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Milton, J. (2012). Seeing and Being Seen: Emerging from a Psychic Retreat by John Steiner Routledge, London, 2011, New Library of Psychoanalysis Series; 216 pp; £23.99. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 93(5):1325-1329.

(2012). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 93(5):1325-1329

Seeing and Being Seen: Emerging from a Psychic Retreat by John Steiner Routledge, London, 2011, New Library of Psychoanalysis Series; 216 pp; £23.99

Review by:
Jane Milton

After the great success of Psychic Retreats, published in 1993, the appearance of John Steiner's second book is very much to be welcomed. In this book, based on nine papers published between 1996 and 2011, Steiner continues and develops his thinking on change and obstacles to change along a number of fertile lines. One of the hallmarks of his work is his experience-near and humane approach, where the strengths and frailties of both patient and analyst in the psychoanalytic relationship are examined. Defences are respected as inevitable and necessary, but Steiner is particularly concerned, as always, with defences that have outlived their usefulness to the personality, in fact are stultifying development, but are hard to relinquish because they have become hardened into rigid and often all too comfortably familiar systems of psychic protection.

In his Foreword Roy Schafer remarks on how John Steiner's emphasis on the subjective experience of the patient helps us as analysts to understand and identify with the analysand; to find a language to describe what is happening to our patient as he or she struggles to leave the security of a psychic retreat. Schafer feels that Steiner has in this book “laid out a Kleinian approach to resistance that is up to date, inclusive and detailed” (p. xiv). He concludes that this book “may be rightly considered a fine complement to Freud's great (1937) essay Analysis terminable and interminable” (p. xiv).

Steiner does not confine himself exclusively to the subject of his subtitle Emerging from a Psychic Retreat, although this theme recurs throughout the book and binds it together, particularly in relation to the subject of shame. Although Kleinian authors have paid much attention to narcissism, to arrogance, certainty, omnipotence and omniscience, Steiner points out that the experience and vicissitudes of shame - feeling oneself to be on the receiving end of this same narcissistic superiority - have received less attention than they might. In relation to this he gives due credit to authors from other psychoanalytic traditions who have examined shame in more detail.


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