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Mander, G. (2004). 2. Obsession Transformed into Mourning. Brit. J. Psychother., 21(1):16-21.

(2004). British Journal of Psychotherapy, 21(1):16-21

2. Obsession Transformed into Mourning

Gertrud Mander

The client was a handsome professional man, somewhat beyond midlife, with an easy rapport indicating a public-school upbringing. His father was a diplomat and in his early years the family moved around the world until they settled in England when he was seven. Boarding school compounded the instability of his life as did his parents' unstable marriage. In adolescence he had a persistent fantasy of marriage. He had his first serious relationship as a student, married three times and had three by now grown-up children. In his last marriage to a much younger woman he had felt special as never before, but that marriage also broke up six years ago, when he became deeply depressed. Medication helped him overcome this incapacitating condition, but life had become meaningless. He retired from work and became obsessed by fantasies of getting his third wife back which prevented him from picking up the pieces of his life constructively. Finally he asked for help on the advice of a former client of mine.

The Session

J came on time on a motorbike and sat down on the couch facing me. I opened the session by asking what he had come for to which he replied laconically: ‘I will tell you my life story’, whereupon he launched into a fluent and detailed chronological narrative, tracing the ups and downs of his marriages and of his more recent troubled singleness. I listened for 40 minutes, occasionally asking for clarification of a point, while trying to establish the presenting symptom and to find a pattern in this life story that might enable me to formulate a dynamic focus. Linking in my mind the instability of his early life with the ups and downs of his marriages, I also linked the adolescent fantasy of getting married with the precipitate remarriages and with the ongoing obsession about his last wife. I identified the obsession that he might get her back as a ‘psychic retreat’ (Steiner 1993).


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