San Francisco Intensive Study Group —
Negative Spaces, Negative Capabilities:
The Use of the Negative in the Therapeutic Process
A man that is born falls into a dream like a man who falls into the sea. If he tries to climb out into the air as inexperienced people endeavor to do, he drowns – nicht wahr?... No! I tell you! The way is to the destructive element submit yourself, and with the exertions of your hands and feet in the water make the deep, deep sea keep you up.
– Joseph Conrad, Lord Jim (1900)
How we understand and engage with the negative may determine whether it sabotages the process of psychoanalytic psychotherapy or serves as an engine of therapeutic action. Transference, for example, which Freud initially regarded as a powerfully disruptive mode of resistance (like yelling fire in a crowded theater), later became for him both a potentially motivating factor for the analysis to continue and a window into the dynamic determinants of the patient’s history. Countertransference reactions, first dismissed as distortions on the part of the analyst, were later theorized as providing insights into the patient’s unconscious life and character structure. Projective identification – defined by Klein as the patient’s evacuative phantasy and clinically experienced as an attack on the therapist or therapy itself – has been reconceived as an infantile form of communication, soliciting the therapist’s receptivity and capacity for containment.
Immersion in the negative expands the therapist’s awareness of the patient’s internal world. Negotiating obscurities supports her complex role as an observer-participant, strengthening her capacity to hold the frame in the context of transference and helping her to determine the appropriate scope, timing, and tone of interventions. Just as negative space in a painting actively defines boundaries and guides the movement of a successful composition, so tolerance of uncertainty, Bion’s “negative capability,” affords the therapist internal space to deliberate alternative perspectives in the complex field of here-and-now work with patients. Even sessions dominated by repeated unreflective exchanges may ultimately be therapeutically beneficial, as surrender to the sleep of enactments precedes the awakening of understanding.
Under the guidance of insightful, experienced instructors, this year’s intensive study groups will investigate theoretical approaches to the negative and practical engagements with it in the clinical setting, considering such topics as trauma, the fusion of Eros and the death drive, negative therapeutic reaction, psychic retreats, perverse modes of relating, destructive narcissism, and excessive splitting. In some sections, reading assignments will be supplemented by films or include plays that vividly illustrate course themes. We invite you to explore with us how apparent challenges to psychotherapy may vitally contribute to the process of human transformation.
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Participants will be able to describe the dynamics of bad objects in both the patient and the analyst to inform their clinical work.
Participants will be able to describe the negative as manifest in death drive derivatives in order to work through impasse.
Participants will be able to discuss contemporary psychoanalytic views of perverse states of mind along with representations of perversion in cinematic narratives. These theoretical perspectives will be utilized and applied to clinical material.
Participants will examine the impact of characterological and perverse mental structures in the analytic setting and utilize this information to inform thinking and interventions.
Bornstein, Robert F. (Ed); Masling, Joseph M. (Ed). (1998). Empirical perspectives on the psychoanalytic unconscious. Washington, DC, US: American Psychological Association. xxviii 291.
Diane Borden, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of Film and Literature, former Director of Film Studies, and former Chair of English at the University of the Pacific. She has published books, chapters, and journal articles on cinema and psychoanalysis and given papers and workshops at professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, and Asia. Dr. Borden conducts study groups on film and psychoanalysis in San Francisco and the South Bay and has been a guest faculty at SFCP.
Betsy Kassoff, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist in San Francisco. She was the Clinical Director of Operation Concern, a GLBT outpatient counseling clinic, and the Department Chair of the Feminist Psychology MA program at New College of California. Dr. Kassoff sees individuals and couples from diverse backgrounds in her private practice, provides consultation, supervises, teaches, and writes on the intersection of relational psychoanalysis and gender. She is an advanced candidate at PINC.
Israel Katz, M.D., is a member and faculty at SFCP. He has taught on Freud and psychoanalysis in France, Spain, and Latin America and, more locally, at SFCP, NCSPP, and Access Institute. Dr. Katz has a private practice in psychoanalysis, psychotherapy, and psychiatry in San Francisco.
Era A. Loewenstein, Ph.D., is an adult, adolescent, and child psychoanalyst and a training and supervising analyst at SFCP. Era is on the faculty of SFCP, NCSPP, and Access Institute. Her most recent article, “Dystopian Narratives: Encounters with the Perverse Sadomasochistic Universe,” was published in The Psychoanalytic Inquiry in 2017.
Drew Tillotson, Psy.D., is past-president of PINC and NCSPP, co-chair of the North American Psychoanalytic Confederation (NAPsaC), and sits on the IPA’s Committee on Education and Oversight. He has published on masculinity, aging, and intercultural phenomena; teaches widely in the Bay Area; and is in private practice in San Francisco.
The Intensive Study Groups are for mid- to advanced-level clinicians and community members, or academics and artists interested in the relations of psychoanalytic psychotherapy to culture.
Students not admitted due to space limitation will receive a full refund of their deposit. Cancellations prior to Friday, August 17, 2018: Full refund of deposit minus $100 administration charge. Cancellations after Friday, August 17, 2018: No refund provided.
ISG participants are eligible for 12 sessions of consultation with a PINC analyst at $60 per session to help integrate the material into clinical practice.
Administration | registration questions: Michele McGuinness, email@example.com or (415) 496-9949
ISG Program questions: Brenda Bloomfield, LCSW, firstname.lastname@example.org or (510) 316-5312