Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Stefano Bolognini on the Interaction of the Intrapsychic and the Interpsychic

"The ‘interpsychic’ is an extended psychic dimension, regarding the joint functioning and reciprocal influences of two minds. The concepts of ‘subjectivity’ and ‘person’ can be included in the ‘interpsychic’. They can also overlap with each other, and sometimes all three can overlap together, but they do not necessarily coincide. In the different contemporary perspectives, how can we modify the intrapsychic ‘through’ (and ‘with’ and ‘by’) the interpsychic? . . .

It is the ambition of all psychoanalysts to be able to change, to some extent, certain aspects of the patient's intrapsychic life lastingly and structurally. Every school has its specific goals for the change process, depending on its theoretical assumptions, but all agree that the patient should terminate analysis (though not self-analysis, a ‘never ending’ contact with the introjected analytical function) once crucial and lasting changes within him have come about.

There are, in fact, no real differences of opinion on the next step either, that is on the general principle that the patient's intrapsychic changes are also the result of work on the patient's intrapsychic with that same patient's intrapsychic (development of transference, stream of associations, re-emergence of memories, insight and so on) and with the analyst's intrapsychic (analysis of his own transference and countertransference, the use of his associations, memories and so on to formulate interpretations).

All analysts agree with these propositions in what I might call an ‘unsaturated’ way, in that they by no means exclude these passages from their analytic work. Likewise, everyone maintains, speaking in general terms, that there is inevitably interaction between analyst and patient (without being ‘interactivists’ by this admission), just as there is between mother and child, and that the intra- and intersubjective dimensions cannot be separated during treatment, though there may be oscillation, with one occasionally predominating over the other (Green, 2000).

Differences arise when it comes to discussing how and how much this interaction comes about, in what direction and with what effects, with what advantages or what risks, and what its technical use is, given the complexity of the conscious, unconscious and preconscious levels involved. To sum up, the question is: what importance should we give to the work of the intrapsychic through the interpsychic in bringing about changes?

It is at this point that we have a branching out of innumerable personalised viewpoints. After a detailed examination of recent literature on the subject, I suspect there may be as many different viewpoints as there are psychoanalysts. . . .

It must also be pointed out that the different theoretical-clinical positions, correlating to the different training and the subjective nature of each analyst, nevertheless correspond (more or less consciously) to different concepts of the mind. The idea of a psychic apparatus predominantly overdetermined by internal drives and phantasies, as in classical Freudian and Kleinian thinking, or, conversely, much more capable of being modulated in its functioning in connection to relational developments, as in subsequent thinking of the followers of Winnicott, Bion, Kohut or the intersubjectivists (though so very different among themselves), then generated a remarkable variety of technical systems, and consequently different investments on the intra- and interpsychic sides. . . .

Along the axis which links, but also separates, the two positions, we find the supporters of the ‘intra-’ and ‘interpsychic’. I want to make it clear right from the start that I am not going to deal with the caricatures proposed by each of the opposite extremes to describe the other, because I feel they are unrealistic and biased. For too long we have been swamped with improbable depictions of the ‘mirror-like analyst’ dehumanised and impersonal, an awesome cleric or functionary of a superhuman entity called psychoanalysis, with a splitting between ‘supposed knowledge’ and supposed existence, ‘passed through by the discourse of the unconscious’ inflexibly ‘Other’ with respect to the patient but also going by these descriptionswith respect to himself and human society, ‘pure analysing function’ and so forth; the analyst ‘non-persona’ who ‘non per-sonat’ (i.e. is unable to perceive and use his own internal resonance in his patient's communications (Lopez, 1983)), and cannot partially or temporarily feel for the characters (‘personae’) in the internal world of others without necessarily identifying himself with them; he who takes the ideal to be hoped for in certain cases of knowing how to be ‘personne’ (‘no one’ like Ulysses (Sechaud, 2003)) to extremes when the analytic work requires or allows it.

This legendary type of analyst, faithful to the ‘myth of the isolated mind’ (Stolorow and Atwood, 1992) is a myth in itself, perhaps required to configure ‘strong’ differentiation and counterpositions; but it is really an improbable construction, the stuff of films.

At the other extreme, I received no less disquieting descriptions of ‘horizontal’ analysts, a-generational, heedless of the past, of the unconscious, of transference, of their patients's individuality and sexuality, projected into the ‘here and now’ of the actual situation, corrective, transgressive and hyper-symmetrical. . . .

Having rid ourselves of these caricatures, I will attempt to describe what one really finds along the axis that links the two poles. I hope to be respectfully perceptive towards the two orientations I will present, although theoretical developments are currently moving towards a growing appreciation of the interpsychic. We should bear in mind Aron's (1996) observation that, in many cases, both options are at the service of resistance.1

Above all, we should note a trend towards integration (leading to a broadening and greater extension of the theoretical view). Thus, while recognising the richness of analytic exchange, many analysts believe it absolutely necessary to refer to both the intrapsychic model and the bi-personal one, two dimensions which are in dialectic equilibrium during analysis and even within the session itself (Ponsi and Filippini, 1996; Rocchi, 1997; Grispini, 2000)."  (pp. 337-339)
Stefano Bolognini (2004). Intrapsychic - Interpsychic, International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, Vol. 85, pp. 337-358


  1. This is a wonderful post. As a trainee, I recall early on how easy it was to reify images like "inner" and "outer," "intrapsychic" and "interpersonal" etc.. to such a point that I had to figure out how to connect them theoretically. I had to learn that terms of this kind refer to dimensions of experienced reality, rather than to separate entities. But I have noticed that there is a susceptibility to the same tendencies in some analytic literature. I found it helpful to keep in mind what Jung and what some psychoanalysts like Robert Langs have emphasized, namely, that the psyche is adaptive, that therefore nothing is wholly "intrapsychic" in the sense of having no meaningful reference to a reality to which the psyche is adapting. Rather adaptation always implies something relational between psychic meaning and the meaningful world of the client (what the phenomenologists called "intentionality") And of course the therapist him- or herself is one of the key realities to which the client is adapting.

  2. Well put John. I think you've nicely summarized the value in Bolognini's perspective which manages to avoid being pulled into dichotomization of experience into distinct and separate classifications. To me this seems to be the downfall of positions which attempt to address experience in solely "intrapsychic" terms or as being completely subsumed within the intersubjective matrix. I find Bolognini's choice of the term "interpsychic" to be more organically descriptive of the intrapsychic - intersubjective - interpersonal continuum.