ONE. Working intersubjectively: theory and therapy
I do not think we should always try to understand ... In this connection I tend to leave things unresolved, in mid-air, incomplete ("no closure").
—Foulkes, 1964, p. 287
With his nightcaps and the tatters of his dressing-gown, he patches up the gaps in the structure of the universe.
—Heine, quoted in Freud, 1933, p. 161
With his nightcaps and the tatters ..." is how the poet Heinrick Heine playfully derided the philosopher. It was one of Freud's favourite quotations. Classical philosophers were prone to the belief that they could arrive at a state of certain knowledge and/or uncover an irreducible principle; some examples are Plato's theory of Forms, Descartes' notion of cogito, or Locke's tabula rasa self. One can see in such ideas a manifestation of omnipotent thinking and the search for absolutes: in modern philosophy, such thinking might be dubbed "foundationalism", the notion that what one needs above all else is a secure and knowable foundation, and that once achieved, then all things are fall into place (Rorty, 1980, 1982). At one level, Freud knew such ideas to be pretensions; this is why he resisted trying to convert his psychoanalysis, which he saw as a science, into a new fabricated "view of the universe" or "Weltanschauung". In fact, Freud believed that psychoanalysis could find its place within the more modest scientific worldview which already existed. It could be argued, however, that Freud fell into a different, but related trap: he thought he had discovered the irreducible principles of mental life, its ultimate structuring principles (of the unconscious, repression, infantile sexuality) or blueprint of the mind (Spence, 1987). The analyst, by virtue of his training, was seen to be in a privileged position and with his interpretations could patch up, so to speak, the gaps in the structure of the patient's mind. At a theoretical level, Freud conceptualised an isolated mind, a "one-body psychology", and a knowing analyst guided by this new branch of medical science. Of course, this is not to suggest that Freud's thought is consistent or entirely under his sovereign control; clearly, Freud's ideas were constantly worked, re-worked, and amended. In fact, Freud knew something of the irony which links writing and discovering, having remarked, "I invented psychoanalysis because it had no literature" (cited by Roazen, 1971).
At times Freud played at being Plato, or at the very least a searching Sherlock Holmes figure, since the analyst, like the philosopher-king or detective acquired a "special knowledge", the patient by contrast being trapped within the snares of the unconscious cave. There has always been a large tension at the heart of psychoanalysis between (a) an image of itself as privileged view and master therapy, and (b) an unceasing spirit of inquiry and free-floating interest that animates its rationale; a contrast, perhaps, between a rationalist, objectivist version of psychoanalysis versus those that emphasise the infinity of meaning and hermeneutic openness.
This chapter uses ideas from Robert Stolorow's intersubjectivity theory and group analysis to convey an impression of what it might mean to move decisively away from the "myth of the isolated mind" and "one-body" psychology. A significant tilt towards the "relational" is apparent in several areas of modern psychoanalysis: self psychology, attachment theory, empirical psychoanalysis (Stern, 1985, and other infant research), relational-perspectivism (Aron, 1996; Mitchell, 1988;
Orange, 1995), to name a few that are, arguably, compatible with many of the ideas of Foulkes; and contextualism, the figure/ground dynamic, the "meeting of minds" in groups and a dynamic concept of location (Behr & Hearst, 2005). Foulkes (2003), also exposed the myth of "mind" or self as self-enclosed entity, and looked forward to a time when thinking could "get beyond the metaphysics of psychoanalysis" (p. 316). In this reading, Foulksean group analysis is one version of a more communicative, relationally bound unconscious, notwithstanding inconsistencies in theorisation (Stacey, 2001).
"Intersubjectivity" is therefore a concept within an emerging paradigm in psychoanalysis and group analysis. A common emphasis within this paradigm is that of conceiving complex relational fields and organising principles, within which psychological processes come together and through which experience is continually shaped and reshaped. There is a move away from postulating a dynamic unconscious, storehouse of mental conflict, as the only form of unconscious mental life (Spence, 1987). Stolorow and his colleagues (Stolorow & Atwood, 1992) add two more types of unconscious life. First, there is the "pre-reflective unconscious", constituting the building blocks of psychic life, organising principles that, whilst not directly reflected upon, govern how we see ourselves and our expectancies of being with others, and that are not primarily the product of defensive activity. An example of this is early communication between caregiver and infant, conveying ways of being together, responding to distress, playing and enjoyment, and boundaries; symbols, or symbolic thinking, from the middle of year two, make possible "a sharing of mutually related meaning about personal experience" (Stern, 1985, p. 172). Organising principles are implicit, inferable, and operate throughout life. Second, there is the "unvalidated unconscious", representing a landscape of possibility. This concerns unused elements of psychic life, not so much "repressed" as unarticulated, unnoticed, and thereby by-passed. Although Stolorow and Atwood (1992) suggest that this realm is particularly important to bear in mind with those who have suffered developmental disadvantage, it is surely of universal relevance, since none of us is completed and there is always unused potential. Importantly, in these formulations of unconscious mental life—and this is also true of the group analytic view of the social unconscious—matters are not seen as exclusively derived from the infantile experience, as they were for Freud.
Human development and pathology are seen as irreducibly relational, embedded in varying intersubjective contexts. Stolorow and
Atwood (1979) argue that as psychoanalytic ideas are too profoundly influenced by the personal and training worlds of their creators, they cannot be entirely objective and that treatment can only be conceived as an "intersubjective field", involving reciprocal principles and influence, an intersection of two differently organised subjectivities—that of the analyst and that of the patient. As just one instance of this, they claim that, "Not only does the patient turn to the analyst for selfobject experiences, but the analyst also turns to the patient for such experiences ..." (Stolorow & Atwood, 1992, p. 396).
This broad approach not only helps reconceptualise psychoanalysis anew, but also sheds light on the historical context within which Freud's "discoveries" were made. Something of Freud's attitude or relationship to his ideas was mirrored, for example, in his stance towards the fledgling movement he created, to the early circle of analysts and the organisational structures that functioned to contain the new doctrine. Partly this was protective, even necessary, but had long-term negative effects for psychoanalysis of creating relative isolation, insulation, and an attitude of immunity. A norm-creating culture of thinking was established in the early analytic world, held together by the sheer moral and symbolic function of Freud, the man and his ideas (Frosch, 1997). The early analysts were a community of inquirers, held together by a highly distinctive discourse of description and explanation. This included the use of the privileged wisdom of clinical cases, Freud's case studies, and similar rhetorical conventions that analysts deployed when practicing and discussing their work. Thus, intersubjectivity theory can illuminate group as well as individual processes, whether those of historical groups, such as Freud's circle or the International Psychoanalytic Association, or of groups of individuals who come together with the aim of seeking therapy and personal change.
What follows is an inevitably schematic description of some key features of the classical psychoanalytic orientation. It is acknowledged that one of the risks of presenting it in this way is that it could be accused of creating a convenient stereotype.