of theory

We are talking about the relationship between analytic neutrality and what I would call analytic naturalness. In classical theory, the analyst traditionally acts neutrally, like a mirror in which the patient can see himself reflected with his transferential demands, projections, conflicts. That being the case, anything we add, our metaphors, our acts of encouragement, our very person, becomes an extra variable that jeopardises the balance of the system, an expropriation of sorts of the patient's space. Things have changed radically since the coming of various relational models. Now, what merit can we give to analytic neutrality, and how can we rethink analytic neutrality so that it remains a useful tool as opposed to something obsolete?

I just find the concept of analytic neutrality ridiculous. It would be like envisioning self-fertilisation. It's like saying that we want to conceive a child just by making eye contact. No, you have to “get dirty” elsewhere. I find that the idea of two people being together in a neutral way is ridiculous, it's just impossible. If we envision the mirror-analyst, it's like having a mirror blocking the entrance to a garage; you drive there to park your car inside it, but where are you supposed to park your car, if there is no space beyond the mirror?

 

Chapter Five: The Road from Freud to Bion

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CHAPTER FIVE

The road from Freud to Bion

Some time ago I formed the idea that many analysts, in their professional history, retrace the history of psychoanalysis. Ontogeny retracing phylogeny. They begin by acknowledging the patient's crucial need to understand: I have to understand the patient and help him do the same. So insight, “analysis with the Ego” as Bolognini (1991) would call it, and the role of historical reconstruction are fundamental. Later on, the scales begin to tilt towards other aspects: the patient's need to feel he's being understood, and thus the focus shifts to Winnicott's holding (1960), Bion's at-one-ment and negative capability (1970), and analysis with the Self (Bolognini, 1991). Of course things aren't always so clear-cut, and maybe what I'm recounting is just my personal journey, but I think it's important for new analysts to think about the therapeutic value of the quality of listening.

What if we skipped the first part and started from the last?

 

Chapter Six: Travelling Light

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CHAPTER SIX

Travelling light

So, since we have to travel a long way, and most importantly with a light luggage, let's at least try to choose it carefully. In our articles there are a few successful concepts that, by dint of being used a lot, end up being used all the time. Sometimes they become master keys that can open any door. The concept of reverie, so poetic and evocative, lends itself to this fate. “And then I had a reverie!”, as if it was an epiphany. What is it exactly?

I would start from what Grotstein says when he explains that the concept comes from Bion, but then spread like wildfire across all conceptualisations of psychoanalysis, so it is one of those umbrella concepts that after a while could mean everything and its opposite, sort of like the term “projective identification”, so we can't understand each other. I would favour an extremely restrictive use of the concept. Let's first try to describe it clinically, then let's see its theoretical origin. Clinically I think it is when in the mind of an analyst, in the consulting room—we're retreading what we said about the analyst only existing when he also has a patient in a setting—an image presents itself insistently and annoyingly. These are the two important features: insistent and grating. It is something that at first disturbs the analyst: he wonders why it crosses his mind, he tries to get rid of it because it's annoying, because it interferes with that state of mind in which one is ready to listen, with a receptive state, it is something that really imposes itself on the analyst. And this image that imposes itself is usually something that has to do with the analytic situation in which one finds himself. Let's take a very simple example, which I have already discussed elsewhere: while I was with a patient, at some point the image of a sailing ship, one of those miniature ones inside a bottle, started coming to my mind—or to impose itself, I would say. I tried driving this image out because it was disturbing until, after the second and then the third time it returned to my mind, I resigned myself: “Oh well, I cannot drive it away, this image, surely it must mean something.” Here, only when I accepted this, was I able to reflect on it; it seemed clear to me that this image was a picture of a situation experienced within the analysis and that it basically depicted a situation of impasse. In a situation where there is a sailing ship inside a bottle you do not travel. It represented one of those situations pictured by Conrad,1 when he described the situation in which the ship finds itself when there is no wind, motionless in a state of dead calm, without going anywhere. Reflecting on that image, something that I did not previously know became clear to me, that is, that I had not realised we actually were in a stalemate in the analytic situation, we were in a situation of impasse. This is very different from the metaphor, in the sense that the metaphor is when I use an image of something of which I am aware, the better to share it with the patient. For example, if I have realised that in this analysis we are in a situation of impasse, I can use a metaphor: “It seems to me that our situation resembles that described by Conrad, when the ship is adrift and there is no wind,” so I use a metaphor to share and spin into a narrative a metaphorical image of which I am already aware.

 

Chapter Seven: The Analytic Field

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CHAPTER SEVEN

The analytic field

One of the most controversial issues in contemporary psychoanalysis is plurality of languages and of psychoanalytic models. Our readers will be geographically and theoretically rather heterogeneous too. Before talking about the model that you are personally working on, would you tell us what you think about the plurality of voices in psychoanalysis?

I think it would not make sense to have a single model in psychoanalysis: we have many, we all know what they are, and I think it is an asset for everybody that each has his own with which to debate with others. I think that this debate is a great asset. In this regard I think I found a fairly simple key to quickly identify which internal model our interlocutor has, and that is to observe how the characters that this analyst speaks about are considered. Characters might be seen as actual people, real, living, in the flesh, and here we are in a more traditional model; they might be considered as internal characters, inhabitants of the internal world of the patient, and here we are in a typically more relational or Kleinian model; they might be understood as affective holograms, as functions of two minds, as those actors who allow us to share a dream within the session, and here we are in the wake of the field model in its various theoretical formulations.

 

Chapter Eight: Technical Issues

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CHAPTER EIGHT

Technical issues

You're talking about the artist's touch, instinct, a bit of nose. How much do you have to think before speaking in analysis, if you are an analyst?

Well, if you are the patient it is instantaneous: you just speak. Being the patient is much easier. The patient does not know what he's doing. Ideally we should have an analyst who is like the patient, who can speak and say what his heart suggests to him, or what his rhinencephalon suggests to him, or what emotion suggests to him, but I think those are acts of virtuosity that happen in one session per year.

Indeed, the analyst should at least in small part be oriented to resort even to the so-called negative capability, that ability to know how to wait in order to understand, introducing the minimum number of characters needed to move the story a little forward. It's like shooting a film of an American highway running straight through the desert; a few hours after the car stopped in the middle of the desert, an analyst might introduce a donkey, another introduces a cow, another introduces a gas station. The session has to be dressed, even with the introduction of characters that will then allow the expansion, the development of something. And one thing I would highlight is how all of this serves to allow things of which we are not aware to come out. That is, our point of interest is always that which is not yet known, which is unconscious, or which will be built with the unconscious, though the term unconscious is one of those words which, despite having been abused, we will have to use, I think, for many decades yet. I hope that in a few decades we will find an even more suggestive, stronger word; however, today and surely tomorrow, and for the next five years, I think we will have to be the masters of the unconscious, or of the unconscious’ formation. That is not a word, a concept of which we can get rid, whether it is meant in one way or the other, accounting for the fact that Freud interprets it in one way, Klein in another way, Bion in a completely different way still; let's just say that it is a cursed area that is relevant to us.

 

Chapter Nine: Dreaming

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CHAPTER NINE

Dreaming

And so we get to the dream, at last. Freud—and on this we agree—taught us that the dream plays an important role in our internal world. Today, for every ten analysts, you will find eleven different ways to interpret dreams. The dream depicts the patient's internal world, signals his unconscious desires, his way of relating with others, represents his relationship with the analyst, or the analysis phase he is going through. It gives shape to that which cannot be represented.

In this maze, it seems that contemporary psychoanalysis is shifting the focus from the latent content of the dream to the manifest content. Indeed, the widely held habit of asking associations to the dream is currently being questioned. Is there “work in progress” along the Royal Road to the unconscious?

Since we have to start from the past to understand Ogden I would like to mention Calderón de la Barca's Life is a Dream. I would say that the whole analytic session is a dream, because a session of analysis moves from the assumption—as Aldo Costa, Francesco Corrao's first pupil, who should not be forgotten, said—that the first bereavement the analyst has to go through is the bereavement of reality. From the moment you are in analysis, indeed, everything the patient says is not to be considered as a reality, in any case.

 

Chapter Ten: Meetings

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CHAPTER TEN

Meetings

Since you mentioned him and he passed away not long ago, I'd like to ask you to tell us something about James Grotstein.

When I think about Jim Grotstein, I can't help but instinctively smile, because he was a kind person, an extremely generous person, a person who did not realise just how brilliant he was and how many turning points he allowed psychoanalysis to reach, so I'd like to commemorate his generosity, the utter absence of both assertiveness and of that pride that sometimes can, in particular minds, even come with disdain towards those who are less brilliant. Also, his boundless affection and sweetness. Then I'd like to recall two things: the first is the applause that greeted him after the wonderful speech he had given at the conference on Bion in Boston and the standing ovation that was accorded him with true affection (Grotstein, 2009). Grotstein had a great capacity to give, to share, to be untroubled by those who would appropriate one of his ideas and claim it as their own; he had no sense of possession, of owning ideas, regarding which he thought the more one shares them, the more they grow: no property rights. And then I remember how we went to eat at the restaurant together, and how he had walked a long stretch of one of Boston's main streets without noticing that he still had a napkin in front of his trousers, sort of like an apron, and how he walked completely unaware of his apron, until, after more than an hour, we noticed the napkin with which he was going around. Then he took it off and placed it on his shoulder, and kept walking like nothing happened. So, about him I would like to remember his utter lack of a “I am Grotstein”: “I am nobody!”

 

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