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Esman, A.H. (2009). Sexual Boundary Violations: Therapeutic, Supervisory, and Academic Contexts. By Andrea Celenza. Lanham, MD: Jason Aronson, 2007. 314 pp.. Psychoanal Q., 78(4):1211-1212.

(2009). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 78(4):1211-1212

Sexual Boundary Violations: Therapeutic, Supervisory, and Academic Contexts. By Andrea Celenza. Lanham, MD: Jason Aronson, 2007. 314 pp.

Review by:
Aaron H. Esman

The past two decades have seen the emergence of the subject of sexual boundary violations from the closet of denial and avoidance to which they had, to a considerable degree, been relegated for years. Despite such early transgressions as those of Ferenczi and Jung, such events were largely considered rarities, individual aberrations that, under proper conditions, would be averted by sufficient training analysis and careful self-scrutiny. A variety of factors, cultural as well as professional, have now coalesced to focus attention on this issue, and to generate an extensive literature aimed at elucidating the dynamics of the problem and guiding professionals of various disciplines in their efforts to understand and manage it.

Andrea Celenza has been one of the pioneers in this project. A psychologist and psychoanalyst, she has collaborated with a number of scholars and clinicians in studying, treating, supervising, and consulting with both therapists and patients (often referred to here as “victims”) caught up in such situations. She has published widely, and the current volume is a product of her years of immersion in this complex and highly charged field. She is particularly skillful in delineating the intricate network of transference-countertransference entanglements that contribute to the evolution of such violations, and the personality configurations of both parties that are vulnerable to becoming enmeshed in them—in particular, the narcissistic vulnerability, rescue fantasies, and fear of aggression that predispose some therapists to offer “corrective emotional experiences” to their often difficult patients. She consistently emphasizes the power gradient that fosters the susceptibility of the patient to the therapist's overtures, maintaining that the patient is never to be held guilty for the latter's ethical failures. (It is of note that studies have consistently shown that psychoanalysts are those least likely to be guilty of such failures, probably because they have been most thoroughly trained to attend to the transferential patterns that generate them.)

Recent scandals about transgressions by the clergy have contributed to the public awareness of and concern about boundary violations.

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