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Talking with Couples

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'In this compact and illuminating study of the evolving theoretical framework informing psychoanalytic work with couples, the authors highlight concepts that have been most drawn upon in developing dynamic couple therapy. They chart the shifting emphasis away from interpreting and reconstructing the past towards approaches that engage partners and therapists in constructing and reflecting on their encounters with each other in the present. The triangular space that is created through this process contains therapists as well as the couples with whom they talk, and invites us to revisit the essential nature of the therapeutic conversation in this light. A thoughtful and fascinating book that will interest everyone who is keen to understand the interior world of couple psychotherapy.'-Christopher Clulow, PhD, Senior Fellow, the Tavistock Centre for Couple Relationships, London

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5 Chapters

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1 - Psychoanalytic History and the Couple Relationship

ePub

Laura Dallanegra

It requires two minds to think one's most disturbing thoughts.

(Thomas Ogden, 2009, p. 100)

In order to illustrate our approach to this work, before we discuss the couple relationship as such, we would like to reflect on the historical development of psychoanalytic thinking and some of the rich, complex, and diverse contributions that are relevant to our theme. The aim of this first chapter is to highlight concepts that, though they may come from different theoretical perspectives, offer us useful tools for understanding the complex dynamics within the couple relationship. As when we visit an unfamiliar city, we can find our way with the help of a map, so in the same way, thanks to the advance of psychoanalytical thinking, we now have enough tools to undertake the exploration of new avenues. The dialogue that psychoanalysis has maintained with philosophical and scientific thinking has influenced its development on both a clinical and theoretical level. The constructivist epistemological approach, for example, has questioned the possibility of objective scientific knowledge in the sense of the representation of an external order independent of the observer. Even the observation of phenomena is considered an unreliable source for objective understanding, and has to take the observer into account.

 

2 - Theoretical Foundations of Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy with Couples

ePub

Barbara Bianchini and Lidia Vitalini

The problem is how to let the germ of an idea, or the germ of an interpretation, have a chance of developing.

(Wilfred Bion, 1985, p.12)

The previous chapter has shown that the theoretical developments behind the move from a reconstructional approach to an object relations approach in psychoanalysis are complex and diverse. The latter are based on the belief that the relation between object and subject regulates the emotional and developmental state of the individual. Thus the focus shifts to the quality and characteristics of the encounter with the other. From this perspective, the therapeutic task is an evolutionary journey of co-construction by therapist and patient, that utilises interpersonal relationships to link with the relationships of the patient's inner world.

The pioneers of psychoanalytical psychotherapy with couples began with their knowledge of the clinical methodology of individual psychoanalysis, and therefore used individual sessions as the setting for each member of the couple. The practice of undertaking joint sessions with both partners present came into being as a result of the increasing use of interpersonal approaches to psychoanalysis. The couple and the therapist all participate in the rhythm and cycle of the exchanges (Dicks, 1967; Fisher, 1999). This approach proved to lead to more satisfactory communication between all the participants, and also to a better understanding of the emotional experiences of the couple. A new field of research and a new theoretical and clinical debate took shape, at present still growing, owing to the gradual increase in demand for crisis therapy for both couples and families. In the course of this, joint sessions have become the favourite setting for couple therapy.

 

3 - Equilaterality: The Structure of the Couple and the Mental State of the Therapist

ePub

Maria Adelaide Lupinacci and Giulio Cesare Zavattini

Each personality is a world in himself, a company of many.

(Joan Riviere, 1952, p. 317)

Observing the couple relationship in the privileged context of psychoanalytical psychotherapy, one is from the beginning struck by the substantiality and extent of the spatial element. The concept of relationship itself implies the extension of psychic space, since we don't deal only with the internal space of the individual but also with the imaginary non-sensuous place where the relationship unfolds and the internal worlds with their objects and emotions meet and interlink.

We think the best metaphor proposed so far for describing the spatial structure of the couple, allowing us to follow its fluctuations and dynamics, is the triangle. Naturally the idea of triangularity and of the third person immediately brings to mind the oedipal conflict, and we will try to use this in our explanation of the metaphor.

After Melanie Klein (1928) pointed out how one of the fundamental components of the oedipal conflict in the child was the sense of exclusion from the parents (in addition to the desire for possession of the mother, and rivalry with the father, as noted by Freud), other authors have taken up this topic and have emphasised the sense of exclusion (Britton 1989, 2000; Emde, 1991). The complex of emotions that awaken in the child when he begins to realise that the two most important people in his life are engaged in an intimacy that excludes him, stimulates his curiosity. This acts as a catalyst in his psychic development because it enables him to view himself in relation to others outside himself.

 

4 - The Therapist at Work: Technical Matters

ePub

Marina Capello

Human beings build too many walls and not enough bridges.

(Isaac Newton)

In the previous chapters we highlighted the theoretical elements that are specific to couple therapy. The change in point of view, compared to individual psychoanalysis, influences the technique which needs to change in line with it. In this chapter we will explore this extension. Whilst in individual therapy only one person can talk about the absent partner, as an internal object, in the couple setting the therapist has to concern himself with both actual partners, and to distinguish the real object from the represented (internalised) object. It is not easy to see the boundary between the two realities, as one may be faced with a very strong projective identification, in which an aspect of the self – either idealised or negated – is handed over very forcefully to the other, who finds himself becoming like the picture that the partner has of him. The realistic aspect of the partner is confused by the projections that enter into him or her.

 

5 - The meeting of Couple Psychoanalysis with the Intersubjective Viewpoint

ePub

Fabio Monguzzi

Nemo solus satis sapit [No single person knows enough]’

(Plautus, Miles Gloriosus, 885)

This chapter is by way of conclusion and theoretical summary of our approach to couple therapy as described in this book, based as it is on developments in the current psychoanalytical landscape that combine the relational paradigm (as described by Mitchell, 1988, 2000) with the intersubjective paradigm (Stolorow & Atwood, 1992; Stolorow et al., 1994), and that has been defined by some as ‘postmodern’ (Fallone, 2004): that is, that values relativity, context, the co-existence of different truths, and takes a nonlinear view of progress. This landscape is a fertile one but seems to have been developed more in individual psychotherapy than in work with couples, where as we have said, the real patient is the relationship between the partners.

Because couple therapy specifically manages the unified psychic processes of both partners, we consider it not merely a format but a genre with its own distinctive characteristics. The intersubjective school of thought facilitates the definition of these characteristics, since it focuses on the reciprocal influence of patient and analyst, and legitimises the role of the analyst in becoming one of the determinants of psychic change between the two. It prioritises the increase of containment abilities, more than the attempt to reintegrate split-off emotions. Couple therapy based solely on object relations looks at the psychic complementarity of the partners, their shared internal objects, and communal phantasies crisscrossing a network of projections and identifications. The aim is to release the grip of these intrusive processes, to reintegrate emotions, and to achieve adequate psychic separation between the partners (Scharff & Scharff, 1991; Ruszczynski, 1993; Rusczczynski & Fisher, 1995; Norsa & Zavattini, 1997; Corigliano, 1999). Couple therapy that embraces an intersubjective model emphasises the management, regulation, and balancing of feelings, holding them on behalf of each partner, known as hetero-regulation; it pays less attention to the degree of separateness and autonomy which is offered by a stable recognition of the boundaries of self and other (Shaddoc, 2000). In addition to acknowledging the relevance of problems from the past, the transformative potential of the here and now is given particular value.

 

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