Thursday, October 25, 2012

Michael Eigen - Soft and Hard Qualities

"Soft" and "hard" are universal expressive qualities that inform all our experience. We sense their interplay in the margin of our awareness throughout our lifetime. Their varying dissociations and interpenetrations color and texture our thoughts, feelings, sensations, and actions. They permeate objects of concern at every level of our existence and are subtly woven into the atmosphere of subjectivity as such. Without them our psychophysical existence would be more bland and dimensionless.

This theme is given a distilled representation in the Taoist yin-yang symbol, the Tai-chi-tu. But even this most coherent symbol of polarity-in-unity is too geometric to do justice to the subtle, interpenetrating flow of these qualities in moment-to-moment living. To be sure, hard and soft often do set each other off. They may oppose or complement each other in rather clearly distinguishable ways: viz., the erect penis and adaptable vagina, hard-headedness/soft-heartedness (or vice-versa), and the like. But even (especially?) in sexual intercourse it becomes most difficult to know clearly where the softness and where the hardness, as they melt into and permeate one another, ineffably fluid. The rock gradually dissolves in the water, but the water can no longer be described simply as "soft."

The qualities "soft" and "hard" are virtually omnipresent building blocks of personality. At each moment of development the self senses both itself, its capacities, functions, and objects in terms of soft and hard resonances. Its organizational capacities are partly steered by an implicit awareness of the soft-hard contours of sensed mental and physical realities. Blocks and distortions in the perception of these qualities and their shifting emotional meanings both reflect and perpetuate developmental deficiencies. Many individuals often are relatively insensitive to or misinterpret these vital cues of psychic movement.

The therapeutic task of helping patients to "experience their experience" is aided by the therapist's sensitivity to the incessant and complex interplay of soft and hard currents in mental life. These currents may act as moment-to-moment cues of psychic possibilities, which often go unheard or unheeded. Most patients tend to run roughshod over them or distort their meanings in accord with persistent, rigid patterns. Individuals are usually filled with too much anxiety noise to truly feel and value the subtle expressive forces which ever form part of the background of existence. Occasionally patients make inflated use of background qualities and turn what could be "news of difference" into chronic, narcissistic shields. The creative recognition of the flow of softness-hardness qualities also may threaten areas of affective flattening built up as protection against dangers associated with psychic fertility.

In the present paper I record some aspects of the struggle involved in keeping oneself open to fresh perceptions of the meaning and use of softness-hardness cues in personal development. I focus on the appearance of softness-hardness qualities in dream life and how these qualities reflect actual or potential shifts in self-feeling. The patients involved often tended to disregard or ward off experiencing the genuinely new nuances of self-feeling to which their dreams might give rise. It was largely up to the therapist to sustain the integrity of the dreamer's attempt to create perspectives outside well-worn destructive circles or stereotypes—until the patient could increasingly own this function. The meaning-making processes described here do not claim to be the only or "right" ones. Any number of possible avenues might have led to development. What is perhaps most important is the personal faith and investment in meaning creation itself, a communal process in which we stimulate each other's appetites for meaning and creative shifts in self-feeling."
(pp. 267-268)

Michael Eigen (1980). A Note on Soft and Hard Qualities. American Journal of Psychoanalysis, Vol. 40, pp. 267-271.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Anna Bravesmith - Supervision and Imagination

"The role of imagination in supervision is central and imaginative activity in both supervisee and supervisor discovers the unconscious layers of the analytic work which cannot be known consciously at the outset. The supervisor needs to be open to playful reverie and fully able to associate freely to material that the supervisee brings. In this paper the main argument is that imagination itself is essential but that, to borrow a metaphor from engineering, reasonable deduction acts as a fulcrum for the pivotal actions of the imagination. The argument is elaborated to differentiate two kinds of activity which might be thought of as use and misuse of imagination. These two kinds of internal activity have been further differentiated and described as ‘imagination’ and ‘the imaginary’ by Colman (2006, p. 22); he says:

imaginary fantasies lack the substance and depth of real imagination [using] fantasy as a way of defending against all those aspects of reality concerned with absence and loss.

Without the fulcrum of reason and reality checking defensive and misleading fantasies can arise in the supervisor and embroil both participants in the supervision in a fantasy world. This is like a lever with no fixed point which then becomes dysfunctional. In contrast grounded imaginative activity is an incredibly subtle and versatile tool.

The deeply integrative potential of supervision emphasized by Searles (1955), Perry (2003), McGlashan (2003) and others rests largely on the maintenance of a mutual relationship in which closeness and distance are both accepted as complementary and equally valuable attributes. In closeness the supervisor comes alongside the supervisee and has an emotional and imaginative experience which, at some level, is analogous to what is happening in the therapeutic work. With distance the supervisor is able to evaluate, reflect and constructively criticize or ‘break the enchantment’ (Schaverien 2003) of over identification between analyst and patient. This evaluative function is often emphasized in organizations where supervisors take a monitoring role with close links to management and its structures. Indeed the word ‘supervision’, for most people outside the field of psychotherapy, is still associated with its historical roots as a term for the overseeing of work on the factory floor and a simple fixed hierarchical relationship. In analytic circles the word has been expanded to include what Gediman and Wolkenfield called the ‘complex multidirectional network’ (1980, p. 236) of influences between patient/therapist/supervisor, with dynamic shifts in distance and closeness. The supervisor's surrender to imagination also necessitates a temporary lowering of ego function as she/he has to allow stray associations and sensations to enter consciousness without censorship. This momentarily changes the hierarchical model in favour of greater mutuality and shared experience. The supervisor at times has to relinquish the bastion of the ego in the same way that this has to happen in the analyst in an analysis.

The term supervision has been universally adopted and is unlikely to be replaced by any other term but Perry (2003, p. 190) says:

The term ‘subvision’ may be more evocative since both supervisor and supervisee are concerned with what happens beneath surface consciousness. ‘Prismatic vision’ seems to me to be an even better name for the process.

He explains that prismatic vision is the process whereby material is brought to the consultation like undifferentiated white light which gains its visibility and colour when seen through the supervisory prism, or process.

The role of imagination in supervision is closely related to this idea of giving colour to experience which may be initially undifferentiated, white or grey. However imagination can be mercurial, shifting in its value so that it may sometimes appear as the ‘deceiving elf’ of fancy as in Keats's ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ (1819) quoted above. This can happen when the supervisor and supervisee are enraptured in a joint fantasy which they forget to analyse and instead retreat into, thereby ignoring their subjectivity and the emergence of a third position. As Zinkin (1996, p. 247) states:

supervision is actually a shared fantasy… it works best if both remain aware that what they are jointly imagining is not true. Both can profit enormously … there is teaching and learning to be found in this joint imaginative venture.

My interpretation of Zinkin's contentious remark is that the imagination generates working hypotheses in supervision which can be negated, altered, extended as we go along but that if we are attached to defending their ‘truth’ at any stage we are probably in a defensive state of mind. He goes further by saying that this can be a folie รก deux where both supervisor and supervisee collude.

In exploring the role of imagination in supervision I will examine the differentiation between defensive and creative imaginative functions with particular reference to my work as a training supervisor for an analytic psychotherapy organization. This is linked with the use of a Jungian perspective which I have found particularly useful in the practice of supervision because the Jungian understanding of the ego-self relationship is congruent with openness to parallel process phenomena. The emergence of feelings, images, thoughts and atmospheres which derive from the patient in direct experience in supervision is most commonly called parallel process and is the factor which transforms supervision from a dyadic activity into a triadic one. In reality it often constellates as multi-layered, including the mirroring of dynamics in more than three relationships.

The Jungian conceptualization of an internal mutually rewarding communication between ego and self provides a frame for the techniques I describe in supervision. These are essentially the same as those used in analysis but need to be harnessed differently in order to avoid simply becoming analysis of the supervisee. The techniques are harnessed and the supervisor even ‘blinkered’ to achieve a focus only on the track ahead—that is the further understanding of the supervisee's work with a patient and excludes the analysis of other wider aspects of his/her personality, no matter how tempting it may be to go down that path. For example when supervising a supervisee who appears to be detached from his/her patient the supervisor may feel that this reflects an incapacity to connect with others on an emotional level. This may be a difficulty which is observable in the work with more than one patient over years, thus suggesting that the block lies within the supervisee's personality and is possibly part of a schizoid pattern. The temptation might be to interpret the defensive nature of the supervisee's pattern going deeper into its origins, relating it to the transference to the supervisor and to archetypal complexes. However this would erode the boundary between supervision and analysis and compromise the supervision. The supervisee would probably feel intruded into and any concurrent analysis going on elsewhere could be compromised. This situation can be an unconscious acting out of the supervisor's rivalry with the supervisee's analyst or simply an over-entanglement with the supervisee." (pp. 101-103)

Anna Bravesmith (2008). Supervision and Imagination. Journal of Analytical Psychology, Vol. 53, pp. 101-117

Monday, October 8, 2012

Richard Reichbart - The Concept of Screen Memories: An Historical Review

"The general sense of a "screen memory" today is of a memory characterized by a clear and heightened sense of reality, focused on a seemingly innocuous event that screens from memory a contiguous or associated traumatic event. This screen memory is generally considered to be unchanged and of long standing; because of its seemingly innocuous nature, its retention is often something of a mystery to its possessor. Indeed, this is a kind of screen memory, but as will become clear it is not the only one that Freud identified or that was elaborated by later commentators. Freud was very much fascinated by screen memories, in a way we do not appear to be today. Modern case presentations, for example, would not generally be formulated using what Freud wrote in 1914: "Not only some but all of what is essential in childhood has been retained in these [screen] memories. It is simply a question of knowing how to extract it out of them by analysis. They represent the forgotten years of childhood as adequately as the manifest content of a dream represents the dream-thoughts" (Freud 1914, p. 148).

Sixty-six years later, Greenacre (1980) wrote that the "functions and significance of screen memories still seem of marginal importance to many analysts" (p.40). In fact, discussions about the "screening" function of memories have tended to generalize to such an extent, often introducing new terms (see, e.g., Lewin 1946; Greenson 1958; Reider 1953; Blum 1994, p. 28), that even the particular characteristics of a screen memory, such as its brightness and immediacy, its intactness throughout most of a treatment, and its lengthy imperviousness to analysis, have been lost.

There are probably a number of reasons that screen memory has come into disfavor as a concept worth exploration in contemporary work. Two come to mind. The first is that screen memory is sometimes considered an antiquated and dusty concept, involved solely in reconstruction of the patient's past, a relic of the old archaeological model of psychoanalysis that Freud initially favored. In other words, a screen memory is not seen as alive and crucial in the here and now of the transference interactions of a treatment or in the establishment of object relations. And it is true that despite Freud's fascination with screen memory, at no point did he specifically discuss its importance to the transference. Many decades later, Mahon and Battin (1981; Mahon and Battin-Mahon 1983) did make masterful observations about the role of the screen memory in the transference, but by comparing this memory to a container whose contents flow into the transference only when the power of the memory begins to break up as treatment progresses, they failed to convey the sense of overwhelming power that a screen memory can exert on the transference from the very beginning of treatment. On the other hand, it appears to have escaped notice by subsequent commentators that in one brief and passing reference Freud made an incisive observation about the importance of screen memory in establishing a person's object choice, which I elaborate on below. Indeed, his examples of screen memory can be interpreted as embodying this concept. In what follows I will emphasize this aspect of screen memories, as well as the importance of screen memories to object relations in general.

Freud's fascination with screen memories first appeared in print in 1899, prior to the appearance of The Interpretation of Dreams, in a paper that in a letter to Fliess he said he liked immensely (Masson 1985, p. 351). Here he formally coined the term screen memory and described the characteristics of the phenomenon, using as an example a disguised memory of his own from his adolescence, as well as examples from a paper published by V. and C. Henri in 1897. He stated that a screen memory is a "compromise": "What is recorded as a mnemic image is not the relevant experience itself—in this respect the resistance gets its way; what is recorded is another psychical element closely associated with the objectionable one." Screen memories are like "shams": "they are not made of gold themselves but have lain beside something that is made of gold" (1899, p. 307). Very unlike other childhood memories, a screen memory has an hallucinatory quality; it is what he referred to as "ultra-clear." Diagnostically, Freud did not go beyond contending somewhat tentatively,as had the Henris, that screen memories occur frequently in the childhood memory of "neurotics."

As his thoughts advanced, Freud stated more emphatically how significant screen memories are to psychoanalysis. In 1914 his publications suggested that his thinking had advanced considerably. Not only did he make the remark I have cited about a screen memory containing all of what is essential in childhood; he also published the Wolf Man case, in which screen memories played a prominent role. In 1920, Freud added an intriguing footnote to Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1905). There he compared a screen memory developmentally to a fetish: "behind the first recollection of the fetish's appearance there lies a submerged and forgotten phase of sexual development. The ‘fetish,’ like the screen-memory, represents this phase and is thus a remnant and precipitate of it" (pp. 154-155).Further Elaborations

Writing after Freud, a number of commentators elaborated on the concept of the screen memory. In 1929 Glover clearly stated that a screen memory is not necessarily a memory of an inconsequential event that stands in for a traumatic one. Rather, a traumatic event can act as a screen (and a very convincing one) to a greater trauma (see Good 1998). The example Glover provided was of a patient who was circumcised in a particularly insensitive manner when he was between three and a half and four years of age, an event of which he had no memory. But he did remember in detail an incident that took place on the same day. He had been visiting in the house of the doctor, a family friend of the mother's, who performed the circumcision later that day, and had burned his hand on a hot stove. He recalled the occasion of the accident, its cause, the stove, the dressings, and so on in extraordinary detail, but amnesia for the circumcision itself was complete (Glover 1929).

In 1927 Fenichel used an economic model: a screen memory develops as a "safety valve" (p. 113) in consequence of the pressure of repressed material rising toward consciousness. The conscious recall of the screen memory represents a "partial discharge" (p. 113), so that the pressure is then diminished and repression becomes possible. Fenichel also observed that when the ego struggles with a troubling perception, which it attempts to repress, it develops a "hunger for screen-experiences" (p. 114). In effect, the ego searches for screen experiences and is "economically eased when it finds them" (p. 114). He emphasized that a screen memory often has attached to it a command to remember, an "injunction to note" (p. 116). That is, the individual remembers that at the time of the event represented in the screen memory, he felt an inner injunction, which Fenichel characterized as "Pay attention! You must remember this scene as long as you live!" (p. 114; see also Fenichel 1929). To elaborate on Fenichel, what could equally be stated is that there is an unconscious injunction that is exactly the opposite and of comparable force. It is "Forget, forget as long as you live" the underlying trauma that the screen memory replaces. This internalized vow is what makes the screen memory so impervious to analysis.

Probably no commentator after Freud attempted to characterize screen memories more than Greenacre. Over and over, she emphasized that screen memories are unlike other memories or dreams: "Screen memories are especially helpful, but are often disregarded by students and some analysts who have tried unprofitably to treat them as though they were dreams. Because they are less fluid than dreams and more firmly organized in their defensive function, immediate free association cannot be demanded" (Greenacre 1981, pp. 42-43). Elaborating on what Glover suggested, she contended that there are two forms of screen memory, the one indicated by Freud, in which the memory is apparently of something inconsequential and attended by a special visual "brightness," and another, in which there is a "stubborn persistence but without brightness, and in which the content appears factually disturbing and very little elaborated" (Greenacre 1949, p. 74). She contended that screen memories exist on a continuum, running the gamut from those in which a seemingly inconsequential incident is brightly illuminated and remembered to those in which "really traumatic events may be seized upon as representations of the earliest anxious fantasies or experiences of the child and may be used variously as justification, verification or gratification" (p. 76). This type of screen memory, characterized by persistence rather than triviality and brightness, tends to remain factual and isolated. It is "stubbornly resistant to analysis" (p. 77) and often will not yield to analysis until the end of treatment. (As will be seen, however, the data in this case appear to contradict Greenacre's comment about the lack of brightness attributable to screen memories involving traumatic events.) In and of itself, Greenacre remarked, the screen memory can become symbolic of reality testing for a patient, in which "reality [is used] to cover reality" (p.83).

Greenacre (1949) attempted to explain what accounts for the power of a screen memory, suggesting among other things that the stage of superego development at the time of the event for which the screen memory is substituted has a decisive influence because the superego determines the extent and intensity of the need to deny and contributes to the sense of "actual watchfulness in the screen memory" (p. 76). She hypothesized that the degree of sadomasochistic character structure also plays a role: the more sadomasochistic the character, the more likely it is that the screen memory will involve really traumatic events, and that the memory will be symbolically used to characterize Fate and to justify a sadomasochistic posture toward the world. (She did not explain why this should be; further on, I will attempt to do so.) After Greenacre, the most important contribution has been that of the Mahons, who emphasized the importance of the screen memory to the ongoing psychoanalytic process, and who stated that dissipation of the power of the screen memory is a signal that the terminal phase of psychoanalysis has begun."
(pp. 457-461)


Richard Reichbart (2008). Screen Memory: Its Importance to Object Relations and Transference. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 56:455-481