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Speziale-Bagliacca, R. (1991). The Capacity to Contain: Notes on its Function in Psychic Change. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 72:27-33.

(1991). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 72:27-33

The Capacity to Contain: Notes on its Function in Psychic Change

Roberto Speziale-Bagliacca

Solo recuerdo la emoción de las cosas,
y se me olvida todo lo demás.
Muchas son las lagunas de mi memoria.

[I remember only the emotion of things,
And I forget everything else.
Many are the gaps in my memory.]
(Antonio Machado)

Although it has been stated that the 'main work' of the analyst in promoting psychic change in the patient within the analytical process lies in his commitment to '"contain" the infantile aspects of the mind' (Meltzer, 1967), I believe that the great majority of psychoanalysts today would still agree with the thesis which united clinicians as diverse as Eissler and Rosenfeld in the Panel of the 20th IPA Congress, held in Paris in 1957, to the effect that the technique of psychoanalysis was 'one in which interpretation remains the exclusive or leading or prevailing tool' (Eissler, 1958).

At that time there was certainly a great deal of discussion on the rule of abstinence, parameters and pseudo-parameters, but Rosenfeld (1987) could still maintain in his posthumously published work: 'the primary means by which the analyst achieves [his] aims is by precise verbal interpretation'. However, Rosenfeld himself, summarizing the views he held throughout his life, explains in other chapters how fundamental the preparatory work of containing is.

In my opinion, it may be misleading to regard the containing capacity of the analyst's 'mind' as a factor of transformation unless it is made clear that the container function and interpretation constitute a single system, so that, if either of these two factors is insufficient, psychic change will be compromised or incomplete (Speziale-Bagliacca, 1982), (1988).

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