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Safran, J.D. (1999). Faith, Despair, Will, and the Paradox of Acceptance. Contemp. Psychoanal., 35(1):5-23.

(1999). Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 35(1):5-23

Faith, Despair, Will, and the Paradox of Acceptance

Jeremy D. Safran, Ph.D.

Faith and Despair in Psychoanalysis

THE TERM FAITH is not commonly used in psychoanalytic discourse. An important exception can be found in Bion's (1970) writing, where he refers to the state of mind that emerges when the analyst approaches his work without memory, desire, or understanding as one of faith: “faith that there is an ultimate reality and truth—the unknown, unknowable, 'formless infinite'” (p. 31). He emphasizes the way in which the analyst's desire for mastery and understanding can block the openness of mind necessary for perceiving the emotional truth that emerges in the session. In an evocative paper, Coltart (1992) builds upon Bion to argue for the fundamental ineffability of the analytic process, and the role that the analyst's faith must play in the face of this ineffability.

However much we gain confidence, refine our technique, decide more creatively when and how and what to interpret, each hour with each patient is also in its way an act of faith; faith in ourselves, in the process, and faith in the secret, unknown, unthinkable things in our patients which, in the space which is the analysis, are slouching towards the time when their hour comes round at last. [p. 3]

The emphasis for Bion and Coltart, in this context, is on the analyst's faith. In this article I focus on the patient's faith and the processes that can give rise to it when it is lacking. As I argue, there is an important parallel between the type of attitude that develops for patients when faith emerges and Bion's understanding of the nature of faith.

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