Saturday, August 6, 2011

Linda Carter on the Transcendent Function and Emergence Theory

"I will consider the transcendent function as a central therapeutic process which has the potential to effect change in analysis. This central concept was first described in 1916 by Jung as an intrapsychic phenomenon although one can feel its presence in what many would see as the intersubjective matrix of ‘The psychology of the transference’. In reading the work of Beebe (2002), Sander (Amadei & Bianchi 2008), Tronick (2007) and Stern and the Boston Change Process Study Group (1998), resonances to the transcendent function can be registered but these researchers seem to be more focused on the interpersonal domain. In particular Tronick’s concept of ‘dyadic expansion of consciousness’ and ‘moments of meeting’ from the Boston Change Process Study Group describe external dyadic interactions between mothers and babies and therapists and patients. In contrast, Jung’s early focus was on the intrapsychic process of internal interaction between the conscious and the unconscious within an individual. From an overall perspective, the interpersonal process of change described by infant researchers, when held in conjunction with Jung’s internal process of change, together form an overarching whole in which the dyad may be viewed as part of a complex adaptive system whose emergent properties include a transformation of individual consciousness via dyadic interactions.

Emergence is a current concept that we can read backward into Jung’s work on the transcendent function. It could be said that it is through the dynamic interaction of lower level elements in a scale free network2 that a supraordinate self emerges and transcends its antecedents. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts, as is the case with the mind emerging from the body, brain and environment. This notion has highly significant implications for analysis, science and theology, among many other fields. From Beebe’s point of view, emergence is the engine of change that results from the integration of the mutual co-ordination of parts within an interactive, co-created system (personal communication, May 2009).

Jung’s notions of the transcendent function are in many ways harmonious with a systems perspective. First, there is a conjunction of opposites. Then the complementary/compensatory nature of the unconscious in relation to onesided consciousness leads to emergence of the symbol. And finally, a new and complex entity, a synthesis not a fusion of antecedents, is presented. The result is a transformed attitude and the birth of a sense of wholeness.

According to Jung (1916/1960, para. 146), ‘the suitably trained analyst mediates the transcendent function for the patient, i.e., helps him bring conscious and unconscious together and so arrive at a new attitude’. In addition, Jung’s oft quoted lines analogizing the analyst/patient relationship with chemical interaction and mutual transformation resonates with contemporary views of both self and mutual regulation within an interactive field. As I see it, the emergence of the transcendent function is highly dependent on the reflective function of the individuals and the dyad within a co-constructed field. Indeed, the analyst’s successful history of experiences with the transcendent function, grounded in healthy interactive relationships, provides a holding environment for the emergence of evermore complex systems intrapsychically and with outer others. One could say that this view offers an understanding of the mechanics of containment which differs from Bion’s notion of projective identification. There is a move here toward mutual influence which fits well with Jung’s diagram of conscious/unconscious connections between the king and queen in ‘The psychology of the transference’. It should be noted, however, that analytic bidirectional influence is asymmetric and that if reflective function in the patient is limited, then the analyst carries symbolic understanding for the dyad while the patient’s abilities in this area are in the process of emerging. The symbolic attitude and reverie of the analyst provides a nutritive environment for the development of the patient’s ability to think and imagine about himself and interactions with others (see Bovensiepen 2002, p. 253)
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(pp. 218-219)

Linda Carter (2010). The transcendent function, moments of meeting and dyadic consciousness: constructive and destructive co-creation in the analytic dyad. J. of Analytical Psychology, Vol 55, pp. 217-227.

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