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From Reverie to Interpretation: Transforming Thought into the Action of Psychoanalysis

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Bion's identification of reverie as a psychoanalytic concept has drawn attention to a dimension of the analyst's experience with tremendous potential to enrich our interpretive understanding. The courage of these authors in revealing their own process of reverie as transformed into the action of psychoanalysis will inspire and foster further investigation of this fruitful yet heretofore infrequently explored area of psychoanalytic discovery.

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Chapter One - Escape within

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Sabah Al-Dhaher

It is the loss and hardships of life that make us draw on our inner strength and that temper the soul. My sculpture and painting are a tribute to those who go through the grieving process of loss, especially in war-torn countries. When I think of Iraq, my homeland, what comes to mind is an image of an Iraqi female whose face holds all those unspoken words—words of love, loss, and sadness (Figures 1–3).

Before I could create the work I now produce, I had to move through a deeply personal process to reconnect to my own artist within. In 1998 I painted Escape Within, my first work of art since arriving in Seattle as a political refugee in 1993 (book cover). Escape Within, painted with coffee and coloured ink, was the first necessary step in the work of facing and transforming my own grief and sense of trauma at having lived through the Iraq−Iran war during the 1980s. Escape Within captures my experience of having been tortured in an Iraqi prison, of having escaped Iraq in 1991, and of having spent two and a half years in a prisoner-of-war camp in the desert of Saudi Arabia before finally arriving in the United States as a political refugee (Figure 4).

 

Chapter Two - The primacy of Reverie in Making Contact with a new Couple

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Carl Bagnini

Winnicott cautions that we have to undergo a “critical personal experience” to deeply comprehend the patient's psychic reality. Psychic reality is a term that refers to the total psychoanalytic situation of patient and analyst. Becoming identified with a couple means undergoing an emotional mood change similar in kind and quality to those of the couple in order to get close to their internal experience. How do we get close? I single out the effects of the couple communications over their content since communication carries the emotional impact of internal object relations. Cultivating a state of reverie is challenging because there is a conflict between the couple's wish for oneness and the requirement of accepting difference. In reverie we suffer the fate of their old objects before new ones can be conceived. In the conflicted couple, dialectic oneness means fusion, or being-the-same-as, while separateness implies individuation and difference. Ordinary oscillations between romantic love and separateness are missing for couples that employ a narcissistic complementarity of sameness or isolation. We have our hands full from the outset.

 

Chapter Three - Come on—hold a Baby's Hand

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Margaret Bergmann-Ness, Judy K. Eekhoff, Kerry Ragain, Barbara Sewell, and Carolyn Steinberg

Introduction

What is reverie? How is it that we develop the capacity for reverie? The word reverie brings to mind something that is lovely and sweet, like a daydream as we watch people in the park. According to Wilfred Bion, however, the psychoanalytic concept of reverie is a maternal capacity to sense and make sense of what is going on inside the infant. In her paper, “Bion and babies,” Susanna Isaacs Elmhirst (1980) refers to Bion's reverie as a very active mental process associated with mothers of newborn babies, not something passive. As psychoanalysts, we use this mental process to understand ourselves and to come to know something about the primitive inner worlds of our patients. The study of reverie through infant observation is an integral part of psychoanalytic training at Northwestern Psychoanalytic Society and Institute in Seattle, Washington (USA). The perspective gained through observing an infant, thinking and writing about the experience, and discussion in the corresponding seminar illustrates the usefulness of infant observation in honing analytic skills. Infant observation brings to life Bion's important concept of psychoanalytic reverie.

 

Chapter Four - Reverie and the Aesthetics of Psychoanalysis

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Giuseppe Civitarese

Bion's theory of the analytic field (Ferro & Civitarese, 2015) takes the Freudian paradigm of dreaming to its extreme consequences but also reinscribes it in an intersubjective frame. The meeting of patient and analyst gives rise to a third area that is created by both, and that is greater than the sum of the initial parts. The metaphor used to describe this intermediary space, force field, is taken from physics. The unconscious communication between minds generates the turbulence that emerges in this field. This unconscious communication takes place through projective identification and entails an effective and reciprocal interpersonal pressure to receive the projected elements. The pairing is a small group, equipped with one mind whose job it is to transform these emotional storms into thought. The operation in itself involves psychic growth.

Nevertheless, this operation concerns not only conscious thought but also preverbal thought. Preverbal does not necessarily, however, mean asymbolic. The symbolic—that is, the field of language and the rules that constitute it—also expresses itself through sensorimotor patterns written into the body. It could be claimed that the foetus is already exposed to the effects of the symbolic through the way in which, in the uterus, the mother provides a semiotic chora (Kristeva, 1974), a cradle that welcomes, envelops, and protects, and which is made up of a myriad of rhythmically ordered sensory impressions.

 

Chapter Five - From Fairbairn to the Planet Neptune: Reverie and the Animistic Psyche

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Mark Gundry

This chapter was conceived in reverie. My own conscious intentionality came second to wonder, and allowing myself to be immersed in a state of not-knowing. I felt unsure how the ideas would develop. An unknown factor moved me into a play of thoughts relating to the subject. I chose to trust this animating movement despite feeling exposed and uncertain. The chapter's conception therefore evinces the heart of its arguments: reverie opens us to the unknowable, while paradoxically eliciting our desire to understand and make contact with what we do not yet and in some cases can never know. It also elicits our desire to recollect a forgotten reality: the elemental aliveness or animism that moves in the psyche and in the world. Psychotherapy gives these elements of reverie a ritual space. Here the therapeutic couple find themselves initiated into the living reality of the psyche. Both participants begin to wonder, to question, to recollect, and to feel contact with an animating reality often obscured by personal and cultural biases and the psychic deadness that results from these biases.

 

Chapter Six - The Timing of the use of Reverie

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S. Montana Katz

Reverie can be a powerful tool for the analyst. I will indicate in this chapter how the most effective use of reverie follows after the analyst and analysand have established a significant amount of bi-personal communication. Once the means of bi-personal communication has been established, the analyst can make use of reverie in the therapeutic process more readily and meaningfully. Arriving at the point in an analytic process in which to make optimal use of reverie may involve the analyst's implementation of two other tools of analytic listening. These tools are the dream function of the analytic sessions and listening to listening. These two tools may be understood as preparatory to the analyst's use of reverie.

This chapter addresses the use of three techniques of analytic listening within clinical processes: the dream function of sessions, listening to listening, and reverie. In this chapter I will describe a way of thinking heuristically about implementing the three tools in a progression. This technical progression captures a way of working in an analytic process. Each of the three techniques of analytic listening may also operate at many other points in an analytic process. The dream function of sessions may usefully be continuously operative within an analytic process. The listening to listening technique assumes an initial level of understanding already established between analyst and analysand. Within a phase of an analytic process, effective use of reverie is most evident as the last clinical application in the progression of using the three techniques. An effective use of reverie may follow from already having a baseline of communication and understanding derived from both of the other two techniques.

 

Chapter Seven - Infant Observation as a Pathway towards Experiencing Reverie and Learning to Interpret

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Gisela Klinckwort

Allow me to begin my presentation with a parable from the Talmud of Rabbi Simlai:

A child in his mother's womb, what is it similar to? Lying there he is like a folded notebook. He has his hands on both his temples, both his elbows on both knees and both his heels over his buttocks. His head is between his knees, his mouth is closed and his navel is open. He eats what his mother eats and drinks what his mother drinks: he doesn't defecate for that could kill his mother.

As soon as he comes out into the air of the world, that which was closed is opened and that which was opened closed. If this weren't so, he could not live, not even a single hour. And a light burns above his head and he looks and peeks from one end of the world to the other end of the world. (Mayer, 1963, p. 501, my translation)

What do those studying in a Talmudic school do together with their Rabbi? They struggle to grasp the importance and meaning of the text that lies beyond the letters on the page, the pictorial description, and to understand it. Together as a group they try to reach the meaning of the text through the process of studying it. The metaphor of the folded notebook that lies there, what does it mean? Is that a symbol for a person unfolding, someone who entered the world with some notes—that is to say, imprinting—already written? Is this shorthand for “pre-conceptions”—that is to say the expectations in the baby that want to be realised, to use Bion's terminology?

 

Chapter Eight - The Magnetic Compass of Reverie

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Diletta La Torre

In Ogden's This Art of Psychoanalysis (2005), it is no coincidence that the author speaks of using imagination and reverie as invaluable tools in helping patients to become able to dream their not-yet-dreamt-of or interrupted dreams, and in deepening the relationship with themselves through another mind that is relaxed and makes itself available as a container of thoughts and emotions in a process of transformation similar to that of maternal reverie. Ogden advises that in order to speak clearly to patients, analysts must leave theories and technical matters in the background. Doing so requires experience and great expertise, and allows the analyst to work in a way that is truly analytic, though not necessarily by making interpretations. Technically this involves speaking as if one were dreaming, keeping the mind open to receive dream thoughts, and allowing ourselves to be carried away by memories, images, and bodily sensations. During the session, entering into this state of mind allows for an encounter between analyst and patient that is characterised by an intersubjective experience of unconscious overlapping identifications. However, the analyst's function goes beyond mere identification with the patient and involves allowing herself to observe herself, constantly moving back and forth between identification and introspective reflection on both the patient's and the analyst's states of mind. Such a way of thinking and relating allows the analyst to use her mind both creatively and rigorously.

 

Chapter Nine - The Couple

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Donatella Lisciotto

To see what I want I have to dream it. It's called daydreaming, you know? It's just as if my entire body is sleeping. It all happens naturally. It's like a gift. Something God gave me.

My mum wakes me up slapping on my face and stops me from thinking.

—Paolo, eight years old

One way to express an emotion is to discover a corresponding image that gives shape to the feeling. At times, from a state of reverie, one may receive an image during a session that comes up suddenly and has a strong sense of truth in itself. Freud called the substitution of an image for a concept or feeling “formal regression” (1900a, p. 548).

In reverie, there is a strong connection between sense impressions and images. A perception that hits our senses, to paraphrase Grotstein, causes a something that will (or could) become a thought. We might say that in reverie one turns sense impressions into images. Reverie, in a process resembling a circumnavigation of the mind, gathers peripheral perceptions and uses them to represent the previously unformed.

 

Chapter Ten - Courage and Sincerity as a Base for Reverie and Interpretation

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Clara Nemas

I would like to present in this chapter some ideas about matters that have been occupying my mind in recent years that relate to the subject at hand.

I am concerned at the moment with the qualities needed to be, and to go on being, a psychoanalyst in this era of uncertainties. Long-term contact with patients, personal questioning at this point in my life, and my interest in thinking about certain issues in psychoanalysis that lie at the frontier between clinical practice and ethical problems, led me to consider courage and sincerity as necessary—not sufficient but necessary—qualities of the psychoanalyst's mind and of the psychoanalytic part of the personality. I don't think of them as given or crystallised attributes but as a constant work in process.

As psychoanalysts, we think of the analytic process as a road, a search meant to bring us nearer a truth, mainly truth in relation to ourselves; as Betty Joseph says: Be prepared to know how things are hitting you. Because only that is going to enable you really to face what is going on in other people. This aspiration is what leads us to be concerned about our motivations, to think about our emotions, and to examine our ethical position, as well as to question the authenticity with which we fight for our passions. However, the supposition that we have achieved these aims is a function of our arrogance. Keeping up the struggle to hold these aspirations, above and beyond the achievements, is a function of our courage.

 

Chapter Eleven - Working with Stone, Working with Psyche: The Role of Reverie in the Process of Making Art and Working with Patients

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Shierry Weber Nicholsen

Introductory remarks

This chapter had its origin in the request that I give a talk about the role of reverie in making my stone sculpture and in working with my patients. When I delivered the talk I was very intent on speaking directly to the audience, an audience composed primarily but not entirely of clinicians. Although some of the marks of oral presentation have been edited out of the present version, the material still bears the traces of this initial context; the reader will still sense that I am addressing the audience members—now readers—directly, trying to make the process I am describing vivid for their imaginations.

My aim is to give you, the reader, a sense of reverie at work, both in the making of art and in analytic work with patients. In doing so I will try to describe reverie without referring to psychoanalytic theory or using technical terms, as the other papers in this volume will do that. And although I am both a stone sculptor and a psychoanalyst, I will be speaking primarily about working with stone, and I will stress the similarities between making art and working with patients. (There is no need to stress the differences. It is obvious to all of us that a piece of stone and a person are very different indeed.) Many of the things I will say about the role of reverie in my stonework will immediately evoke analogies to working with patients, and when I speak about reverie in analytic work I will do so as an analogy to working with stone. In this way I hope the similarities will become very clear. In this way, too, I hope not only to shed light on reverie and how it functions but also to make the process of making art more understandable for clinicians. We look at works of art, at least I do, and say in wonderment, “How on earth did the artist do that?” I will do my best to convey “how the artist does that”, and reverie is a very important part of that “how”.

 

Chapter Twelve - Little Hans went Alone into the Wide World; or Beta Elements in Search of a Container for Meaning

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Robert Oelsner and Carolyn Steinberg

Melanie Klein (1948) has suggested that the pain of the experience of birth, along with inescapable feelings of need and frustration, precipitate the baby into a state of fear of dying. In order to survive, the Kleinian baby is innately equipped to project this deep distress, along with the part of the self that feels it, into the mother's mind (which, to make matters confusing, Klein called “the breast”), thus establishing a bad persecutory breast outside. This is the first object relation. If things were to stay that way the helpless baby would be unable to live and nurse. Healthy mothers know how to provide for the baby's needs, thus establishing the foundation for a good, reliable breast. The good and bad experiences are kept separate in the baby's rudimentary mind as if they were two different objects. This allows the baby to take in the good, satisfying experience while keeping the frustration, felt as the fear of dying, projected into a separate external object, which in turn will also be introjected into the internal world.

 

Chapter Thirteen - The Spiral of Transference: From Mutative Interpretation to Reverie

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Shelley Rockwell

James Strachey's brilliant paper on therapeutic action has provided a touchstone for analysts since its publication in 1934, his central point being that growth in the patient depends primarily on the analyst's ability to give a mutative interpretation, working from within the alive here-and-now transference. In this paper Strachey lays out what we now take for granted—the theoretical and clinical evidence regarding the central importance of the mutative interpretation, which is a transference interpretation that brings to light the difference between the analyst as the internal (archaic, original) object and the analyst as an ordinary and separate person from the patient. In essence, something different can be introjected—an analyst that is not equivalent to the patient's internal object.

Implicit in much of Strachey's paper, and explicit in the final paragraph, is that as analysts we find the giving of a transference interpretation strangely difficult. The very thing the patient needs most from us feels impossible to give. In this chapter I suggest that Strachey may have reversed the problem, or at least the sequence—putting the cart before the horse—as it seems the crucial difficulty lies in our initial and ongoing capacity to accept the patient's projective identification. Without fully accepting these projections, our contact with the patient is weakened, resulting in a tentative transference interpretation or a weakened, frightened state of mind in the analyst. I will explore this question and its implications for our technique as I go along—but would like to remind us of Bion's now classic statement on the mother/analyst's state of mind:

 

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