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Stern, J. (2019). From Soma to Symbol: Psychosomatic Conditions and Transformative Experience, edited by Phyllis L. Sloate, Routledge, Abingdon and New York, (2018), 288 pp.. Am. J. Psychoanal., 79(2):240-242.

(2019). American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 79(2):240-242

From Soma to Symbol: Psychosomatic Conditions and Transformative Experience, edited by Phyllis L. Sloate, Routledge, Abingdon and New York, (2018), 288 pp.

Review by:
Julian Stern, FRCPsych

This multi-authored volume is part of the book series, “The Boundaries of Psychoanalysis,” and brings together a substantial amount of clinical experience and theoretical thinking from seven North American authors, who work with and think deeply about patients presenting with physical (and often psychosomatic) symptoms. As the editor, and contributor of two of the chapters, Phyllis Sloate writes in her initial acknowledgments, “in clinical situations fraught with uncertainty and ambiguity [her fellow authors] have thoughtfully and sensitively sought out the transformative processes by which psychoanalysis may facilitate a patients movement from the concrete and external to the more developed and enlivened capacity for symbolic and metaphorical thinking” (p. vii).

There are many themes that permeate the book—the question of what language to use with the patient, of psychoanalytic technique, of the use of transference and non-transference interpretations and the importance of the analyst's countertransference. Some of the chapters have detailed verbatim material from sessions, which makes for fascinating reading, others highlight theoretical concerns in working with this patient group, including the extent of projection, and the attempts to retrieve parts, that are often projected not only into others, but also into parts of the body.

All the patients described in the volume are women. And all but two of the authors are women too. This in itself is interesting, with the preponderance of female patients harking right back to Freud, Charcot and “hysteria.

[This is a summary excerpt from the full text of the journal article. The full text of the document is available to journal subscribers on the publisher's website here.]

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