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Hilty, R. (2020). Unpleasant Bodily Odour in a Psychoanalytic Treatment: Bridge or Drawbridge to a Troubled Past?. Brit. J. Psychother., 36(2):200-215.

(2020). British Journal of Psychotherapy, 36(2):200-215

Clinical and Theoretical Practice

Unpleasant Bodily Odour in a Psychoanalytic Treatment: Bridge or Drawbridge to a Troubled Past?

Raffaella Hilty

In this paper, I explore the topic of primitive bodily communications and countertransference enactments, with a particular focus on the part played by bodily odour. To explore this topic, I discuss a two-year treatment with a patient who presented with a mix of borderline and narcissistic diagnostic features. I describe meaningful aspects of the difficulties faced in countertransference work when receiving and making sense of the patient's use of primitive defences and I highlight their expression through a very uncomfortable symptom: an extremely unpleasant bodily smell. My thesis is that the smell communicated preverbal and unsymbolized experiences of early physical and emotional neglect, as well as evacuating the toxicity of those experiences. In this way the smell acted both as a bridge, which could help me reconstruct my patient's early traumatic past, and as a drawbridge, to keep me at distance and maintain his past dissociated. The invasive and aversive nature of the smell can also be seen as representing the approach-avoidance dilemma typical of a disorganized attachment state of mind, acting both as a bridge and as a drawbridge to attachment and relating.

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