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Cooper, P.C. (2004). Learning from Our Mistakes: Beyond Dogma in Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy, by Patrick Casement, New York: The Guilford Press (2002), 150 pp.. Am. J. Psychoanal., 64(4):391-392.

(2004). American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 64(4):391-392

Book Review

Learning from Our Mistakes: Beyond Dogma in Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy, by Patrick Casement, New York: The Guilford Press (2002), 150 pp.

Review by:
Paul C. Cooper, NCPSYA

Simply stated, this is, in my opinion, an excellent book. It is honest, clearly written and it contains a wealth of useful information garnered from the author's years of clinical experience and self-reflection, which he has integrated with sound theoretical thinking. Initially, I found myself reacting negatively to Casement's ideas, but quickly realized how easy it is for an individual psychotherapist to rationalize one's own unquestioned assumptions, which are easily defended against by taking a rigidly critical stance toward the presented ideas. For example, I found myself asking “What exactly is a mistake?” After all, didn't Freud describe all experience as neutral? That it is our own subjectivity that colors experience in either a negative or a positive light?

An alternative stance that I have been exposed to can be summarized as follows: “There are no ‘mistakes’ all experience is ‘grist’ for the psychoanalytic ‘mill.’” Casement questions this not at all uncommon belief as he raises the possibility that such a view can leave the analyst hiding behind a self-privileged cloak of omniscience, which then can easily be rationalized with a biased belief system that becomes relegated to the sanctified realm of theory. He also points out the many ways both patient and analyst can collude in the perpetuation of such belief systems. Through self-reflection, which he describes as “internal supervision,” this pitfall can be minimized and subjected to a more sensitive and honest examination. There is, in my opinion, a fine line between thinking about the patient and being with the patient's experience. Can we do both as Bion (1970) suggests? Casement clearly demonstrates this possibility and provides ample clinical material to support his position.

This questioning of dogma is expressed succinctly and cogently in a chapter on supervision. The attitude that he advocates, I believe, is equally relevant to teaching psychoanalysis, which would better be described as “facilitating.” While recognizing the need to maintain a sense of what is sound theoretically and technically, Casement writes:

“But throughout, I want supervisees to find their own ways of thinking these things through, within subsequent sessions with the patient, rather than feel obliged to work in any way that might seem to be preferred by me” (p. 44).

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