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Power, D. (2016). The Use of the Analyst as an Autistic Shape. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 97(4):975-998.

(2016). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 97(4):975-998

Psychoanalytic Theory and Technique

The Use of the Analyst as an Autistic Shape

Dolan Power

(Accepted for publication 19 August 2014)

In this paper I describe through detailed clinical material the challenges posed by patients who employ entangled autistic defenses. I discuss the complicated nature of treating a patient who employed entangled autistic defenses and utilized my voice in an effort to preserve an undifferentiated state of dual unity. My patient's pursuit of dual unity took a very concrete form in her attempt to mitigate the terror of separateness. This concreteness was expressed via the patient's urgent request that I read letters she wrote to me between sessions. This type of autistic defense placed great strain on my ability to think analytically and I also became increasingly concrete in my response to the patient. Crucial to the analyst's regaining a space in which to think and a sense of separateness is the ability to contact the ground floor of her separate bodily experience. This is just the beginning step in the analyst separating herself from the powerful press to join the patient in a state of dual unity. Interpretation in action (Ogden, 1994) was an effective way to convey the importance of creating and tolerating internal space in myself and begin to create internal space in the patient. Previously such space had been closed down in order to manage primitive fears of annihilation. When a patient is absorbed in an entangling autistic retreat words do not reach the patient on a symbolic level but rather are experienced primarily as an assault on the need for dual unity with the analyst. The patient's need to be wrapped in a sensation based world of dual unity is preferable to a world of spoken words that carry the danger of delineating psychic separateness. In essence there is no self to speak words, only a whirl of an amorphous sensation self lacking definition. I believe with certain kinds of patients it may be necessary to first lose and then work to regain one's analytic mind, as I have powerfully described in the case of Linda. Linda's profound loss of connection to the ground floor of her experience could only begin to be addressed when I worked to extricate myself from ‘our magic carpet ride’ of dual unity, contacting the reality of my bodily experience, and begin to tolerate the terror I felt regarding my separateness from Linda. I also describe the confusing vacillation between entangled and encapsulated defenses in patients like Linda as previously identified by Cohen and Jay (1996). Ultimately, this kind of slow difficult analytic work began to help Linda develop a capacity to think and provided an alternative to the deadened world of her autistic protections.

[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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