Monday, March 25, 2013

Arnold Modell - Levels of Meaning in the Psychoanalytic Frame

What distinguishes the object tie to the analyst from object ties of ordinary life is the fact that the former occurs within a level of reality different from that of ordinary life. It is here that we must turn to the theory of the "frame." The application of "frame" theory to the psychoanalytic situation was noted in a comprehensive paper by Spruiell (1983), who emphasized the significance of the "rules of the game" in establishing the "frame" of psychoanalysis. These "rules of the analytic game" help to demarcate a separate reality. The "frame" of the psychoanalytic setting is separated from ordinary life insofar as it embodies a unique contractual arrangement between the two participants. Bleger (1966), an Argentinean analyst, described the analytic frame of a "nonprocess," in the sense that it is made up of constants within whose bounds the process of analysis takes place. Bleger's reference to the tacit constants of psychoanalysis can also be described as the "rules of the game." These include physical regularities of the setup; however, as we have discussed, the physical setup of the consulting room is invested with an affective charge that cannot be separated from the object relationship to the analyst. Despite the spontaneity and unpredictability of the affective relationship between analyst and analysand, there are also certain affective constants within the analyst that are part of the "frame" or the "rules of the game" and which serve as constraints. The emotional position of the analyst regarding the analysand is, in a certain sense, institutionalized as part of technique and demarcates the analytic relationship from relationships in ordinary life.

When we compare the psychoanalytic setting or the "frame" of the analysis to ordinary life we are comparing two different levels of reality. It is for this reason that the illusion of transference has so often been compared to the illusion of theater: in both instances the affects that are experienced are "real," but the affective experience occurs within a reality demarcated from that of ordinary life. Hence the paradox that transferencelove is both real and unreal. (The analogy between the psychoanalytic process and theater has been noted by many, including Loewald (1980). Klauber (unpublished), and McDougall (1985).

Milner (1955, p. 86) used the analogy of the "frame" in this sense, comparing the "frame" of the psychoanalytic setting to the frame of a painting, which also demarcates the separate reality contained within. Anthropologists have taught us that in every culture one can observe such separate (institutionalized) realities that are demarcated from ordinary life. For example, the bishop who dons his miter in the cathedral is not quite the same person observed in a restaurant the following day. The psychoanalytic situation is, as in the preceding example, a problem for both participants: how to move from an ordinary relationship to an extraordinary relationship and back again (Leach, 1986).

Bateson (1972) observed animals at mock fighting in a zoo. He reasoned that some sort of communication must exist that would tell the participants: "This is only play." There must exist a set of signals between the two participants that inform each that "This is not ordinary life." Bateson predicted that in some forms of psychopathology the individual may lack the capacity to accept the paradox of the concurrent existence of that which is within the "frame" and that which is outside. One can confirm his prediction by observing certain patients who could be described as borderline or severely narcissistic who cannot easily shift between the separate realities of the transference, the therapeutic setting, and the actuality of the therapist as an ordinary person (Modell, in press).

One of the functions of the psychoanalytic setting is to set the stage and provide the conditions of safety that will enable the analysand to experience the analyst as a representative of these multiple levels of reality. I believe that as a precondition of therapeutic change the analysand must be able to experience the analyst as a person in ordinary life, as an analyst functioning within the "frame" and as an archaic object or an archaic aspect of the self."
(pp. 79-81)


Arnold Modell (1989). The Psychoanalytic Setting as a Container of Multiple Levels of Reality: A Perspective on the Theory of Psychoanalytic Treatment. Psychoanalytic Inquiry,Vol. 9, pp. 67-87

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