Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Robert Langs - The Bipersonal Field

"In essence, the bipersonal field is defined by the ground rules or framework, the human and temporal-spatial setting and tenets that guide the analytic dyad. Within the field, every communication and experience has vectors from both patient and analyst, though in varying proportions. Communications within the field take place along an interface determined by the assets and pathology of each participant, and in the ideal course of treatment, this interface receives significant vectors from the patient's psychopathology to a greater degree than from those of the analyst. Analytic work takes place along that interface in terms of the contributions from each participant.

The properties, nature, and functions of the bipersonal field are defined by the ground rules or framework (for details, see Langs, 1975b), (1976a), (1976b). The framework establishes the distinctive features of the analytic interaction and the communicative properties of the field. The implications and meanings of the communications from each participant are therefore a function of the frame, in addition to intrapsychic factors within the patient and analyst, and elements within their interaction....

Within the bipersonal field, the listening process is geared toward the detection of communications which contain and reflect the unconscious sources of the patient's psychopathology. The material from the patient may be organized on three levels (Langs, 1978a), (1978b), (1978c): manifest content, which alludes to the surface and direct meanings of the patient's communications, verbal and nonverbal; Type One derivatives, which are readily available inferences derived from the manifest content; and Type Two derivatives, which are inferences from the manifest content that are organized around specific adaptive contexts—reality precipitants which evoke adaptive intrapsychic and interactional responses within the patient (Langs, 1973), (1978c).

In terms of the clinical study of neuroses (and the theory derived from it as stated above), work on a manifest level is unrelated to neurotic expression and psychoanalytic cure. Efforts to intervene on the basis of Type One derivatives isolates the clinical work from the patient's adaptive efforts, and fails to give the patient's communication dynamic and definitive meaning. At best, it is haphazard, likely to be used defensively by patient and therapist, and will only occasionally meaningfully illuminate the patient's unconscious pathological inner mental world (see below). Work with Type Two derivatives has specificity, takes into account the patient's adaptive and maladaptive efforts and current dynamics, is embedded in interactional considerations, and leads to the definition of specific pathological unconscious fantasies, memories, and introjects in terms of current realities and earlier genetic factors. It is the essential area of neurotic expression and analytic work.

Recognition of these three levels of communication from the patient, and consideration of the therapist's interventions to be described below, leads to the delineation of three types of communicative fields between patients and analysts, and three basic communicative styles that may be found in either participant (Langs, 1978b). The Type A field is one in which symbolic communication, illusion, transitional communication, and a play space have been established. The patient communicates in terms of derivatives organized around specific adaptive contexts—i.e. through Type Two derivatives; even when in a state of resistance, such derivatives are available and his material is eventually analyzable in the classical sense of that concept. The therapist's contribution involves the maintenance of a secure framework and a capacity to process the material from the patient toward cognitive, symbolic interpretations.

The Type B field is one in which action-discharge and projective identification prevails. The patient utilizes language and behavior to rid himself of accretions of internal stimuli and as a means of placing into the therapist disturbing (and sometimes good) inner mental contents, largely as a means of managing them externally. The effort is not designed toward cognitive insight, but toward discharge and immediate relief.

With patients prone toward this form of communication, the analyst may himself respond with projective identification and create a field entirely geared toward action-discharge, and unconscious exchanges of projective identifications. Such a field is destructive to the analytic process. On the other hand, an analyst who is capable of containing, metabolizing, and processing the patient's projective identifications toward cognitive insight can work effectively in a Type B field, enabling the patient ultimately to understand the nature and functions of his neurotic communicative thrusts.

The Type C field is characterized by its static qualities, and by the creation of impenetrable barriers, falsifications, efforts to destroy meaning, and endeavors to break the interpersonal links between patient and analyst. It is designed as a relatively impenetrable barrier to underlying chaos which may lie within the patient and/or analyst, and within their therapeutic interaction. Patients who utilize the Type C mode of communication convey empty words or describe extended dreams or narratives, though without an adaptive context. At times, they allude to a significant adaptive context, but without meaningful related derivatives. Occasionally, these patients will present metaphors of the Type C field, and these must be the focus of the analyst's interpretive work. In the Type C field, resistances and all other contents and mechanisms lack depth and derivative meaning, and as a rule, cannot be effectively interpreted (see below)." (pp. 5-7)

Robert Langs (1979). Interventions in the Bipersonal Field. Contemporary Psychoanalysis, Vol. 15, pp. 1-54


  1. Passages such as these made me quite a fan of Robert Langs' work. I can't describe how illuminating I found his description of these three different communication styles when I was first working with my own clients and trying to understand both the range and limits of how I could help them. It's interesting to me that in his more recent work, Langs has dropped the three-fold division of communication styles in favor of a two-fold division between narrators and non-narrators, thereby emphasizing narrating capacity even more than communication style.

  2. John - I haven't kept up with Lang's more recent writings so I wasn't aware of a change in his model. William Goodheart - a Jungian analyst - adapted the three-fold model to Jungian terminology: secured-symbolizing field, complex-dicharging field, and persona restoring field, which in some ways provides more descriptive labels for the fields than Type A, B, C. The article, Theory of Analytic Interaction, appeared in Vol 1(4) of the San Franciso Institute Library Journal, which has now become Jung Journal.

  3. This is my first introduction to Langs. I am trying to find parallels with other theories. It sounds like he is providing a spatial model for intrapsychic processes occurring within the transference. Types seem to be linked to sources of agency - Type A (Object-Seeking), Type B (Drive), Type C (Death Instinct/Anti-libidinal ego)? Following the "analytic rule" of leaning into the pathology, Type C would be the area of focus with Type A functioning as the transitional space using metaphor? Type B sounds like the most primitive affect-laden - level? He seems to be describing a multidimensional interspychic framework that allows room for both experience and description. I am looking forward to reading more. Deborah Bryon