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Piers, C. (2015). A review of Psychoanalytic Complexity: Clinical Attitudes for Therapeutic Change: by William J. Coburn. New York, NY: Routledge, 2014. 136 pp.. Contemp. Psychoanal., 51(4):747-755.

(2015). Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 51(4):747-755

Book Reviews

A review of Psychoanalytic Complexity: Clinical Attitudes for Therapeutic Change: by William J. Coburn. New York, NY: Routledge, 2014. 136 pp.

Review by:
Craig Piers, Ph.D.

General Remarks

William Coburn has written a fine book that I think will generate interest and, I suspect, some controversy. What else can be asked for from a book? This review will focus on Coburn's core thesis regarding the sources, influences, and organizing dynamics that give rise to subjective experience, or more specifically, momentary and evolving subjective states (the experience of agency, for instance). In understanding subjective states, Coburn emphasizes the role of context and his thinking is informed by the literature on complex systems. He sees complexity theory as providing sound footing for what he describes as psychoanalysis's move from “objectivism to perspectivism,” adding that complexity theory in particular, “… sheds a much more radical light on the central and relentless role of context in understanding emotional life and the meaning-making process” (p. 6).

Although I disagree with a couple of Coburn's characterizations, in general, he makes good use of many of the ideas and concepts advanced by complexity theorists. From my vantage point, the key to understanding his “contextualist” perspective is appreciating the way he draws on complexity theorists’ discussion of the open, nested, and nonlinear nature of systems, as well as circular causality and emergence.

To get hold of these ideas and their implications, let's consider, as Coburn does, the psychotherapy dyad.

[This is a summary excerpt from the full text of the journal article. The full text of the document is available to journal subscribers on the publisher's website here.]

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