“Transformational Encounters”

As part of an ongoing scholarly and political effort to unify clinical psychoanalysis, I am initiating this blog to invite colleagues, students, and lay people to discuss clinical psychoanalysis—better described as sets of “transformational encounters”—in an open and dynamic way. In my view, psychoanalysts, regardless of their preferred theoretical models or metaphors, facilitate a unique kind of interpersonal relationship intended to facilitate patients’ personal transformation.

Psychoanalysts frame their professional relationships, ensuring that boundaries are maintained and a safe environment is created for transformational processes to unfold. They offer their authentic presence, more commonly termed empathy or attunement, to provide a reception for their patients’ words, emotions, beings. They also engage their patients in dialogue, allowing for exploration and interpretation of manifestations of the unconscious broadly defined as including interpersonal, sociocultural, historical, and other influences. But one component of engagement, psychoanalysts decline invitations to repeat archaic interpersonal patterns—a process that, akin to the way that orthodontia alters dental structure, introduces a reparative element to the psychoanalytic relationship.

These basic methods—framing, presence, and engagement—work to alter patients’ internalization processes. Patients who withdraw excessively into themselves do so at the expense of their engagement with the world. Their retreat disrupts their capacity for interpersonal intimacy. It prevents them from meaningfully engaging in their lives in other ways. They may abuse or become dependent on alcohol or other substances, struggle with eating habits, or wrestle with compulsions—these behaviors numbing their terror at venturing into the world of intimate interpersonal relationships and/or passionate involvement in other areas of life. They retreat to cope with developmental experiences that were, for them, nothing less than catastrophic.

I invite anyone reading these basic ideas to ask questions or offer comments. I plan to add thoughts and reactions to comments on a weekly basis.

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