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Palombo, S. (2012). Personality and Psychopathology: Critical Dialogues with David Shapiro, edited by Craig Piers. New York, Springer, 2011, 292 pp.. Psychodyn. Psych., 40(2):348-350.

(2012). Psychodynamic Psychiatry, 40(2):348-350

Personality and Psychopathology: Critical Dialogues with David Shapiro, edited by Craig Piers. New York, Springer, 2011, 292 pp.

Review by:
Stanley Palombo, M.D.

Since the publication of Neurotic Styles (1965), David Shapiro has been one of the most constructive and conscientious critics of traditional psychoanalytic theory. Personality and Psychopathology, is a Festschrift in Shapiro's honor, ably edited by Craig Piers. It offers a useful opportunity to reevaluate Shapiro's important contributions.

In this volume, Shapiro responds to each of 12 essays by prominent clinicians and researchers, who are then permitted a rebuttal to Shapiro's comments. This format allows for a rich and lively dialogue, an inspiring model for discussions of contemporary psychoanalytic theory, in my opinion. The individual essays differ in focus, some a direct response to Shapiro's teachings and writings, some amplifying Shapiro's ideas by introducing new material, others critically exploring issues raised by Shapiro's work.

Shapiro's basic thesis is well-known. He believes that psychological defenses are intensifications of existing styles of interaction with the world, not separate mechanisms in the sense advocated by Anna Freud. When these personality styles are utilized as defenses, they impose a stereotyped and impoverished way of looking at experience. Shapiro's therapeutic goal is to overcome the restrictions of the patient's defensive stance by making him aware of ideas and particularly feelings that he ignores or minimizes as a result. Working with the patient from this vantage point, Shapiro tries to explore the details of the patient's individual personality structure, taking nothing for granted and avoiding any clinical stereotyping that might reduce the patient to a category member. This brings with it an emphasis on the here and now, and on attention to the patient's immediate goals in expressing himself to the therapist. One can only admire this therapeutic position, and none of the essayists seem at all interested in challenging it.

Differences arise about a number of issues. For example, Herbert Schlesinger links the patient's behavior in therapy to his experience with important figures earlier in his life. He considers it important to identify these figures in order to distinguish what the therapist is doing now from what has been done to the patient in the past.

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