26th September 2009: Seminar “Love and Couples” – Sydney

Institute for Psychoanalytic Studies

Seminar “Love and Couples” with Dr Judith Pickering (Sydney)

Saturday 26th September 2009
9.30am – 4.00pm (Registration at 9am)

In this workshop I will explore how Bion’s concept of container-contained can be applied to the area of couple therapy. A long-term couple relationship may be conceptualized as a container for the two partners.

The sense of security, continuity and trust afforded by a mutually made commitment to journey together in a partnership can allow such a relationship to function as a therapeutic space in which partners may re-encounter, confront and rework areas of developmental arrest and come to know and integrate the different parts of themselves more fully.

Couples often present for therapy because their marriage has failed to function as a safe space. Therapy may be able to provide a temporary alternative container, the sense of a bounded and safe environment with another caring mind in which thinking and reflection are shown to be possibilities again

This latter situation is very common when the issue is that of containment of unprocessed primitive anxieties or beta elements (Bion, 1962) which have never been worked through, but are split-off, disavowed and evacuated in fantasy into the other through processes of projective identification.

The mindless repetition and compulsive nature of many marital rows is symptomatic of the activation of interlocking systems of mutual projections of beta elements or undigested traumatic material. Each partner has been triggered into their respective unconscious complexes and is swamped by unconscious anxieties, memories of fear, hurt and misunderstanding. Each urgently attempts to lodge unconscious unprocessed beta material into the other in order to rid themselves of its incoherent, chaotic and anxiety-ridden nature.

Couples may experience difficulty when one partner feels him or herself called upon by the other to be a container for the other’s projections. As Colman points out, each will find it difficult to contain the other precisely in those areas where they themselves need most containment (Colman 1993, p. 88).

In couple therapy there are a number of foci: the two partners, the therapist, the therapeutic intersubjective space, the complex networks and dynamics of relations between them and the relationship itself which creates a fluid, interpenetrating and interactive field.

A second order interplay between the marital third exists between the two partners and the analytic third that may exist between the therapist and the couple. Transferences to the therapist, although including individual transferences, represent this thirdness: there is a marital transference. The way that each partner constructs the therapist can give telling information about how the partner feels about their relationship. There is an intricate interweaving between these various transferences and countertransferences.

In couple psychotherapy there are thus various transferential and countertransferential foci, different depths of field. There are the two partners, the complex networks and dynamics of relations between them and the relationship itself, which creates a fluid, interpenetrating and interactive field, the intersubjective marital third. This is revealed by the communications of the individuals, but controlled by neither. It is within this complex of interactions that the work of couple psychotherapy occurs.

Couple therapy from a Bionian perspective

This workshop/seminar will be liberally illustrated with clinical material. It will draw on material contained in Judith’s book Being in love: Therapeutic pathways through psychological obstacles to love, (Routledge, 2008) which suggests that transformations in O is inspired by true love. Becoming who we are is an inherently relational journey: we uncover our truest nature and become most authentically real through the difficult and fearful crucibles of our intimate relationships. Yet becoming in O is a journey of transformation obstructed by numerous psychological obstacles. Judith will outline the interlocking traumatic scene in the  couple, mutual projective identifications, shared  unconscious phantasies, and other projective processes and therapeutic ways to work with them.

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