NCSPP

Northern California Society for Psychoanalytic Psychology

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THOMAS H. OGDEN'S REDISCOVERING PSYCHOANALYSIS

In his latest book, Rediscovering Psychoanalysis: Thinking and Dreaming, Learning and Forgetting, internationally influential San Francisco psychoanalyst Thomas H. Ogden invites us to encounter psychoanalysis anew. Drawing on his experience as supervisor, clinician, teacher and reader of psychoanalysis, he explores the process of discovering one's own individual analytic "style." Cate Corcoran, Psy.D., spoke with Dr. Ogden about his provocative and evocative new book.

Cate Corcoran: The subtitle of your book, Rediscovering Psychoanalysis, is Thinking and Dreaming, Learning and Forgetting. How are learning and forgetting central to rediscovering psychoanalysis?

Thomas Ogden: It has increasingly seemed to me that forgetting is as important a part of becoming a psychoanalyst as is learning. (I use the terms psychoanalyst and psychoanalytic psychotherapist interchangeably.) What one learns in formal analytic training is a body of ideas constituting other people's ideas of what it is to be an analyst. In order to become an analyst in one's own terms, one must overcome or "forget" what one has learned. Conceiving of learning and forgetting in this way has led me to differentiate the idea of analytic technique from the idea of analytic style (though the two overlap). I think of analytic technique as a way of practicing psychoanalysis that has been developed by a branch or group of branches of our analytic ancestry. As such, it is not one's own creation. Developing an analytic style, on the other hand, is a life-long process in which the analyst becomes increasingly able to make use of his or her own unique personality and life experience. One�s analytic style is reflected in the consulting room in the way one thinks, listens, speaks, makes use of humor, irony, metaphor, and so on. In other words, analytic style reflects the way in which the analyst dreams up, rediscovers, psychoanalysis with each patient in each session. 

C. C.: What do you mean by dreaming when you say the analyst "dreams up" psychoanalysis with each patient?

T. O.: I use the term dreaming to refer to our most powerful form of thinking and feeling -- powerful in the sense of emotionally intense, most penetrating and most self-transformative. Dreaming, as discussed by Bion, is a form of thinking that we do continually both while we are awake and asleep. It is a form of thinking in which we are able to view our lived experience from multiple vantage points simultaneously (just as every dream image conveys multiple meanings and perspectives derived from multiple periods of our life). By contrast, waking thinking is more limited in that it involves thinking that is predominantly based on linear, sequential, cause-and-effect logic.

C. C.: You don't mean that each of us invents a different psychoanalysis, do you? In that event wouldn't the term lose its meaning?

T. O.: It is important to keep in mind that one cannot forget what one has never known. In order to forget the "analytic technique" passed down by our forebears (including our own analyst, supervisors and favorite analytic writers), we must first develop a mastery of analytic theory and practice to the point that it is in our bones. Artists -- and I believe that the practice of psychoanalysis is an art, not a science -- must master the discipline of their craft before they are able to transform the craft into an art. A musician must learn how to play the notes before he or she can make music.

Psychoanalysis, from its inception, has been a talking therapy, but it is very difficult to learn to talk with a patient in a way that one has never spoken with any other person -- and it is this that we ask of ourselves as clinicians. It is this that I am referring to when I speak of rediscovering psychoanalysis. When I am able to do so, it is unmistakable to me that I am in the process of becoming more fully myself, a person I have never been before (and I am quite sure that the patient feels much the same way). I feel very fortunate to be able to spend my life engaged in such conversations.

C. C.: It is clear from reading your book that you have found a way of using Bion's "Clinical Seminars" in a unique way.

T. O.: Yes, I find the "Clinical Seminars" to be invaluable in the way they provide the reader a sense of Bion the clinician. Even though he is not the analyst for the patient being presented in each of the seminars, the reader is able to watch Bion invent a form of psychoanalysis that only he practices. If anyone else practiced analysis as Bion did, he or she would be merely an imitator of Bion, not an analyst.

C. C.: Perhaps this is an unfair question, but is there a chapter or chapters in your new book that are your favorites?

T. O.: No, it's not an unfair question. I've been asking myself that same question. As I let go of my role as writer of Rediscovering Psychoanalysis, and join those who are the readers of this book, each chapter makes its own impression on me. At the moment, the chapter that is most alive for me is the one titled "Bion's Four Principles of Mental Functioning." I find it very useful in my own thinking to express a complex set of ideas in as few words as possible. In this way I am sometimes able to capture essences that have to that point been invisible to me. In my previous book,This Art of Psychoanalysis: Dreaming Undreamt Dreams and Interrupted Cries, I attempted in one of the chapters to "define" psychoanalysis in two paragraphs-clearly an impossible task. In the new book, I attempt, in the space of a single paragraph, to state what I believe to be the four principle ideas underlying the entirety of Bion's opus from his earliest work (Experiences in Groups) to his late works (including the "Clinical Seminars," which he conducted when he was close to 80). 

I found something surprising in the course of reviewing the entire body of Bion's work, as I wrote that chapter: it seemed to me that there are four very simple, elegant principles that underlie all that he wrote. Before undertaking that study of Bion, it would have seemed to me unlikely that four principles ran through a body of writing and lecturing that spanned more than 40 years, and which included so many sets of metaphors and models of mental functioning-for example, his idea of the work group and the basic assumption groups; the theory of alpha function; the grid; L, H and K linkages; the container-contained; the concept of O; and on and on. 

As I studied Bion's use of these metaphors, it seemed that each of these metaphors or models grew stale for Bion, and when that happened, he let go of it and invented a new set of metaphors. For example, after writing Experiences in Groups, in which he introduced the metaphor of the work group and the basic assumption groups, he never again used any of these terms even though that book remains to this day the core of the psychoanalytic conception of group process. The same is true for his theory of alpha function (which he used from about 1958 to 1962, and rarely mentioned thereafter), and for each of his subsequent models. Of course, my "four principles" are intended not as a conclusion, but as an invitation to readers to develop their own ways of describing what they believe to be the essential elements of Bion's thinking. 

C. C.: I think a good many of our readers will want to take you up on that invitation. Thank you for agreeing to talk with me about your book.

T. O.: It was my pleasure.

Cate Corcoran, Psy.D.
IMPULSE Editor Emeritus