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McLaughlin, J.T. (1991). Clinical and Theoretical Aspects of Enactment. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 39:595-614.

(1991). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 39:595-614

Clinical and Theoretical Aspects of Enactment

James T. McLaughlin, M.D.


Enactment as a concept can serve analytic discourse through its established meaning of an act intended strongly to influence, persuade, or force another to react. We might agree to use the term in two complementary ways:

Broadly, enactment can designate all behaviors of both parties in the analytic relationship, even verbal, in consequence of the intensification of the action intent of our words created by the constraints and regressive push induced by the analytic rules and frame. Patient and analyst are vulnerable to falling back on behaviors that actualize their intentions, doing so in ways motivated by and reflecting transference hopes, fears, and compromises shaped in their developmental past.

Specifically, enactment can then be defined as those regressive (defensive) interactions between the pair experienced by either as a consequence of the behavior of the other. While nominally an interpersonal perspective, this concept of enactment facilitates more balanced attention to the involvement of both parties and to the intrapsychic dynamics in both that specifically shape their interactions.

A clinical vignette illustrates the analyst's contributions to enactment, especially those reflecting his reactivated conflicts and their relation to his theoretical and technical preferences.

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