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Josephs, L. (2011). Seeing and Being Seen: Emerging From a Psychic Retreat, by John Steiner, London, England: Routledge, 2011, 196 pp., $36.95.. Psychoanal. Psychol., 28(4):576-580.

(2011). Psychoanalytic Psychology, 28(4):576-580

Seeing and Being Seen: Emerging From a Psychic Retreat, by John Steiner, London, England: Routledge, 2011, 196 pp., $36.95.

Reviewed by
Lawrence Josephs, Ph.D.

John Steiner is one of the foremost contemporary Kleinians of London who along with analysts like Betty Joseph and Ronald Britton, as well as many others, have been extending Kleinian thought in a way that greatly sharpens our understanding of the way in which internalized object relations are subtly recreated and enacted in microscopic aspects of the unconscious emotional interplay between patient and analyst. Much in contemporary Kleinian thought is consistent with recent research in the psychology of the emotions that demonstrates the subtle ways that emotional activation, even of emotions of which we are unaware, influence memory, perception, and thinking, which are to a great extent emotion-driven phenomena (Oatley, Keltner, & Jenkins, 2006). Steiner describes how the analyst's thinking and therefore the analyst's interpretations are subtly influenced by the emotions stirred up by the patient, and it is a constant challenge to be reflective about this process so to interpret from a position less primed by the patient's implicit emotional expectancies.

Steiner's current work builds on his prior work on psychic retreats (Steiner, 1993). A psychic retreat is a pathological defensive organization that serves as an escapist retreat from the persecutory anxieties of the paranoid-depressive position as well as the depressive anxieties of the depressive position. A psychic retreat offers relief by providing an illusory sense of omnipotent control to which the patient tenaciously clings, thereby making them virtually impervious to analytic influence. Acceptance of analytic influence requires a trusting relaxation of omnipotent control so that one can take in helpful understanding from an external object on which one is dependent but which one cannot control. All defensive organizations are based on this quality whether those organizations are neurotic, narcissistic, borderline, or psychotic. Once the defensive organization is challenged, patients are unconsciously and automatically inclined to restore homeostatic balance by returning to the psychic retreat, as a protective cocoon, rather than emerging from the retreat to have real relations with real people.

In the current work Steiner focuses with microscopic precision on the vulnerabilities patients tend to feel as they begin to emerge from a psychic retreat; vulnerabilities that make them want to go right back into hiding in a place where they will remain unseen.

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