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Kirshner, L.A. (1994). Trauma, the Good Object, and the Symbolic: A Theoretical Integration. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 75:235-242.

(1994). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 75:235-242

Trauma, the Good Object, and the Symbolic: A Theoretical Integration

Lewis A. Kirshner


Psychic trauma has returned as a central concept for psychoanalysis after a period of relative eclipse since Ferenczi's pioneering work. Our search for a common clinical understanding of trauma, however, may have been hampered by the lack of a shared definition within the diversity of contemporary theoretical models. In this paper, the threat of destruction or loss of the good object, here redefined as a function of symbolic representation of the human world of cultural meanings and value, is proposed as a common ground for theories as diverse as those of Ferenczi, Freud, Klein, and Lacan. As a corollary, the role of the psychoanalyst in treatment of traumatised patients must be viewed in relation to the symbolic function of the good object. When this function has been damaged, the analyst cannot rely upon the intrinsic features of analytic treatment to provide conditions of safety for therapeutic re-experiencing of the past and for facilitation of a new object experience, but must at times take active measures. It is suggested that Ferenczi may have tried to become the good object for his patients, rather than using the analytic position to help restore the symbolic function. Loewald's clinical theory is presented as consistent with the latter approach.

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