Mixed Bag #1: Adam DeVille on Psychoanalysis
This post debuts a new series titled “Mixed Bag” onwhere I ask an expert to select 5 items to introduce or explore a particular topic. The 5 items are: a book, a concept, a person, an article, and a surprise item (at the expert’s discretion). For each item they have to explain why they selected it and what it signifies. — Awais Aftab
Adam A. J. DeVille, PhD is an associate professor of psychology at the University of Saint Francis in Ft. Wayne, IN, where he also maintains a part-time private practice in psychotherapy. He works psychodynamically with a variety of individuals, including those desirous of longer-term intensive insight therapy as well as adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse (in the Catholic Church and elsewhere), and those struggling with psychotic and personality disorders. He holds advanced degrees in several areas, and underwent psychoanalytic training in Canada and Chicago. He is the author and editor of several books, including Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy (University of Notre Dame, 2011). He also maintains a blog about books related to psychotherapy and psychoanalysis. You can find him on twitter: @AAJDeVille1
Book — Beyond the Pleasure Principle by Sigmund Freud
DeVille: The historiography of psychoanalysis invariably recounts how Freud’s 1920 book Beyond the Pleasure Principle was immediately swept aside as a great embarrassment nobody wanted to discuss. And this is largely true, as seen, e.g., in even as painstaking a biographer as the officially appointed Ernest Jones, in his sprawling three-volume life of Freud, where the man can hardly sneeze without Jones devoting pages to its significance, but BPP is passed over by Jones with a pained and very perfunctory sentence or two. Most others since then have also ignored it.
I suspect the reason for that is unconscious collusion to keep a bomb out of a glass house. Here I follow the argument of Todd Dufresne who has said that BPP has lurked within the Freudian corpus and wider psychoanalytic movement as a roman à clef in some ways. Few people, however, have wanted to find the key to unlock this hugely explosive and disturbing book. For in doing so they risk exposing and possibly exploding the very ideologies psychoanalysis has made of and for itself. That is to say, BPP very much wants psychoanalysis to remain true to its inherently destabilizing and perpetually self-questioning nature without ever totally and finally foreclosing on some kind of rigid, unyielding ideological program or set of techniques, access to which is only permitted to orthodox disciples. And yet, as we know, that is exactly what psychoanalytic politics has led to in almost every case over the last century.
So if I highlight this book—and its central claims about the human condition being marred by a death drive and repetition compulsion are controversial—it is not only because I think Freud profoundly right on both claims, but also to express not just my dissatisfaction but very nearly my disgust with how closed off, how rigid, how intolerant psychoanalysis has been in many ways, scared of its own revolutionary potential in place of which it has too often settled for a pottage of bourgeois respectability, perhaps in the US more than anywhere else. As a result, the much-lamented decline of psychoanalysis must be seen as almost entirely self-induced.
‘Beyond the Pleasure Principle’ very much wants psychoanalysis to remain true to its inherently destabilizing and perpetually self-questioning nature…
Concept — “Attacks on Linking”
DeVille: This is a concept derived from a famous (?) paper by arguably Britain’s most influential psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, W.R. Bion, and it came out of his work with psychotic patients. I find it useful in my own work with those suffering from schizophrenia and also cannabis-induced psychosis, which I’ve been seeing more and more lately.
But I find the concept admits of wider application. In essence Bion says the psychotic mind (and that’s all of us, he says—I love creating a ruckus among my students by repeating this to them!—insofar as we dream, which for Bion is the nocturnal equivalent of daytime hallucinations in many psychotic cases) attacks links between its own inner objects, between inner and outer objects, and between the two minds attempting therapy together. This goes some way to explain how psychosis operates, as it were, but also and perhaps especially to the profound sense of isolation and desolation it awakens in patient and clinician alike (in my experience).
I think this is a concept I see further afield, as in, e.g., my patients who are not actively psychotic but are survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Their inner world often has a quasi-psychotic feel to it, and by that I mean that the early trauma has severed many links one would expect to find between figures in their life. Their capacity to build such links today with new objects—to form new bonds of attachment and affection—is also severely attenuated.
Figure — Thomas Ogden
DeVille: My initial instincts here were conservative and traditional: Freud, Winnicott, Bion, or perhaps Nina Coltart, all of them safely dead for decades. I’ve been reading and influenced by all of the for more than thirty years now and periodically return to each of them with delight, finding fresh insights as needed.
But friends on Twitter introduced me last fall to the San Francisco psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Thomas Ogden, and there is a wonderful and enchanting quality about his writing that is tremendously freeing and gracious in a way I have seen nowhere else in any discipline. He is the least selfish clinical writer I know. He regularly makes it plain that readers should take up, modify, criticize, use, and reject whatever bits in his books they find useful in the broadest possible ways. Two points stand out.
First, Ogden makes it clear that no psychotherapeutic treatment is or can be the same between patients. He notes how much he should welcome and be pleased by a patient eavesdropping on the next session and exclaiming that “Dr. Ogden never talks like that with me!” Indeed, Ogden goes farther to say that the treatment will shift and change even with the same patient as both therapist and patient change, separately and together, as a result of their encounter.
Second, he has—in ways no other theorist I have read does—stressed from his earliest books to his latest the importance of reverie. I am still trying to understand what this looks like in practice. But it seems to be the fruit of a therapeutic moment where two minds in a consulting room are able to dream together about some matter under consideration, including what a patient’s future might look like. The inability or unwillingness to risk dreaming of this sort is, for Ogden, an important indicator of areas needing careful attention in both patient and therapist. Put positively, the ability to dream in session, and together, might well be a crucial hallmark of a treatment that is on the right track.
Article — D.W. Winnicott’s “Hate in the Counter-Transference”
DeVille: I make my students read D.W. Winnicott’s “Hate in the Counter-Transference” (1949) and it astonishes them every semester—the raw honesty of Winnicott’s frustration with a delinquent 9-year-old boy he was treating during the war; his frank admission of the dozens of ways in which mothers hate their children, and he himself hated this boy for a time; and his almost insouciant way he says all this is not just normal but healthy: children and parents need to recognize their hate and the salutary role it can play if properly handled.
I make my students read D.W. Winnicott’s “Hate in the Counter-Transference” and it astonishes them every semester…
Surprise Item — Metaphor of “the shadow of the object”
DeVille: I first read Christopher Bollas’ book The Shadow of the Object: Psychoanalysis of the Unthought Known perhaps 7 years ago now. It remains, to my mind, his richest book though When the Sun Bursts: the Enigma of Schizophrenia is a very close second for me—a haunting and powerful reflection on clinically unique (some would say controversial) approaches I've seen attempted nowhere else with those on the precipice of a psychotic break.
It has taken me until quite recently to appreciate something of the force of Bollas’ metaphor of the shadow of the object, though it remains, in practice, a considerable mystery to me at least with regard to its functioning in my own psyche. Attempting to unpack this mysterious phrase of Bollas, I venture the following thought experiment, joining it to another phrase I have also found mysterious: “doing unconscious work.”
This phrase one frequently finds in the works of Ogden, and I've hitherto quickly glossed over it in the three books of his I have recently read. In the fourth, however, the phrase occurred on the first page and this time stopped me cold. Suddenly I found this mysterious concept had explanatory power not previously contemplated as one answer to the question of therapeutic action in my own psychoanalysis.
How, I wondered for over a year, have we made what feels like very considerable progress in some long-stuck areas of my mind when we have not in fact explicitly concentrated our attentions or energies on any one thing in particular? Perhaps paradoxically, the unconscious work between sessions (and by that I do not mean only or even primarily dreams, though these have always been prolific with me) has been able to happen more freely and fully this past year than at any point in my life to date. Perhaps the shadow of the object who is my analyst, now increasingly internalized, offers welcome shade from the harsh glare of overweening reason (and its schizoid defenses) and cools an overheated super-ego, allowing for greater integration of split-off parts in a newer and deeper way?
These are of course highly tentative speculations, and I should be glad to hear the thoughts of those who have reflected more deeply on these mysterious phrases ‘shadow of the object’ and ‘doing unconscious work.’ In particular, I am wondering if we need to somehow ‘denude’ (!) the term ‘shadow’ of some of its darker connotations in conventional English usage? ‘Throwing shade’ or ‘existing in the shadows’ often seem sinister, but not always! Similarly, does ‘work’ need a rethink here to remove or lessen some of its negative connotations as a heavy grinding burden undertaken in the heat of the day (when shade and shadow might be welcome!)? Perhaps ‘work’ for Ogden here is once more linked to his central concept of ‘reverie’ and back behind him to Winnicott's wonderful notions of ‘play’ (and not just for or with children!)? I await the thoughts of others.
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