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Johnson, C. (1990). On Acting Out in the Countertransference. Brit. J. Psychother., 7(1):97.

(1990). British Journal of Psychotherapy, 7(1):97

On Acting Out in the Countertransference

Carlotta Johnson

I want to thank Joan Schachter for the thoughts she expressed in her review of Christopher Bollas's Forces of Destiny in this Journal, (6(3)). By the way she pulled together what she saw as the central points I had one of those celebratory ‘AHA’ experiences. Now I'd like to comment on it. It is the idea of a free act in an experience of encounter. I am a newly qualified analytic psychotherapist who often feels like a car without a proper make. I do not sometimes know who to belong to, which school, which ‘mast’ do I nail my heart to? I know certainly that two of my ‘of the essence’ papers from analytic practice are the two that Schachter referred to. When I first read Symington's and Coltart's papers they were to me like sweet smells of fresh air, sunshine on my shoulder, etc. I wondered why they were not required reading in training. They describe free acts which can be understood and cherished as just that. It is confusing to me that often such acts are labelled ‘acting out’. The label turns a form of human intimacy into a destructive ‘you need more analysis’ deed. (In fact I wonder if people reading this commentary will think the same of me!) I am not saying that there is not such a thing as ‘acting out’. And I realise that this topic which I am touching on is complex and needs very careful untangling but I am at the beginning. It seems to me that all too frequently basic human gestures are too easily lumped into the category of ‘acting out’. Such sensitive spontaneous acts of analytic practice seem to be so suspect. For me what is suspect is a too rigid analytic stance. Could one ask if the stance could be an ‘acting out’? A way of control, of keeping everything within a talking framework; is it out of an unspoken ‘keeping in’ with The Elders, The True Ones, The Heritage? In the presence of such illustrious Ones I wonder if there is room to play, if there is room to find, to be aware of human interactions which are closer to realms of performance, of gesture, of sound, of the nonverbal. I would ask readers, the editor, writers, for some feedback on this topic of the boundaries around ‘acting out’, gesture, acts of play, acts of sensitivity within the analytic framework … other papers, articles, books -material for a closer look into the matter.


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