Rat Man to Relationality: An Introduction
The jealous and violent Titan Kronos, son of Zeus, was enraged. He was unaccustomed to being ignored. Yet his advances had been rejected by the beautiful sea nymph, Philyra. Seething and scheming, he plotted his revenge. With his supernatural powers he turned himself into a stallion, relentlessly pursued the unsuspecting Philyra, and brutally raped her.
From this savage and violent union, Chiron was conceived.
Being the child of a supreme deity, Chiron, was born immortal. And in a cruel embodiment of his traumatic conception, he was also born a centaur, a creature with the torso of a human male and the hind legs of a horse. Philyra was repulsed by Chiron, perhaps due to his deformity, perhaps in anticipation of the onset of depraved behaviour for which centaurs were notorious, perhaps for reflecting an aspect of her own history that was unbearable for her. As nine months earlier she had rejected his father, Philyra abandoned her baby.
Before long, the supreme god, Apollo, god of defence and destruction, of poetry and music, of archery and healing, rescued and adopted the infant. At Apollo’s feet, Chiron was exposed to the arts, sciences, medicine and morality and although a centaur in form, grew up to be utterly unlike his centaur counterparts in substance.
Centaurs were known to be lascivious, hedonistic, rowdy and deviant, but not Chiron. Chiron developed into a wise and esteemed teacher of morality, an astrologer, a gifted healer, a mentor, a bridge between the world of humans and that of animals, much-loved and widely respected.
Amongst Chiron’s cohort of illustrious students was the god Hercules. One evening over dinner and a bottle of sacred wine, Hercules and Chiron suddenly found themselves surrounded by a mob of marauding, menacing centaurs who had been attracted by the smell of the alcohol. The centaurs attacked. Hercules in defence of Chiron and himself, counter-attacked with his arrows, killing many of the centaurs.
Perhaps it was a stray arrow, perhaps Hercules mistook the centaur Chiron for one of their assailants, but one of Hercules’ arrows, made all the more lethal by a serpent’s venom and meant for their aggressors, accidentally struck his gentle and beloved teacher and friend.
Chiron was critically injured and in agony. He mustered up his superior healing powers but was rendered impotent. It was not possible for the wounded healer to heal himself and, despite yearning for death to release him from his distress, it was also not possible for a deity to die. With his wounds unattended, he was destined to endure excruciating torment in perpetuity.
Meanwhile, Prometheus, supreme trickster and god of fire, having angered the gods by stealing fire from them, had been banished to Mount Olympus where he was being punished in eternal horror by having his liver devoured by an eagle. As a deity, Prometheus too was destined to live forever, and like Chiron continued to suffer in tortured despair, from a cruel alliance of injury and immortality.
Vanquished by relentless pain, desperate to be liberated by death, Chiron devised a plan. If Hercules would agree to exchange his own mortality for Chiron’s immortality, Chiron would offer to change places with Prometheus, thereby freeing Prometheus from his torture, bestowing perpetual life upon him and conferring upon Hercules an opportunity for him to simultaneously liberate his unintended victim, redeem himself and live forever.
And so it transpired. Hercules gave his mortality to Chiron in exchange for eternal life, Chiron took Prometheus’s place on Mount Olympus and Prometheus was liberated from his excruciating fate. With his own liver being devoured by the eagle, the now-mortal Chiron waited to surrender to death.
As Apollo had rescued the infant Chiron, his grandfather Zeus now took pity on him, and freed Chiron, half-man half-animal, gifted and wounded healer, supreme being, into the heavens to be immortalised, after all, as a star.
Animals have always occupied a significant place in the lives of humans, initially as food, as a means of transport, and as companions for some 15,000 years (Beck, 2000). Our relationship with animals, however, is richer and more complex than one based only on their utilitarian value or on the comfort they offer to humans. Animals have forever been grafted into the human psyche. They appear in cave drawings and art throughout the ages, in stellar constellations, like zodiac signs, and in mythology and fairy tales, and are integral to polytheism, shamanism, traditional faiths, and contemporary religious life (von Buchholtz, 2000).
Animals in psychoanalysis
According to Freud, animals, in some form, have crawled, crept, leapt, trotted, hopped, slithered, swum, flown, or flittered their way into psychoanalytic literature.
In Freud’s later writings, we learn of his well-known love of and devotion to his dogs that entered his life and his therapy room in his later years. We discover his belief about their perceptiveness regarding the emotional landscape of his patients, the calming and comforting effect they had on both him and those he was treating, and their intuition about the end of sessions.
But much earlier on in his work, we are introduced to a unique portrayal of human-animal relationships (Suen, 2013). In Totem and Taboo, Freud (2001) argues that, given their parents’ tendency to manage human sexuality by obscuring, denying, fictionalising, or romanticising the facts, children perceive themselves as less like their parents and far more akin to animals, in their shared lack of both arrogance and inhibition about their bodily functions. Animals, he suggests, were thus far more useful to children as objects of childhood observation in the development of their theories of sexuality. He observes that at some point, however, a child will suddenly develop a phobia about an animal to which she or he was hitherto attached - ‘a very common, and perhaps the earliest, form of psychoneurotic illness’ (p. 147). It is thus that animals play a role in the gathering of material for the formation of the oedipus complex. And it is thus that animals come to enter the dreams of his child patients.
Freud’s exploration and analysis of the dreams of his child patients offers his most detailed consideration of animal-human relationships (De Chavez, 2015). His focus on infantile neuroses in The Rat Man: Notes upon a case of obsessional neurosis and The Wolf Man: From a history of an infantile neurosis reveals the intrapsychic centrality of the imaginal animal (ibid) as representative of oedipal desire. Other than in his consideration of the androgynous vulture in Leonardo da Vinci’s dream which, as mothersubstitute, has an empowering effect on da Vinci as a child (ibid), Freud proposes that, in his child patients’ dreams, the punitive father, manifesting as the feared animal, threatens castration as punishment for the child’s sexual desire for the mother and death-wish for the father. The animal for Freud is thus seen as an intrapsychic representative of drives, and the task of analysis is to interrogate the dream material in order to excavate its latent content.
Freud further extends the reference to animals in Totem and Taboo. While it is beyond the scope of this chapter to elaborate upon these ideas, it is worth noting that in his endeavour to determine an anthropological predisposition for the oedipus complex, he attempts to establish a link between the infantile anxiety triggered by animals and the ambivalent status of the ‘totem’ animal in the so-called primitive societies (Marinelli and Mayer, 2016).
Much later on in Freud’s work, his interest in animals turned to observations of domestic animals in both his life and his treatment room; when he was in his 70s, he met Wolf, ‘an Alsatian shepherd with a wide grin and batlike ears and just like that, dogs went from being Freudian symbols to being Freudian friends and office mates’ (Freud in Braitman, 2014).
Reflecting with great affection and tenderness on the influence upon his patients of his first Chow, Jofi, he wrote, ‘a charming creature, so interesting in her feminine characteristics too, wild, impulsive, intelligent’ (ibid). He noticed that both he and his patients were calmer in Jofi’s presence (Coren, 2013), which, he suggested, softened resistance and enabled his patients to more easily disclose difficult material, thereby facilitating the analysis. He wrote movingly of the enormous comfort his dogs were to him personally, at times of distress, illness, loss, and impending death.
Molnar (1996) points out an interesting tension in Freud’s considerations of the animal presence. The theoretical discourse of the oedipus complex contends that in dream content, the feared animal, as a substitute for the punitive father, is a sign of neurotic ambivalence; his companion dogs, on the other hand, are imbued with positive qualities, which he experiences as objects of attachment, as feminine, and as encouraging the therapeutic process. In exploring this idea, Suen (2013) proposes that perhaps we are
willing to speak, and speak even the most difficult truth, when we see the animal not as a fearful, punitive creature, but rather as a maternal figure to whom we look for support and inspiration when we have momentarily lost our voice (p. 137).
Several further ironies are embedded in Freud’s hypotheses about humananimal relationships. Neither Freud nor his followers tried to analyse animals or their relationships with humans (see Brown’s 2004 paper, The Human-Animal Bond and Self Psychology: Toward a New Understanding as an example of the utilising psychoanalytic theory for such an exploration) nor, once animals had been introduced into Freud’s consulting room, did he consider their representational role in the analytic process. Given that the oedipus complex is a theory anchored in the familial, social, and religious structures of a patriarchal society (Suen, 2013), Roitman (2018, personal communication) attributes this omission, in part, to the experience of the human-animal bond being predicated upon the then-dominant Western beliefin the superiority of humans over ‘wild and bestial’ animals. At the time, Freud noted in Totem and Taboo that animals were perceived to be more akin to children and members of pre-literate societies, and similarly needed to be subjugated and tamed. Indeed, Myers (in Serpell, 1999) and Deleuze and Guattari (in De Chavez, 2015) criticise Freudian theory for its tendency to reduce animals to symbols or disguised impulses. Nevertheless, this clarification may also help to justify why, despite Freud’s work on transference, it was his daughter Anna, rather than Freud himself, who speculated about the transferential relationship between her father and his canine companions, when she jokingly suggested that he transferred his affection for her onto his dogs (Braitman, 2014).
As conspicuous, albeit defensible, as these omissions are, the matter did not end there. In the early 1960s, Freud’s writing about his companion dogs subsequently became the basis for the launching of a system of animal-assisted therapeutic interventions that deviated from a psychoanalytical orientation and veered towards prioritising the remedial potential of the human-animal bond in health promotion and cognitive and behavioural change (Bachi and Parish-Plass, 2016; Brown, 2004; Kruger and Serpell, 2010). Some of the features of animal-assisted therapy will be elaborated
Rat Man to relationality 5 upon later in this chapter. Prior to this elaboration, a brief reference to animals in the work of Ferenczi, Rank, Hermann, and Jung is merited.
Following Freud, Ferenczi and Rank continued to reference animals in their work, although later digressed in their focus from their predecessor’s interpretation of the symbolism of animals in the oedipal complex. Rank extended the scope of the oedipal complex, asserting that infantile animal phobias were also linked to the trauma of birth and represented the child’s unconscious wish to return to the mother’s womb. Ferenczi, motivating for a return to hypnosis as the preferred psychoanalytic technique, argued that the imagined animal revealed the child’s attachment to both parents (Marinelli and Mayer, 2016).
Although animals continued to feature marginally in psychoanalytic literature as in the work of the authors mentioned above, Marinelli and Mayer (ibid.) assert that most of the work involving animals did not, in the main, enhance the formulation of psychoanalytic theory nor deepen our understanding of the scope of the human-animal bond for therapeutic outcome. They draw our attention, however, to the work of the more peripheral Imre Hermann, whose contribution, they argue, does meaningfully progress psychoanalytic thinking.
Initially trained as an experimental psychologist, Hermann’s training analysis awakened in him an interest in a comparative study of human and animal behaviour. His investigation of primatology and animal psychology, despite his methodology being criticised for its reliance on indirect observation, contributed notably to a major shift in psychoanalytic theory from the classical triangular oedipal model towards attachment theories, which instead highlighted the pre-oedipal stage and the mother-child dyad. Marinelli and Mayer (ibid) contend that Hermann’s work is thus salient in its demonstration of the transition from, and reformulation of, Freud’s hypotheses about the nature of instincts to a more ethologically informed approach in which animals feature. The psychoanalytic reception of animal psychology in the 1920s, albeit by indirect observation, thus predated the actual observation of children and babies, as practiced by Klein and later attachment theorists such as Spitz or Bowlby (ibid) and perhaps even pioneered observation as a viable method for the gathering of data for analysis.
Jung’s work on the role of animals also adds materially to the literature. Underpinned by his religious conviction, his love and admiration of animals, and his ‘unconscious identity’ (Jung, 1995, p. 121) with them, he deviated from both the dominant ideological discourse which, at the time of his writing, attributed a lower status to animals than humans, and from the dominant trends in psychoanalytic theory. While he and Freud and his followers believed that the imagined animal provides useful information about a patient’s unconscious material, Jung’s beliefs that animals are superior to humans (Hannah, 2006) and are representative of the ‘divine’ dimension of the human psyche (von Buchholtz, 2000) distinguish his attribution of the symbolic role of animals from that of Freud’s, who contended that the imagined animal is representative of unconscious castration fears.
Finally, while Carl Rogers’ client-centred model offers a way of considering the therapeutic relationship that departed from traditional psychoanalytic thinking, it is worth taking into account the influence of his humanistic ideas on the oft-cited qualities of companion animals’ empathy and unconditional love in studies of pet ownership and animal-assisted therapy (Kruger and Serpell, 2010).
The birth of animal-assisted therapy
Then, in 1961, in an address to the American Psychological Association, Dr. Boris Levenson presented his experiences of the effects of an animal on the therapy of a disturbed child patient (Bachi and Parish-Plass, 2016). Levenson noted, as Freud had done some decades earlier, that the child, who had difficulty communicating, seemed more relaxed and more able to engage in conversation in the presence of an animal, a contention which was met with derision and laughter (Coren, 2013). It was only when Freud’s work about his treatment of his patients in the company of his dogs became public that Levenson was able to refer to Freud’s writing and had sufficient authority to begin to investigate his observations (ibid).
Subsequently, the research of Beck and Katcher (ibid) demonstrated that physiological changes, in the form of the lowering of sympathetic nervous system activity, occur when humans are in the presence of an animal. While, for some time, pets had casually been included in the psychoanalytic encounter, the attention that Levenson drew to the practice, coupled with the investigations of Beck and Katcher, provided further validation for the inclusion of animals in treatment. This exposure to the practice of including animals in treatment paved the way for the development of animal-assisted therapy (AAT).
Contemporary AAT literature frequently acknowledges loving humananimal relationships, an observation that has become the rationale for the inclusion of animals in a treatment process (Kruger and Serpell, 2010). Many references within the AAT literature explain the human-animal bond by recruiting elements of attachment theory, and Kruger and Serpell (ibid) point out that additionally there are suggestions that pets may be seen as ‘transitional objects’ (Winnicott, 1951, in Kruger and Serpell, 2010) even in the case of adult patients. Serpell (1999) argues that the advantage of pets over conventional transitional objects is their capacity for responsiveness in alleviating the stress of the initial phases of therapy.
I thus wish to pay tribute here to the oft-cited therapeutic potential of human interaction with companion animals in various clinical settings and the significant work that has been done, attesting to the health benefits (Beck, 2000) of animals, to animals’ role in skills training, symptom reduction, and behavioural change, and the psychological and cognitive advantages of AAT (Bachi and Parish-Plass, 2016; Brown, 2004; Kruger and Serpell, 2010).
It is at this juncture that we move to discussing the importance of animals not only as therapeutic in their own right but also to use the language of relational psychotherapy as the third in the room.
Animals in relational psychotherapy
As relational psychoanalysts and psychotherapists, the authors of this book subscribe to the principle that material brought into the clinical space be considered in relation to the contexts of the psychotherapy relationship between client and therapist and of the therapy frame. As the therapeutic relationship and frame will be extensively explored in the subsequent chapters, a brief elaboration follows.
Given that relational psychotherapy is contingent upon engaging with the complexity arising from ‘both within and between the analysand’s and the analyst’s subjective experiences’ (Ringstrom, www.iarppaustralia.com.au), relational psychotherapists work with the principle that the quality of the therapeutic relationship is an unmatched influence in facilitating the broadening of relationship and intrapsychic choice. The frame is the therapeutic structure that offers clear and safe boundaries for the unfolding of the therapy relationship and also provides a space for negotiation and for the illumination of aspects of conscious and unconscious material of both patient and therapist (Bass, 2007) that arise within it. As is the case with the therapy relationship, the frame is thus inextricable from the therapy process itself.
Added to this mix, as relational psychoanalysts, the authors recognise and value the occurrence of enactments in the clinical space, those ‘recurrent patterns of conduct (that) serve to actualize the nuclear configurations of self and object that constitute a person’s character’ (Atwood and Stolorow, in Ringstrom from www.iarppaustralia.com.au), and the third, which Benjamin (2007), in assimilating definitions offered by others, suggests is ‘anything one holds in mind that creates another point of reference outside the dyad’ (p. 1) and offers ‘a quality of mental space’ (ibid) in which meaning may be negotiated. In the context of the therapeutic relationship and the frame, the identification of enactments and the third offers the relational psychotherapist and client opportunities for struggling together to find meaning, broadening relational and intrapsychic choice, and potentially for facilitating therapeutic breakthrough.
Against the backdrop of a relational approach, the authors of this volume have been conducting their clinical practices, somewhat unconventionally the literature seems to suggest, in the company of an animal or animals. This apparently unorthodox coalition of a relational psychotherapist, client, and animal has arisen out of a number of situations, whereby the author has found himself or herself in circumstances dictated either by their animals’ needs, by the unexpected intrusion into the clinical space of an uninvited animal, by their client’s inclination to symbolise the processing and articulation of his/her clinical material through an animal - actual, virtual or imagined - or by the conventions of their own clinical modality. As a consequence of their own experiences of working with a relational sensibility in the presence of an animal, they have found that elements in their practice of contemporary relational psychoanalytic psychotherapy deemed by the literature to be important are amplified and facilitated by the animal presence.
As a result of Jo Frasca’s preliminary research for this project, she made some discoveries that we believe are germane to its development. She found that the relative silence within contemporary relational psychoanalytic literature to consider the impact of working in the company of an animal in the clinical environment was not a reflection of the actual occurrence of this practice in the treatment space.
Despite their own experiences, however, some of our authors also note the relative silence in the literature on this topic of working in the presence of an animal within a contemporary relational psychotherapeutic framework. Whether the gap in the literature is due to idiosyncrasy or inhibition, disavowal or taboo, given that a number of relational psychoanalysts do conduct their clinical practice in the presence of animals, the authors of the following chapters propose that definitions of psychoanalytic concepts be broadened to include and legitimise an animal presence in the clinical arena and to offer a foundation for the discussion, comparison, and clinical use within a relational framework of human-animal relationships.
Animals as the third in relational psychotherapy: Exploring theory, frame and practice is thus a constellation of the authors’ attentive observations of the impact of the animal (or animals) on their clients, themselves, the therapy relationship and therapeutic processes, their astute subsequent intervention decisions and their thoughtful clinical reflections. The authors demonstrate that the animal as a third in a number of different clinical settings triggers unconscious conflicts, bringing them to life and making them available for analysis in the clinical setting. They argue that it is frequently the very presence of the animal in the treatment arena that provides unique opportunities for the consideration of the individual human psyche as a social-relational construct, for the exploration of underlying intrapsychic and relational processes, and for the development of symbolising and relational capacity.
By elegantly weaving together contemporary psychoanalytically informed theory, compelling case studies, and clinical reflections, the authors give voice to the principles - including relationship, frame, enactments, the third - and practice of working relationally in the presence of an animal. In doing so, they offer contemporary relational psychotherapy both the means and the mandate to incorporate into its thinking, writing, and conversations a feature intrinsic to our relational worlds.
Specifically, in addition to clinical material. Chapters 2-6 offer cogent theoretical considerations of the chemistry between principles of relational psychotherapy and the human-animal bond. Joanne Emmens, in Chapter 2, extends the brief historical overview outlined at the beginning of this chapter by offering a considered literature review covering the appearance of
Rat Man to relationality 9 animals in psychoanalytic writing. In this chapter, against the backdrop of the ubiquity of our interspecies relationships with animals, Emmens introduces considerations about the therapeutic value of information gleaned via our object relations with animals, with which she integrates insights about the role played by animals in creating a bridge to aspects of her patients’ hitherto disavowed experiences.
While in Chapter 2 Emmens contemplates psychoanalysis’s consideration of animals, in Chapter 3 Virginia Rachmani argues that the very pervasiveness of our relationships with animals renders curious the omission from contemporary psychoanalytic literature of an examination of the humananimal bond. By contending that the absence of a viable structure and vocabulary have precluded the clinical exploration of this bond and its potential in relational psychoanalytic psychotherapy, Rachmani convincingly proposes that this oversight may be remediated by extending terminology in order that we might broaden the discussion to include animals as ‘relational creatures’.
As an alternative to our tendency either to sentimentalise dogs and their role in the therapeutic process on the one hand or to objectify them on the other, Sean Meggeson in Chapter 4 explores a particular rendering of empathy on the part of animals, and in particular dogs, and demonstrates their capacity for self-other regulation. Through a discussion about inter-species intersubjectivity, specifically in a nonverbal, non-invasive, relational context, Meggeson crafts a compelling argument for the consideration of dogs as legitimate relational agents.
An appreciation of human-animal intersubjectivity also underpins Dor Roitman’s explorations in Chapters 5 and 6, wherein he presents an interesting theoretical framework that brings into focus psychoanalytic and neuroscientific findings and relational principles to address the relational processes and multi-level implicit communications between child patients and animals in therapy. By a contemporary elaboration of Freud’s thesis mentioned at the beginning of this introduction, Chapter 5 elaborates in further detail upon the features that animals share with humans that make animals ‘subjective others’ and legitimate partners for relational and interpersonal processes with people in therapy and beyond.
The ‘therapy zoo’ provides the context for Chapter 6, in which Roitman presents a group-analytic approach. He explores the ways in which group analytic concepts overlap with the principles underpinning the therapy zoo, focusing specifically on group dynamics within animal communities when they are joined by a therapist and a child patient. Using the notion of the Matrix, Roitman comprehensively addresses the multi-dimensional mechanisms, perspectives, and processes that are effective in advancing therapeutic change in such settings.
Staying with the group context, in Chapter 7 David Vincent provides us with some of the fundaments of group analysis and explains the Foulk-sian group-analytic view of the psychotherapy group boundary, therebyinaugurating a discussion about the complex issues of boundaries and frame that will be further explored in subsequent chapters. In circumstances that diverge from Roitman’s in Chapters 5 and 6, where the psychotherapy process is contingent on the presence of animals, Vincent, with a refreshing lightness of touch, adds ballast to the complexities of frame considerations. He shares with us three ‘boundary incidents’ triggered by uninvited animals that infringed upon the group boundary, precipitating enactments and resulting in the group’s emotional and relational progress.
With the introduction of her canine companion into her life, her home, and later on, into her psychotherapy practice, Jo Frasca in Chapter 8 recognises that her dog can be diagnosed as traumatised in accordance with the DSM III classification. She hypothesises that the anxiety her dog displays when they meet parallels that which clients often experience upon meeting a new therapist. Frasca supplements ideas discussed in earlier chapters about the similarities between humans and animals and reflects on how safety and consistency help her traumatised dog to regulate, to improve her social skills, and to develop confidence, all of which contribute to a developmental triumph and all of which is comparable to what clients may experience during the process of psychotherapy. Her description of her dog’s trauma history foreshadows an examination in forthcoming chapters about the subjectivity of the dog as one of the factors to be evaluated when intentionally introducing an animal into the therapeutic environment.
In Chapter 9, Gaiana Germani elaborates upon this theme, describing her thoughtful and sometimes fraught process of deciding whether, how, and when to bring her dog, likewise with a history of trauma, into her treatment room. Germani shares with us her concerns about the blurring of boundaries, the impact on her patients of her traumatised dog, and the less-than-encouraging reactions from her colleagues. She pays fine attention to the therapeutic considerations, both practical and psychological, of introducing an animal into the therapy space and once having done so observes how within a ‘triad of trauma’ her patients made use of her dog to heal.
Frasca, in Chapter 10, continues the conversation about intentionally introducing a dog into the clinical environment. Underpinning such decisions is a cognisance of boundary and frame issues, which Frasca explores, suggesting that bringing the dog into the treatment space may constitute a frame breakage. Frasca describes one consequence of having done so, which was disruptive in the short term. Like Vincent in Chapter 7, she considers how thoughtful attention to the consequences of frame breakages, considered or inadvertent, can gently prise open dialogue to present the clinician with abundant productive information. Frasca introduces us to the Transactional Analysis notion of the carom - the opportunity offered to the patient by the presence of, and relationship with, a third object (the dog, in this instance) to express, through itself, the patient’s otherwise unspeakable stories and words, in order that the gravity of her internal world may be communicated to the psychotherapist.
Gretchen Heyer, in Chapter 11, continues to scrutinise the somewhat vexed matter of the frame in theory and practice, its advantages and challenges in psychotherapy, and the effects of frame breakages. Heyer’s powerful case study explores the impact of animals as unexpected and unwelcome intruders, as was the case with the animals in Vincent’s Chapter 7. Heyer addresses another complex area in this chapter. In honouring her patient’s historical, socio-political narrative, acknowledging collisions of power, gender, class, and race, and bearing the charged impact of these on their therapeutic engagement, Heyer attentively tackles both the clinical and theoretical dimensions of the intersubjective field that is often overlooked under the guise of assumptions of similarity.
Beth Feldman in Chapter 12 extends the themes introduced in the previous chapters by investigating, through case material, how the influence of her dog is felt in relational psychoanalytic treatment in its most challenging and transformative dimensions. In the context of an authentic patient-analyst relationship and the ability of both patient and analyst to access and share intrapsychic experience, she describes how her dog, as an analytic third, acts as a ‘bridge over troubled waters’ influencing the clinical space in a way that facilitates the unfolding of unconscious communication, the connection to dissociated feelings and self-states, and the alliance of patient and analyst.
Frasca presents case studies in Chapters 13 and 14 on grief and on fear and anger, respectively, to explain the process of psychotherapy, to demonstrate how the role of her dog in the context of the analytic triad was instrumental in her clients’ processing of their material and ultimately how the dog could be seen as significant in her patients’ transformation.
In her case study in Chapter 15, Lynn Higgins provides another example of a relational experience whereby one party, the patient, communicates to a second, the analyst, via a safe, non-threatening third - a feature identified by Frasca in Chapter 10, as a carom. Higgins describes her patient’s relationships with animals - both real and imagined - and the way she makes use of them in her relationship with the analyst. Higgins proposes that this triadic relational system of the patient, analyst, and animal enables her patient’s discovery of her words, her growing experience of safety, and the development of her capacity to connect, thereby attesting to the potential of animals whose attributes may support us in finding our words, ‘when we have momentarily lost our voice’ (Suen, 2013, p. 137).
In our final chapter, Jo Frasca and I recognise the capacity of animals to attune to human emotions, as had Freud in his appreciation of his beloved Jofi (Freud, in Braitman, 2014), Levenson in his justification for including dogs in his treatment of children (Bachi and Parish-Plass, 2016), and some of the authors who have contributed to this book. In this final chapter, we consider the tendency of some animals to comfort patients in distress and in doing so, to mute affect expression. By exploring both the mutative power of affect and the transformative potential of patient-dog engagements we question whether an animal’s empathic behaviour, in arresting affect expression, undermines psychotherapy or whether such intuitive action on the part of the animal presents a unique opportunity for understanding the intrapsychic and relational worlds of the patient and thereby facilitates the analytic work.
A fluid interplay of theoretical tenets, contributions from the literature, clinical reflections, and case material in Animals as the third in relational psychotherapy: Exploring theory, frame and practice accentuate recurrent themes: animals are seen by human beings as significant subjective others and are treated as legitimate partners for relational and interpersonal processes, as attachment figures, and as transferential objects. Animals in the psychotherapy environment can provide a ‘bridge’ from the unconscious to the conscious, from the dissociated to the experienced, and from the intrapsychic to the interpersonal. As the third in the treatment arena, the animal is shown to trigger unconscious conflicts, bringing them to life and making them available for analysis in the clinical setting. The authors repeatedly show how deep attention to the human-animal experience in the treatment process can soften the analytic space in ways that encourage progressive communication, understanding of the patient, and the relaxing of defences, leading to the symbolising of relational capacity, therapeutic breakthrough, and intrapsychic change.
Finally, we return to Chiron. In addition to offering an archaic template for the themes that weave through this book, the myth perhaps resides in the collective imaginings of those therapists who work in the presence of an animal. Chiron’s story, after all, is a story about a punitive parent manifesting as a feared animal, about early trauma, and being a victim of circumstances. It is a story of the embodiment of early psychological injury, of the repetitive nature, inevitability, and consequences of enactments, of unintentional wounding, and the impact of a third. It is a story about the remedial potential of‘animal empathy’, the animal as a bridge - between the world of animals and that of humans, between self-states, between self and other - and about the human-animal bond. It is also a story about despair and hope, disruption and repair, and about compassion, sacrifice, surrender, and choice. The myth reminds us that we - as human animals - are flawed, and that persecution, wounding, and protection occur between us, often inadvertently. Ultimately, the story of Chiron reminds us of the transformative power of the relationship.
Each of the authors who have contributed to this text contends that it is vital to bring into consciousness their - and others’ - experiences, observations, and reflections emanating from working psychoanalytically in the presence of an animal and to elaborate upon the discourse of psychotherapy in order that it may be regarded as legitimate to include animals in the therapy space. It is our hope that Animals as the third in relational psychotherapy: Exploring theory, frame and practice will extend psychoanalytic and relational principles to create a theoretical framework and language for the consideration of the presence of animals in the clinical space and thus help to
Rat Man to relationality 13 authorise the incorporation into the practice of relational psychotherapy the therapeutically eloquent triadic interactions of therapist, client, and animal.
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