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Tolpin, P.H. (1988). Optimal Affective Engagement: The Analyst's Role in Therapy. Progress in Self Psychology, 4:160-168.

(1988). Progress in Self Psychology, 4:160-168

Optimal Affective Engagement: The Analyst's Role in Therapy Related Papers

Paul H. Tolpin, M.D.

As I was reading Terman's thoughtful chapter, in which he takes issue with (1) the traditional psychoanalytic concept of the critical role of frustration as the motivating force in the formation of psychic structure and (2) the self psychological variant of that, namely that, to quote Kohut, abiding functions [cannot] be acquired by the self without a preceding frustration, however tiny and/or fractionated from the side of the selfobject, I wondered how I could comment on a paper with which I had little basic disagreement. Of course, it is a fundamental question whether the major motivating force leading to the formation of “abiding functions,” or, to use other words, whether the development of psychic structure depends essentially (the word “essentially” is critical here) on frustration or gratification—particularly in terms of psychoanalytic “cure.” The answer to that question has far-reaching implications for psychoanalytic therapeutic technique. (I think that many of us would hesitate at what seems like a simplistic either/or formulation or one that reduces the motivating force in the formation of psychic structure to frustration or gratification alone; but that has been the traditional starting point for such discussions and it is therefore the necessary locus of ours.)

Terman divides his evidence into two groups. First, he presents data that has become available from developmental studies including those of Vygotsky, Kaye, and Stern. I shall not review them at this time except to note that they all strongly imply that the adequate responsiveness of caretakers rather than the absence of usual responsiveness (frustration, if you will) plays a dominant role in the formation of psychic structure. But I would like to mention a few relevant remarks developed from a discussion of these ideas with Marian Tolpin.

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