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Steiner, J. (2006). Interpretative Enactments and the Analytic Setting. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 87(2):315-320.

(2006). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 87(2):315-320

Psychoanalytic Controversies

Interpretative Enactments and the Analytic Setting Related Papers Language Translation

John Steiner

Enactments are recognized to be inevitable, sometimes informative and yet harmful to the patient and to the analytic process (Sandler 1976, 1977; Joseph 1981, 2003). Supporting the argument that enactments can be useful, Sandler (1976) even suggests that the analyst should cultivate a free-floating responsiveness, as a counterpart to Freud's free-floating attention, so that his reactions as well as his thoughts and feelings contribute to the understanding of his patients. He describes how an infantile role-relationship can be played out and examined as it is actualized in the relationship with the analyst (Sandler, 1976). Similarly, Joseph, (1981, 1989) presents extensive work supporting her idea that the analyst is inevitably drawn into playing a role in the patient's phantasy and that observing this role can shed light on the patient's defensive system, and on his habitual style of object relationships.

It is difficult to reconcile the idea that enactments can give helpful information about the patient and his relationships with the recognition that, in the process, boundaries may be violated and to a greater or lesser extent both the patient and the analytic work can be damaged. Enactments by definition cross the boundary from thought to action and, unless they are recognized and regulated, can enter that grey area between normal technique, technical error and unethical boundary violation (Gabbard and Lester, 1995). I believe they must be tolerated as part of the analyst's ordinary fallibility, but monitored as a check on our self-understanding and our contact with reality.

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