Saturday, May 19, 2012

Rushi Ledermann - Healthy Aspects of Regression

"Jung, on the whole, takes a favourable view of regression and points out its teleological value. In ‘The theory of psychoanalysis’ (Jung 7) he says: ‘the neurotic's retreat to the infantile level does not mean only regression and stagnation’ (here is the synonymous use of the two concepts which I mentioned earlier) ‘but also the possibility of discovering a new life plan. Regression is thus in very truth the basic condition for the act of creation.’

In my view healthy regression takes place to a greater or lesser degree in the analysis of all patients with neurotic symptoms such as phobias, obsessions, neurotic depression, etc. A different kind of depression, usually called schizoid depression, will be mentioned when I discuss stagnation. Regression may occur spontaneously in a patient or may result from analytic work.

Regression may occur, and be therapeutically desirable, in patients who have missed out in certain areas of their development, such as adolescence or unresolved sibling rivalry, or who could not play as children. Regression may also take place if certain psychic functions, such as feeling or thinking, have remained underdeveloped. Jung in his essay ‘On psychic energy’ (Jung 9) mentions the complementary function of regression. He says: ‘unconscious material activated by regression will contain the … missing function, although still in embryonic form, archaic and undeveloped’.

Equally, regression may occur when a traumatic event, like the death of someone close, could not be worked through at the time it occurred. These gaps in a person's development seem to me to be caused frequently by a defect in the deintegrative/reintegrative processes, which occurred at some time in the past. This defect, if not repaired, may seriously impede the process of individuation. Hence the need to regress to the damaged area of the personality.

As Jung has shown, neurotic symptoms are frequently attempts, albeit unsuccessful ones, to solve neurotic conflicts. They are a way in which the psyche spontaneously tries to repair damage which it has suffered. Thus, if understood correctly, they can serve as signposts for the analyst, indicating to which area the patient needs to regress so that analytic repair can be effected. In our present terminology we could say they indicate where deintegrative/reintegrative processes were impeded. This may have been caused by an innate deficiency in the patient or, more often than not, by an environment which was inimical to successful deintegration. It occurs when the patient could not enjoy a state of healthy dependence on his parents at a time in his childhood when such dependence was an indispensable condition for healthy development.

In analysis, regression can last for minutes, for days, for months, or in severe cases for years. If a patient regresses to the pre-verbal period of his life, he will sometimes express his regression in the consulting room by behaving like a baby who has no words to communicate. This may go on for a prolonged period of time. His regressed behaviour may involve screaming, kicking the wall, punching or throwing cushions, hiding under the rug or behind a chair, or simply lying in the position of a baby, with arms raised, or going to sleep in sessions. However, in my experience, this deep regression to infantile behaviour occurs more often than not in patients who have come out of long periods of what I call stagnation. I shall revert to this point in more detail when I discuss stagnation.

The analytic environment with its consistency of place, regularly agreed session times, its couch with cushions and rug, and, last but not least, an analyst who is reliably there for the patient in a consistent and caring way, all create a situation which is inducive to regression, unless, as I shall explain later, the patient is in a state of stagnation.

The analytic setting evokes memories of infancy in the patient, who may relive with the analyst a state of dependence which is not unlike that of a very young child or baby depending on his mother, albeit in analysis it occurs in an entirely non-physical way on a symbolic mother and is helped along by transference interpretations which frequently make the patient conscious of his child feelings.

In my view the need to regress springs up spontaneously out of the patient's psyche. Hence an analyst cannot cause a patient to regress, nor can he necessarily stop a patient from regressing if he wishes to do so. If a patient has regressed to the archetypal layer of his psyche and the analyst fears that a psychosis might develop if the patient stays regressed, all he can do is to cease making further interpretations and try to help the patient to address his problems in the here and now. The analyst may also consider reducing the frequency of sessions. In such a case the analyst must pay special attention to his countertransference: whether or not he has become fascinated by the archetypal material, has unwittingly communicated this to the patient, and has thus contributed to his getting stuck on the archetypal level. However, regression usually occurs when it is necessary for healing and for further growth. As Jung has pointed out, the psyche, like the body, has an innate tendency to heal injury."
(pp. 484-486)

Rushi Ledermann (1991). Regression and Stagnation. Journal of Analytical Psychology, Vol. 36, pp. 483-504

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