My first reflection is on the style of the chapter, where the two Authors pose questions, raise doubts, albeit in a constructive, respectful manner, underlining how unhelpful it is to talk in terms of better or worse rather than trying to understand one another, to have a debate in order to work out how both models may benefit from each other, with the aim of identifying a common ground.
- The first theme relates to Ferro’s concept of transformation in the dream, i.e. starting any kind of communication with “I have dreamt that”, in order to avoid a blending with reality and introduce a game of meaning and shifting significance, so that the essential ambiguity of the analytic encounter and the oneiric atmosphere are maintained. The risk spotted by Atlas and Aron is that the Italian model might turn into the mechanical application of a single lens through which all communications are rigidly decoded.
I think we need to differentiate between the transformation in the dream as a technical tool to which we resort when an excess of reality due to the patient’s characteristics or to particular moments in the analytic path lead to an impasse in the field, from an attitude towards the development of an oneiric state of the mind where the narrative quality and the suspension of disbelief prevail and where there is more likelihood of the emergence of reverie. Without losing sight of the fact that there may also be moments when the analyst’s state of mind is intensely focused on the patient’s material.
- As for the statute of projective identification, the authors go back to Stern’s critique which suggests that the difference between a relational and interpersonal field analyst and a BFT analyst is linked to the awareness that both actions and fantasies are key to the process of projective identification. As far as projective identification is concerned, Bion states that the patient does something to the analyst and that the analyst does something to the patient, that we are not dealing with an all-powerful fantasy. Maybe the problem is what we mean by “acting” in psychoanalysis, whether this includes the pragmatic aspect implicit in every act of human communication. Words are a kind of action on whose strength we make things happen, words do not just describe but change the world and our relationships, they are the means by which we play the roles which are crucial to the build-up of our identity.
I do not think that there are substantial differences between a relational model where the analyst is captured by oncoming enactments, and the analyst in the BFT model who thinks of the analytic path as a sequence of field diseases which patient and analyst must come to terms with in order to trigger in the couple an immune response that becomes the patient’s possession. For a BFT analyst Projective Identifications are also to be considered an inevitable, valuable, unconscious mode of communication, the analyst is largely immersed in the field and the game of unconscious communication is bidirectional. As soon as we emerge from the field, when we wake up from the shared dream, we can identify the disease of the field that is active at that moment and the asymmetry of the relationship resurfaces.
- The analyst’s self-reflection is a tool which does not prevent enactments, or rather the field’s diseases (we might ask ourselves if they are equivalent terms or not, even in the case of mutual enactment) because, as the product of the encounter/clash of two unconscious states, they slip off the radar of consciousness and can only be diagnosed the moment they emerge from the field, when the disease is still active. The analyst’s contribution to the field’s disease is unavoidable, but it is always worth trying to think in terms of field as an emerging level where subjectivities are set in brackets.
Imagining the analyst as a new object is not an attitude that staves off trouble but rather affords a glimpse of the pathological not just as a simple repetition but in its originality. The past, when it appears in the session, takes on different features, what needs dealing with is how it bursts onto the session, tinged by the encounter with a new person in a different context.
If a patient maintains that his father never took him by the hand and what he ever expected of him were good school reports, looking on communication as the description of something traumatic that happened in the analytic relationship brings the analyst to question himself about his configuration in the session. There is no need to ask oneself to what extent this refers back to the patient’s childhood; this is because the transformations take place in the session anyway and are played out in the analytic couple. Interpreting in terms of negative transference might risk causing a sense of unaccountability in the analyst who, simply by placing the trauma in the past, would not assume responsibility for it.
- A problem linked to the use of short clinical vignettes is that, even more than in any clinical description, we lose the prosodic aspect of language, which is a crucial part of the intervention. Besides, brevity makes it impossible to differentiate a basic tone and rhythm of the couple’s dialogue from an abnormal rhythm or tone. The vignettes may be useful for bringing into focus a single aspect of what is happening; a broader vision, however, requires a broader exposure. If the aim of the vignette is to show up the dangerousness of an oversaturated interpretation, then other aspects are probably underestimated, such as what could lie at the root of the interpretation itself, the turmoil in the mind of the analyst that prompts him to distil an intervention.
- One last thought on the beautiful vignette at the start of the chapter which prompts many questions that make up the thread of the chapter itself. It is a formidable example of transformation in dream where the analyst’s creativity emerges in all its transformative potential. In the commentary the authors refer to Oedipal themes, to the patient’s wish to possess as big a penis as his father’s and to the wish to lay claim to the mother’s body.
In a Bionian model the analyst’s brilliant capacity to transform into dream would stand out more clearly; she does not allow himself to be crushed by reality, she turns the patient’s hostility into tolerance and understanding meanwhile showing a creative, masterly use of the mind’s narrative function; the function that through successive narrations enables the weaving and transformation of the excess of beta elements produced by human relations.