Stefano Bolognini, acclaimed Italian psychoanalyst and "latter-day Winnicott," arrives in the Bay Area for the NCSPP Annual Lecture on May 2nd. In reviewing some of Bolognini's work, I am particularly interested in his attention to the analyst's use of moments of surprise in the clinical hour. 

I have been thinking about these split-second phenomena both in and out of the clinical setting, when we discover that what we thought was known is not, when what we found continuously obtuse has edges. The Unexpected wields the power of the Zen master's stick, abruptly insisting that flagging attention and sleepy mind awake. This is the power of surprise: to jolt us out of comfortable assumptions. 

Surprise can be a precursor to empathy (or what Bolognini calls "complex empathy"), because it brings the subjectivity of the Other out of the shadows. There must be an experience of an Other for there to be empathy, for one's mind and heart to make fresh contact with another.

Surprise is, literally, a breakthrough, wherein a new experience breaks through the normative state. The moment of surprise is, perhaps, a way in to Bion's "O". What we do with a breakthrough is unpredictable. We can engage alpha function and move into K or we can mobilize an anxious retreat. Bolognini's emphasis on making use of moments of surprise in analytic work is very much about developing special attention for these moments, particularly for their ability to allow aspects of the patient and the analyst to break through a veil. What seems to be foreground or manifest can suddenly be turned on its head in these moments, both for the clinician's experience of Self as well of the other. When such contact has been made, the possibility for transformation arises.

Bolognini is a master at integrating his deeply felt sense of analytic work with great intellectual rigor. In his words, "... analysis is not only the science of the deep, but also the science of the deeply shared path to the deep." We are indeed fortunate that he will join us in May.

Warm regards, 

Melissa Holub, Ph.D.
NCSPP President