Home Reflection of an ecobiopsychological therapist on transference and countertransference

Reflection of an ecobiopsychological therapist on transference and countertransference

Reflection of an ecobiopsychological therapist on transference and countertransference
Mara Breno and Naike Michelon

MATERIA PRIMA Rivista di Psicosomatica Ecobiopsicologica – LA MAGIA DI ERANOS. Genius Loci e Antenati -
Numero XVI - Dicembre 2017 - Anno VII

“Just as the matter and substance of things are indestructible, so all their parts are subjected to all forms, to the point that everything is transformed into everything, if not in the same blink of an eye at least in different instants, one after the other and reciprocally”.
(Giordano Bruno, The Supper of the Ashes, 1584)

Here is the patient. He arrives, stands at the door of the analysis room with a question generally characterized by a pain, a sadness, a symptom that has afflicted him for more or less a long time. It may be that his gaze hides a specific mood and that a number of emotions pervades him the very moment. It may also be that he enters or that instead, at the first step, the emotion accelerates his expression. It may happen that he makes his way, perhaps after a long wait, with undeclared expectations that remain hidden and implicit in the first request for contact. Each time, for the therapist, is like entering that Calvinian masterpiece If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler where the narratives of the same scene take on different tones and are characterized by letting the protagonist, for us the therapist, go from being a shadow to take on a form through ever clearer, sharper and more vivid colors, revealing over time a personal story that is archetypically similar and individually different from person to person. All that occurring  in a few moments or long minutes without expressing a single word, the same word that has become, from Freud onwards and for a certain time, the instrument par excellence of therapy. Much has changed since then, and the therapeutic encounter has become the ideal place where to investigate the exchange of the many gazes: from the bodily substance to the more subtle elements, putting in place increasingly refined diagnostic systems, intervention techniques, reflections examining the subjectivity and the interaction, the conscious and the unconscious, the body, the spirit, every gaze with the only purpose of being able to cope with the psychophysical malaise of the human being.
From the very first moments, the ecobiopsychological therapist places himself with a listening that lets the imaginary run wild, exploring what he can see with the eyes of the body but inevitably also with the look of the heart, drawing from this dialogue between the conscious and the unconscious, the first in-formation elements that characterize that specific relationship. What happens in the encounter in which two human beings, the depositary of a question that is waiting to be understood and the one who has to accept it, participate with their stories in the intertwining of their respective individualities? And if, as quantum physicists would say, a single contact is already so significant as to change the life of both of them, how is this approach of two human beings an  intertwining of probabilities that only over time and in the continuity of this "symbolic embrace", can be declined as a project? And how does the ecobiopsychological therapist treat within himself and in the relationship those subtle elements, transference and countertransference, which are inevitably constellated in the care relationship, recognized as fundamental for the patient's transformative process? The concept of transference owes its understanding to Sigmund Freud who, starting from the notion of displacement, observed how patients brought the conflicts that had characterized their childhood onto the analyst. This re-edition of a whole category of affects, emotional reactions, sentiments transferred to the analyst, allows us to designate the emotional condition that characterizes the patient's relationship with the therapist, repetitive of childhood conflicts, in order to better understand the real dynamics of the patient. More generally, as a phenomenon of displacement, the transference is universal and consists in uniting the past with the present, through a false link that superimposes the original object on the current one. The analytic situation, with its particular frame that favors the approach to the unconscious, allows a partial regression towards a backward stage of affective development, reactivating in the actual and alive transference, those traumatized affects in the patient, which will then allow the analyst to proceed with their deconditioning, so that the being, painfully enclosed in rejection, can be reconciled with himself and with a world no longer experienced as foreign or hostile.
Alongside transference, countertransference also identified by Freud in 1910 in The Future Perspectives of Psychoanalytic Theory and considered a dynamic to be countered, is now read in its broadest sense, as the therapist's experience towards the patient. In particular, the therapist, with his own story, is solicited by the patient's unconscious experiences (transference), to face real emotional disturbances. Personal experiences (countertransference) which are consciously recognized and investigated by the therapist becoming an essential tool both for the understanding of the patient's unconscious dynamics, and for orienting all the therapist's interventions towards him in a targeted way. As physics teach us, responding to Heisenberg's uncertainty principle, countertransference testifies the constant interdependence between the researcher and the object of his research, such that  in the course of experience, subtle modifications are produced between the experimenter and the object of research to the point that when the experiment is over, it can be said that the subject is no longer the same person as before the experimentation. In this regard, Daniel Lagache, relying on the Gestalt and structuralist concepts, stated that transference and countertransference would not reproduce the patient's and analyst's own processes, but rather a general need of the mind to seek integrations capable of completing inadequate experiences in the decisive phases of development, which in order to be completed, need a restorative object relationship.
The father of analytic psychology, Carl Gustav Jung, and later his followers, described transference and countertransference in terms of an athanor of alchemical transformation. In particular, Jung considered countertransference as an indispensable instrument of knowledge and participation in therapy, in view of the patient's recovery. In fact, his studies reveal how countertransference must be accepted and controlled as a fundamental ingredient for the transformative work taking place in the consulting room; the relationship that emerges between patient and therapist is in fact characterized by being dynamic and creative. «There is a real chemical influence between patient and analyst», writes Jung, «one of the best known manifestations of this kind ... is the well-known countertransference induced by transference ... The ancient conception of the demon of the disease: the disease can be transmitted to a healthy person who, thanks to his health, will subdue the demon without compromising his well-being. There are irrational factors in the relationship between therapist and patient that operate a reciprocal "transformation", to which the stronger, more stable personality strikes the decisive blow» (Jung, 1981, pp. 80-81).
In the development of depth psychology, the conception of transference and countertransference has therefore undergone a progressive process of elaboration and, according to the schools of reference, a real amplification. This has led to underline the transformative potential of the human being in the direction of an archetypal experience that involves the totality not only of the body and psyche, but also of the spirit. To better describe this general process, some authors have felt the need to introduce a new concept: that of “the field” used in the most recent developments of psychoanalysis to understand the analytic situation described as a bi-personal field of interaction and observation in which patient and analyst participate in the elaboration of their own fantasies.
When the field is observed and experienced in its archetypal "qualities", the countertransference enriches the therapist with those amplifying elements that allow to grasp the complexity of the subject, inserting him not only in the natural environment to which he is adapted but also to recognize if not even recover - the remembering of platonic memory - the belonging of the subject himself to a wider network, the web of life. The individual, as Jung well demonstrated in the study of the myths, dreams and fantasies of patients, can count on a hereditary background that does not owe its existence to personal experience, whose contents have not been removed or dissociated from consciousness, and never acquired because related to the collective unconscious. These contents are formed by archetypes, a priori forms that seem to be present in every culture, related to fundamental "reasons", such as birth, death, the feminine, the masculine, sexuality, power, etc ..., "reasons" that often stir the soul of the individual, leading him to express them in rituals, myths and religious forms. Just as they are organizers of inner representations, so are organizational factors, innate functional models that are expressed as psychological correlates of instincts. With the theory of archetypes, the psychological events of every human being, the bodily events and those of the kingdom of the soul come to assume a correspondence, to the point that we could affirm that "we act, think, feel only as the primary models established in the imaginal world, allow us to”. (Hillman, 1980, p. 124). The opening to a unified dimension of man suggested by analytical psychology, well expressed in the concept of Unus Mundus, and highlighted in the synchronistic events, integrated with a modern holistic vision, where the physical, biological and cosmological sciences no longer consider the mind as an epiphenomenon separate from matter, but as two complementary aspects of the same informative reality, has allowed Ecobiopsychology to study the archetypal value in its material dimension, that is, in its bodily expressiveness. In this perspective, what is constellated goes beyond the bi-personal field, constituting a real ecobiopsychological field in which the therapy constitutes the symbolic place in which the patient emerges as a hologram, in his own totality (Frigoli, 2016). Consequently, the psychotherapy setting becomes an elastic container, endowed with the possibility of "absorbing information" not only for the present, but also for the personal and collective past, as well as for the phylogenetic dimension, sedimented in the human body and in the matter itself of nature. The process of translation is therefore so complex and takes on such multiform aspects to occupy a central place in the psychotherapy room, since it refers to the totality of the human personality and not only to partial aspects of it. For Ecobiopsychology the meaning and value of the human being is expressed precisely in his uniqueness of mind and body at the center of which is the experience of his Self, understood as an archetype that orders the totality of biological and psychic processes. In this sense, the presence in the psychotherapy room, not only of subjective psychic contents, but also of vital elements related to the body with its ontogenetic and phylogenetic information history, makes the field that is created both a personal and archetypal field at the same time. The body with its history, just like the psyche which has its roots in the collective unconscious, carries with it a symbolic value that "deciphered" allows the therapist to grasp the patient's question in an increasingly targeted way.
Psychology has always had a dialogue with science and philosophy, and Ecobiopsychology, in accordance with the most current scientific studies on complexity, creates in concrete terms the possibility of a therapy that falls concretely within this paradigm, becoming truly operative in accustoming the therapist to a “holographic” reading that tends to draw the patient in his totality. Indeed, the paradigm of complexity observes that in order to understand a living phenomenon, that is based on the principle of self-organization, it is necessary to make different scientific disciplines - from biology to psychology, from epigenetics to physics, neuroscience, etc. - dialogue around this vital principle. In the mind of the ecobiopsychological therapist, the need for integration is proposed again through the constant attention to grasp the links between the various aspects of the patient's history, his current life, his body and his environmental, social and cultural relationships, and in reading of those subtle elements of transference and countertransference that enrich the image, connoting it with affective elements. This movement in the mind of the ecobiopsychological therapist between the various aspects of the patient's reality, which from the body to the psyche are analogically correlated to each other to signify his subjectivity, inevitably enriches the countertransference with amplifying elements that allow to grasp the complexity of the question and at the same time to perceive, where it is present, the transformative will of a profound planning. The gaze with which the ecobiopsychological therapist observes the therapeutic process proves to be decisive for grasping the patient's question, the pain of his wounds and his desire for transformation. In this journey made up of present and past moments that follow one another, it becomes necessary to recover the different passages of the patient's history through those images that contain emotions and which, if not explicitly recognized, have the possibility of being constellated in transference terms.
Even more than for what he tells, the patient becomes important for what he does not say and that passes through  affects, modalities, emotions, images and bodily realities that are activated in the therapeutic relationship in particular, where, in the face of experience, the therapist who receives them, aware of the process, gets his hands dirty with them, understanding them and elaborating them in a new and different experience, reparative for the patient who receives it (Kopp, 1975) in a transformative if not also identifying perspective. This interaction among the world, body and psyche opens up new therapeutic potentials towards diseases once considered to be of exclusive medical relevance, and above all introduces a new Weltanschauung in the man-nature relationship that offers scientificity and understanding to the dimension of the Unus Mundus, according to which each layer of life is deeply interconnected with all the others to compose a totality. This totality is considered by Ecobiopsychology as organized on the basis of vital analogies, the reading of which involves dealing with the "vocabulary" of the symbol. The therapeutic encounter that is constellated in compliance with vital laws therefore promotes the possibility of repairing, sustaining, transforming man's psycho-somatic suffering so that it becomes tolerable because it is symbolically declined and therefore humanized.

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Mara Breno – Psychologist, psychotherapist, expert in psychosomatics and relaxation theories with particular regard to psychosomatic and symbolic aspects. Teaching responsible and supervisor at the School of Psychotherapy of the Istituto ANEB. EMDR therapist and author of scientific contributions.

Naike Michelon – Psychologist and Psychotherapist specialized at the ANEB Institute. EMDR therapist

Translated by Raffaella Restelli - Human Sciences scholar, linguist and psychologist enrolled in the British Psychological Society with which she actively collaborates. Graduated in Modern Languages ??and Literatures at the Catholic University of Milan and in Psychology at the Newcastle University, UK. Ecobiopsychological counselor. Collaborator of ANEB Editorial Area as a translator.