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Smith, D.L. (1988). The challenge of Robert Langs. Free Associations, 1(11):51-57.

(1988). Free Associations, 1(11):51-57

The challenge of Robert Langs

David Livingstone Smith

Listening and Interpreting: The Challenge of the Work of Robert Langs, edited by James Raney, Jason Aronson, 1984, xvii + 525 pages, hb £30.85

For the past decade Robert Langs has been developing a unique method for practising and understanding psychoanalytic psychotherapy which he now calls the communicative approach. Langs' ideas are controversial and, as the title of this book implies, challenging. Initially treated by mainstream practitioners as a sort of outrageous enfant terrible of American psychoanalysis, Langs has by now succeeded in attracting a small but dedicated army of psychotherapists to his approach. Listening and Interpreting is a collection of twenty-three papers written mainly by colleagues and one-time students illuminating various facets of communicative theory and method. The book is a pleasing discovery. The quality of each contribution is high and the contents are varied. It can be read by those with no prior background in the communicative approach and will also be of considerable interest to the seasoned practitioner.

Langs' method is based on his understanding of and profound respect for the phenomenon of unconscious perception. He sees the patient as exquisitely sensitive to the nuances of the therapist's behaviour. This perceptiveness — which is mainly unconscious — comes to the foreground to the extent that the therapist is managing the therapeutic process and setting ineptly. It is easy to understand why this should be so. Therapeutic errors engender a valid sense of insecurity for the patient. They create what Freud would have called a ‘situation of danger’, introducing extremely threatening perceptions and disruptive introjects.


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