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Recently, I was fortunate to receive an invitation to the VAPP annual end-of-year professional development event; an inspiring evening, with a beautiful presentation by Anne Jeffs who had conceived the event as an interactive and collaborative experience garnering the considered views of three panellists to their chosen works of art and the responses of the audience to these works. The theme was around the creative process for the psychoanalytic psychotherapist in finding his/her own “true and personal voice”. This nurturing and development of a psychoanalytic voice, particularly in regard to its reflective capacity — a marker of a distinct psychoanalytic identity — is a central thread traversing the four papers presented in this issue. It also forms the theme of the review of the poetry day-event and informs both book reviews.
We begin with a clinical paper: Sally Young brings her experience, expertise and wisdom to her paper positing the centrality of sibling relationships in the development of our psychic life; an oft-overlooked developmental element, she argues, which stands as a separate and perhaps equal partner to the Oedipus complex in the shaping of our personality. The paper is brought to life through the voice of the writer — a voice distilling a clarity of mind with compassionate understanding conveyed through gentle irony and humour. The author stresses the interdependence of the sibling, couple and family elements in the individual developmental process and within this context the interplay between the ordinary travails of life and unconscious processes, especially projective identification. In particular, already highlighted in the first clinical example, she privileges analytic space and its interconnective implications for the therapist, the patient and the work.
Neil Maizels brings a spaciousness of mind and an analytic sensibility to a fascinating and layered paper on the vissisitudes of distraction. From the beginning, the writer, aware of the difficulties inherent in the subject matter (neatly encapsulated in the title), finds “a space in between” to evoke a “true and personal voice” with a fine balance between theory and practice, political and personal, serious and humourful and, primarily, between the seemingly more creative and benign and the perhaps more depressive/avoidant/disruptive aspects of the problem of distraction: “I hope to show that there is another side, or vertex, in which the defence of distraction may have a life-protecting, and even creative capability, if it is not too cursorily condemned, or dismissed as merely destructive, or always serving the manic-destructive cause.” In relation to this, a distinction is made between “sublimatory distraction”, as opposed to “manic distraction” where a creative connection is made to Bion’s concept of an attack on linking. The three vignettes subtlely illustrate some interesting and related clinical problems and the paper is drawn together with original and creatively linked ideas.
Mark Thorpe brings engaging voice and deft lightness of touch to a serious subject — a personal quest to keep a psychoanalytic voice alive in “the heart of darkness … a behaviourally dominated mental health and university system”. As inspiration, Thorpe cites Alessandra Lemma’s challenge that for psychoanalytic influence to endure, its practitioners must “engage in a dialogue with other related fields of enquiry and … social realities that affect mental health”. He describes a number of potentially depressing and difficult, carefully self-observed experiences in his teaching, supervisory and examining roles with a paradoxically playful tone; the capacity to play with the material both in realtime and in writing contrasting with what is the lamentably proscriptive environment described. The paper moves between psychoanalytic and behavioural worlds, between inner and outer reality, interweaving psychoanalytic theory with emotional experience and self reflection/s.
Finally, Allan Shafer brings a clarity of vision and purpose; a contrapuntally measured voice — both naïve and sophisticated enquirer-to outline his “Plea for an imperfect psychoanalytic psychotherapy”. Shafer makes it his task to “re-examine some of the assumptions underlying the idea of what it means to be psychoanalytic in the contemporary world”, made more difficult he argues with an unhelpful binary split into psychoanalysis as science or art. The writer interweaves a “psychoanalytic inquiry” regarding his own practice with a finely rendered overview of the literature: “This paper may ... ask more questions than it answers — after all, according to Bion, ‘the answer is the misfortune or disease of curiosity — it kills it.’! ... it may reveal more about my thinking and about me than it ultimately reveals about psychoanalytic thinking. But I reassure myself that after all, is not an examination of one’s own mind the very stuff of this work?” Shafer makes creative use of his expertise in the field of socio-analysis, highlighting the quartet of BART: boundaries, authority, role and task to argue for a view of the profession as less rigidly adhering to old “structures” as it evolves.
Paul Coombe provides a stimulating account of the annual creative workshop, Between Writer and Reader, sponsored by the Australian Association of Group Analysts, including “various celebrations of human creativity” — poetry, play-reading, music-making, formal presentation — a co-mingling of different yet connected voices. In relation to these creative processes, Coombes conveys the richness of the day, highlighting the afternoon session devoted in the main to the poetry of Maurice Whelan. An interesting comparison is made between the use of silence in poetry — “sometimes such a lot can be conveyed in the spaces in and around words” to “good psychoanalytic work” where the need is often for “a psychological minimalism” — the “space between or around words” bringing to life the thought and the emotional resonance.
The book review editor, Elizabeth Hanscombe, brings two very interesting reviews of recent psychoanalytic publications: both reviews have the psychology and treatment of trauma at their centre and give voice to the often overlooked and unspoken aspects of this area.
Eva Balint gives a comprehensive and compassionate overview, and a warm recommendation, of Richard B. Gartner’s edited volume “Trauma and counter-trauma, resiliance and counterresiliance”, a recent compilation of papers by renowned practitioners in the field writing on the impact and effect of this arduous work. “What sets this book apart” says Balint “is the remarkably open and frank discussions of these senior clinicians’ personal responses to their work”.
Wayne Featherston and Laura Petrie write a lucid and informed review of C. Bradley and F. Kinchinton’s (2018) “Revealing the Inner World of Traumatised Children and Young People: An attachment informed model for assessing emotional needs and treatment”— work that they are clearly familiar with. They convey their deep respect and professional appreciation of the authors, whose work encompasses careful assessment and treatment of complex and tragic cases with all the “stresses and strains of such demanding work” and an accompanying “clear-eyed, broader recognition of the need to create and sustain an appropriate therapeutic culture” within a residential therapeutic community with its implied requirement for reflective practice — the integration of a “consultancy stance” or internal “third position” to sustain and enhance the work.
I would like to appreciatively thank all the contributors who have gifted their papers and reviews to this issue and to those who have helped with the editing process.
We welcome your submissions of psychoanalytically informed papers and reviews (of a variety of media holding psychoanalytic interest).
Judi Blumenfeld Hoadley
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