Mapping Psychic Reality: Triangulation, Communication, and Insight

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This book is about how we can deepen our understanding of subjectivity through the use of the concept of triangulation. Fundamentally, this book seeks to address the question of how we can be objective about subjectivity. If psychology, as a scientific discipline, is concerned with the study of human experience, which is essentially subjective; then we are faced with the problem of how apply the scientific method, as it is commonly understood. If experience is essentially unique to the experiencer, then there seems to be a basic incompatibility with the scientific method. As currently practised, this method searches for psychic phenomena, which can be validly measured e.g. intelligence; showing a range of individual differences. But this does not enable us to examine individual experience. An individual's experience seems to become impenetrable because generalisation across different individuals' experience entails the loss of individuality in the generalisation. Thus, in using the scientific method as it usually understood, we lose the very matter we are trying to study. This leaves us with the question of how we are going to advance our inquiry.

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CHAPTER ONE: Experimental psychology and psychoanalysis: what we can learn from a century of misunderstanding

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Paul Whittle

This paper is a personal and informal ethnography of the subcultures of psychoanalysis and experimental psychology. It is a case study in incommensurability, and was written out of frustration with the incomprehension that each side displays toward the other. The two disciplines shared many common origins, but each now views the other, by and large, with indifference or hostility. I sketch some reasons why their relationship generates discussions, such as those concerning the scientific status of psychoanalysis, that are like trains passing in the dark. I make some tentative suggestions as to why we may always need such different styles of psychology, and for what different goals, and personal and sociological reasons, we have developed them. I make even more tentative suggestions as to what, if anything, we should do about it.

*This paper was first presented to the Zangwill Club of the Department of Experimental Psychology, Cambridge University, in April 1994. Since it derives its structure and its liveliness from the occasion, it is being published as a record of the talk, with informal style and local allusions, rather than in more conventional journal-article format.

 

CHAPTER TWO: The third: a brief historical analysis of an idea

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Charles M. T. Hanly

In what follows, I try to clarify historically the idea of the third in philosophy and in psychoanalysis. It is an account that has its own point of view, the evidential justification of which, of necessity, is only scantily presented. The exposition suggests an agreement and differences between the various philosophical thirds and the psychoanalytic thirds found in this issue. Even the agreement that emerges is at present controversial. I make no claim that this exposition of the topic escapes the influence of the controversy. My purpose is to provide background and to raise questions.

The third in philosophy

Peirce (1903) introduced the term the third into philosophy. Of itself, it has nothing directly to do with any psychoanalytic notions of thirds, of triadic relations, or of triangular “space”. It is simply the notion of meaning captured in general concepts, their nature, and their crucial place in knowledge.

* First published in 2004 in Psychoanalytic Quarterly. 73: 267–290.

 

CHAPTER THREE: Triangulation, one’s own mind, and objectivity

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Marcia Cavell

Some psychoanalysts now hold that an intersubjective model of the mind and of the analytic situation renders the ideas of truth, reality, and objectivity obsolete. Arguing from a position of sympathy with this model, the author contends that nevertheless both a real, shared, external world and the concept of such a world are indispensable to propositional thought, and to the capacity to know one’s own thoughts as thoughts, as a subjective perspective on the world. Without the idea of an objective world with which we are in touch and which we attempt to be more-or-less objective about, any so-called intersubjectivist model collapses into the one-person paradigm. The author traces a certain developmental line in twentieth-century philosophy that supports an inter-subjective view, a line that shows the place of the normative ideas of truth and falsity, right and wrong, in the advent of mind; it attempts to disentangle the concept of truth from an authoritarian view that was implicit in Descartes; it points out connections, and a difference, between the view of triangulation that it argues for and the views espoused by a number of psychoanalysts. Some implications of this intersubjectivist position for psychoanalytic practice are considered; for instance: the interrelations between the analyst’s third-person knowledge of her patient, and the patient’s developing understanding of himself; and what the concept of unconscious fantasy presupposes.

 

CHAPTER FOUR: Subjectivity, objectivity, and triangular space

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Ronald Britton

The author reviews his ideas on subjectivity, objectivity, and the third position in the psychoanalytic encounter, particularly in clinical work with borderline and narcissistic patients. Using the theories of Melanie Klein and Wilfred Bion as a basis, the author describes his concept of triangular space. A case presentation of a particular type of narcissistic patient illustrates the principles discussed.

The acknowledgement by the child of the parents’ relationship with each other unites his psychic world, limiting it to one world shared with his two parents in which different object relationships can exist. The closure of the Oedipal triangle by the recognition of the link joining the parents provides a limiting boundary for the internal world. It creates what I call a “triangular space”, that is, a space bounded by the three persons of the Oedipal situation and all their potential relationships. It includes, therefore, the possibility of being a participant in a relationship and observed by a third person as well as being an observer of a relationship between two people. . . .

 

CHAPTER FIVE: Consultation or assessment: engagement and treatment decisions in psychotherapy with young people in a community-based setting

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James S. Rose

Introduction

Iam going to address in this paper an apparent dichotomy, antinomy, or paradox in how we think about the first encounter between a patient and a psychotherapist in the primary care setting. This dichotomy concerns our priority: to what extent are we assessing and to what extent are we offering a consultation. We have to find a balance, in the time available, between making a diagnostic decision with all the associated resource implications and helping the individual understand whatever it was that brought them to see us. To do this, we have to find a way of blending the nomothetic with the idiographic (Meehl, 1954). By the nomothetic is meant the search for general laws or propositions governing individuals within a particular category or class. The idiographic refers to the description of the individual case or experience. In seeking to understand the variance among data sources, there is usually some residual variance written off as error by the nomothetic endeavour. To the idiographic endeavour, on the other hand, this so-called error is what makes the individual an individual. The consequence is that finding a blend of the two can seem like mixing chalk and cheese or comparing apples with an orange.

 

CHAPTER SIX: Is twice a week enough? Thinking about the number of sessions per week as a determinant of the intensity of psychoanalytic psychotherapy

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James S. Rose

Introduction

This chapter is based on a paper I gave some years ago to the Guild of Psychotherapists. The topic under discussion was the rationale for defining a particular number of sessions per week as the requirement for a psychoanalysis of someone being trained as a psychoanalytic psychotherapist. The Guild had set two sessions per week as their minimum requirement when they had first established themselves, because their founders felt that to require a greater frequency precluded many from being able to embark upon a training and, thus, hampered the opportunity of patients in the world to have the opportunity for psychoanalytical treatment.

This paper is an effort to address the question of how frequency can be related to intensity. In other words, why does increasing the number of times a patient is seen per week increase the intensity of the treatment? The impact of a psychotherapeutic experience seemed to me to need separating into disturbance and containment. But it was the realization that the psychoanalytical endeavour rested on the creation of an iterative learning system that led to the ideas about chaos theory and its implications for understanding complex systems. The fact of iteration could also be said to have two consequences. First, it created the disturbance and the containment necessary to address the task and the rigours of changing. Second, it meant that the impact of the treatment could not be confined to the time when the patient and psychotherapist were in each other’s presence. What happened in their absence would also be of great significance.

 

CHAPTER SEVEN: Distortions of time in the transference: some clinical and theoretical implications

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James S. Rose

Summary

Patients’ distortions of time can be frequently and readily observed in clinical psychoanalysis; reflecting both their psychopathology and their reactions to the temporal aspects of the psychoanalytic setting. These phenomena are considered to examine the assumptions that can be implicitly made about the nature of space and time in object relations theory. Two case histories are given to exemplify these clinical phenomena, the first being an example of a fixation and the second one of a psychic retreat. These cases are compared to demonstrate the unconscious processes underlying the particular time distortions being considered, their impact on the patient’s lives, and their manifestation in the clinical setting. From these studies, it is suggested that the asymmetry of the “arrow of time” cannot be assumed in the structure of psychic reality. The clinical evidence suggests that that psychic reality has to be seen as discontinuous and the structure of the discontinuities will be revealed by the impact on the patient of the temporal aspects of the psychoanalytic setting.

 

CHAPTER EIGHT: Symbols and their function in managing the anxiety of change: an intersubjective approach

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James S. Rose

Summary

Change inevitably creates anxiety because of loss and the confrontation with the unknown. It is proposed that one function of symbols is to manage the anxiety of change. They do this by creating a means by which anxieties can be presented to the subject and then communicated to another mind. These creations are called symbolic because, it is proposed, their purpose is communicative as well as simply incorporating internal anxieties and desires with external exigencies, which might be termed symptoms. Viewing them in this way enables the analyst to put symbolic phenomena as they emerge in an analysis into an intersubjective perspective. I suggest that thinking of symbols as purely intrasubjective phenomena limits our perspective. It is more technically useful to look at the communicative aspects of symbols as they present themselves to the symbolizing subject, and, subsequently, to the analyst in the dialogue within the psychoanalytic setting because the objective and temporal dimension of the setting can be included thereby. Two clinical examples of symbols are discussed. The first, which was brought for analysis, and a second, which developed in the course of an analysis. One is given as an example of resistance to change, whereas the other revealed an unconscious drive for change.

 

CHAPTER NINE: The presence of absence in the transference: some clinical, countertransference, and metapsychological implications

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James S. Rose

Introduction

It is comparatively common that a young person will come to a consultation describing themselves as depressed, suffering from a lack of confidence and feeling devoid of ambition. Their psychic life can appear to be pervaded with an anomie to the point that it seems surprising to the assessor that they have bothered to come to the consultation at all. Often, there is evidence of disrupted family history, early bereavements, and separations. Despite the seemingly traumatic nature of these losses, they are often dismissed as unimportant because they happened “so long ago”. In short, the assessor can see many reasons for the young person’s depressed state of mind, but there is an apparent gulf between the young person’s and the assessor’s understanding that seems unbridgeable and leaves the assessor feeling hopeless and impotent. Often, the apparent emptiness in the countertransference can seem the result of a deficit in functioning, and it can appear that this young person will not be easy to help because of their incapacity to symbolize or to reflect upon their experience.

 

CHAPTER TEN: Couples, doubles, and absence: some thoughts on the psychoanalytical process considered as a learning system

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James S. Rose

Introduction

The fundamental therapeutic aim of psychoanalysis is to enable an analysand to learn about themselves in the context of the presence of an other. As a consequence, I think we can say that we all work within a learning system, which we create when we start a treatment. This chapter seeks to explore some aspects of the psychoanalytic learning system. By aspects, I specifically mean the concepts of the couple, the double, and the presence and absence of the psychoanalyst and patient from one another, which I shall try to define as characteristics of the relationship between psychoanalyst and patient in the psychoanalytic process. Let us begin with the notion of the couple.

Essential to this learning system is the fact that two people— psychoanalyst and analysand—meet regularly in a particular setting that to the outsider seems to vary as little as possible. Seeing these two as a couple does not in itself seem very remarkable. But, in so doing, there is the obvious implication that they occupy distinct complementary roles in a system whose task it is to learn about the analysand. Hence, the notion of this couple, exploring their differences and experiencing their presence and absence from one another, gives the “couple” a context capable of bringing the concept to life. When stated like this, it can make psychoanalysis sound like a cognitive process, or simply an exercise of consciousness which, of course, it must, in part, be. This is because there is something missing—the unconscious. To my mind, we need to be able to conceptualize how one unconscious can communicate with another if we are to capture the essence of psychoanalysis. Of course, this is not to say that there is no reference to this in the psychoanalytic literature. However, its conceptualization is not, perhaps, as systematic as it could be. Without this, psychoanalysis can appear to the outsider to be a purely cognitive exercise, rooted in consciousness. This suggests that we need something more descriptive of the psychoanalytic situation. More, that is, than the couple.

 

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