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Joelson, A. (2017). I Think, Therefore I Am Not Alone: Thinking Obsessionally in a Relational World. J. Infant Child Adolesc. Psychother., 16(1):1-11.

(2017). Journal of Infant, Child & Adolescent Psychotherapy, 16(1):1-11

I Think, Therefore I Am Not Alone: Thinking Obsessionally in a Relational World Related Papers

Amy Joelson, LCSW

Seven-year-old Cody made me rethink my assumptions about obsessional thinking, and to appreciate how this long-established psychoanalytic concept has evolved. When I first studied psychoanalysis, I learned that obsessional thinking was a pathological process of a mind in isolation—warding off unwanted impulses, affects, and memories, insulating the thinker from his own experience as well as from others. For nearly 20 years, I have been immersed in contemporary self-psychology and intersubjective systems theory. These theories establish the inseparability of individual and context, of affect and cognition, appreciating that one’s experience of self is inextricably tied to one’s relationships with others. However, interestingly, my early understanding of obsessional ideation has at times haunted me without my realizing it—that is, until I worked with Cody, a boy with “fifty thoughts a minute.”

Cody presented as if his obsessional thinking were a problem existing solely inside him—and I think he experienced it this way. However, in keeping with intersubjective systems theory, his thought process was a property of how he influenced and was influenced by his relational world. Working together, I began to formulate how thinking obsessionally could reflect vital efforts to maintain a sense of engagement, belonging, and participation in a relational context, particularly when it feels unsafe. Through detailed clinical process, this article illustrates multiple functions that obsessional thinking can provide, introducing its role in maintaining the thinker’s sense of connection to essential others.

[This is a summary excerpt from the full text of the journal article. The full text of the document is available to journal subscribers on the publisher's website here.]

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