Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Oklander - Ferenczi's Influence on Field Theory in Psychoanalysis

"The analytic field is therefore a psychological fieldin Lewin's terms or an experiential fieldas defined by Merleau-Ponty, Pichon-Rivière, and the Barangerswhich is generated whenever two people meet in a closed room, in order to "do psychoanalysis." This implies certain conventional and social definition of the situation (the setting) as well as the physical, institutional, and social environment in which all of this takes place, which are usually kept tacit, unless some psychological event in the field makes them relevant and worthy of mention.

This complex psychological space is essentially dynamic; this means that every element within the field interacts with all the others, that its configuration evolves with time, and that its limits are also variable, expanding and contracting according to the fluctuations of feeling, thought, and meaning within the field.

Field Concepts In Psychoanalysis

That the analytic situation is always bipersonal would appear to be a truism: No one has ever denied that there are physically two persons present in every analysis. But the crux of the question is whether both of them actually determine the analytic process or whether it is determined only by the patient's contribution. Although Freud created the psychoanalytic device as the meeting of two people, each with his or her own particular task, his whole scientific perspective demanded that his descriptions should be framed in objective terms, that is, that they should describe the object of study as if the observer were not there at all (Tubert-Oklander, 2004). This resulted in a one-person theory, which described and explained the events that took place in the analytic situation solely as a manifestation of the patient's personality organization - his or her "mental apparatus" -thus assuming that the analyst was nothing but a neutral observer who had no incidence on the "material" under scrutiny.

The relational approach to psychoanalysis was truly inaugurated by Sándor Ferenczi, who conceived the psychoanalytic treatment as a veritable meeting of two minds. This implied an interweaving and mutual determination of transference and countertransference. He also emphasized the crucial role played by emotional experience, as the true basis of psychoanalytic discoveries (Ferenczi and Rank, 1924).

Nowadays, researchers tend to think of affects as a primitive form of communication among individuals, one that appears from the very beginning of life, long before the inception of language (Kernberg, 1976). It is certainly the only way in which a baby can influence and generate reactions in its mother that are appropriate to its needs (Bion, 1962). Emotion is, therefore, not only a private experience, but an event shared with other human beings - what we may call a communion. But because the gist of this process appears to be unconscious, it can only be truly comprehended as an inference from the inner experiences and the outer behavior of the parties involved.

This was obviously Ferenczi's view. In his clinical writingsespecially in his Clinical Diary of 1932 (Ferenczi, 1985), a private document that was not intended for publicationthe analyst's and the patient's mental processes freely intermingle, and their simultaneous unraveling enriches and deepens both parties' understanding, thus generating a true emotional insight. This he described in the following terms:

It is as if two half souls completed each other to form an unity. The analyst's feelings are threaded with the analysand's thoughts, and the analyst's thoughts (figurative representations), with the analysand's feelings. Thus the otherwise lifeless images become events, and the meaningless sentimental storms are filled with a representative content [p. 55, my translation]."

(pp. 118-119)


Juan Fiscalin Oklander, (2007). The Whole and the Parts. Psychoanalytic Dialogues, Vol. 17, pp. 115-132.

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