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Smith, D.L. (1989). A Primer of Psychotherapy by Robert Langs, Published by Gardner Press: New York, 1988; 232 pp.; £29.95 hardback.. Brit. J. Psychother., 5(4):598-599.

(1989). British Journal of Psychotherapy, 5(4):598-599

A Primer of Psychotherapy by Robert Langs, Published by Gardner Press: New York, 1988; 232 pp.; £29.95 hardback.

Review by:
David L. Smith

This book is the most succinct and up-to-date account of the Communicative Approach to psychoanalytic psychotherapy available in print. Beginning with The Bipersonal Field (1976) Langs has gradually developed a radical and distinctive alternative to existing forms of psychoanalysis. Although originally inspired by the early Freud, Searles, Bion and Little, to name but a few, the Communicative Approach has developed to the point of being relatively independent of its sources.

Langs' work stems from the fundamental proposition that the unconscious part of the mind is basically an organ of interpersonal perception, as opposed to the autistic phantasy-ridden system dominated by the pleasure principle described by other writers. Langs shows that what he calls the deep unconscious system is much more sensitive in this respect than the conscious mind. Unconscious perceptions attach themselves to preconscious thoughts to produce disguised derivatives, much in the way that Freud describes in The Interpretation of Dreams.

This approach to the unconscious mind has radical implications for therapeutic technique. The patient is seen as constantly unconsciously monitoring the therapist's behaviour and feeding back his or her observations in derivative form. The technique that Langs has developed, then, is based on learning to understand these messages and to let the patient teach one how to conduct the therapy. When listening to patients in this way some surprising and often unsettling results emerge. Many conventional psychoanalytic methods (such as interpreting ‘transference’) are not unconsciously ‘validated’. Many of these methods are unconsciously experienced by patients as acts of violence, seduction or deception.

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