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Saller, V. (2004). Conceptual Tools of Ethnopsychoanalytic Thinking in Clinical Work with Migrant Patients. Free Associations, 11(1):122-133.

(2004). Free Associations, 11(1):122-133

Conceptual Tools of Ethnopsychoanalytic Thinking in Clinical Work with Migrant Patients

Vera Saller, D.Phil

The Experience of Psychotherapeutic relations with migrants sheds new light on the connection between our knowledge of anthropology or the particular culture of the patient in treatment and our psychoanalytical knowledge and technique. My formulation of this relationship stresses the containing function of culture. I therefore consider the repression of certain instinctual aims only as a partial function of culture. To express this emphasis in psychoanalytic terms, I suggest dividing the unconscious analytically into two parts. Large parts of knowledge which guide our everyday behaviour are unconscious in a descriptive sense, but not in the dynamic one of Freudian psychoanalysis. It is this former part of the unconscious that we share with others of the same culture and that I call the habitual unconsciousness. Using the term of habit I am introducing the thoughts of the American pragmatist thinker Peirce into the framework of psychoanalysis.

Initiating an analytical process, we first have to form an agreement with the patient. The framework of the setting normally functions as the habitual unconscious of the analytical situation, as I stressed elsewhere (Saller, 2002a). As the Italian psychoanalyst Codignola (1997) puts it, the setting and the person of the analyst stands for the reality principle in the process of analysis. The setting stands for a certain framework of truth, and enables the patient to tolerate oscillating the fixed categories that furthermore were taken for truth.

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