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Naiburg, S. (2006). Between Fate and Destiny: Oedipus and Reactive Certainty in the Consulting Room. Psychoanal. Dial., 16(4):445-463.

(2006). Psychoanalytic Dialogues, 16(4):445-463

Between Fate and Destiny: Oedipus and Reactive Certainty in the Consulting Room

Suzi Naiburg, Ph.D., LICSW

For the Greeks of antiquity, who did not distinguish between fate and destiny, fate is character and character, fate. But for those who have suffered trauma, envisioning and creating a distinction between fate and destiny is crucial. Following Bollas (Bollas, 1991, p. 44), I believe that our work with our patients may be to help them “transform fatedness in to destiny and to gain futures”.

Sometimes patient and therapist alike bring their fate into the consulting room with the reactive certainty of Oedipus, blind to the limits of their certain knowledge, which an enactment may then expose. My patient Ed and I were caught up in such certainty at both explicit and implicit levels. He played the role of the artful dodger, and I played the role of fixer-upper until I could step outside our mutual enactment by not doing the thinking Ed wanted me to do—the same kind of thinking, that is, that kept Oedipus from facing “the terror of abandonment” (Lear, 1998b, p. 51).

Classical tragedy presents us with a double vision—of the individual as acted upon and as agent, as subjected to fate and as possessing character that determines action. Tragic consciousness arises out of an acceptance of this paradox. Reactive certainty denies such complexity. In the consulting room, how then do we help our patients transform fate into destiny to gain futures? Drawing on clinical material as well as literature and a nonanalytic third, this paper explores such a possibility.

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