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Diggle, S. (1992). SAMUELS, A. (London). ‘Parents as messengers’, British Journal of Psychotherapy, 7, 4, 1991, pp. 341-55.. J. Anal. Psychol., 37(3):368-369.

(1992). Journal of Analytical Psychology, 37(3):368-369

SAMUELS, A. (London). ‘Parents as messengers’, British Journal of Psychotherapy, 7, 4, 1991, pp. 341-55.

Review by:
Sedwell Diggle

Andrew Samuels's paper offers characteristically challenging suggestions for the meaning and use of parental material and imagery in analysis, beyond what is familiar to most clinicians. He is fully aware of the part played by the literal parents in unconscious phantasy and projective identification, and of their involvement in the development of specific parts of the personality and elements of psychic structure. And he does not neglect the need for the reconstructive understanding of the actual past. He suggests, however, an additional understanding of the parental images as autonomous, freestanding figures in action, metaphors in personified form, from whom can be learned the messages they convey. The emphasis here is not on the aetiology of the parental images but on their function and action, even their aim.

Samuels suggests three different kinds of messages which may be read from the parental images and examples of each of these are given later in the paper. The first type may be implicit in a negative attribute of the parent, as in the first example. If patient and therapist can temporarily suspend their negative value judgement they may be able to draw from consideration of that same attribute a sort of positive agenda which can be explored and worked on. Second, the parental images, which may change considerably in the course of the therapeutic work, provide a reflection of the patient's own parenting capacity, their attitude to humanity and concern towards the external social world, ultimately the state of their political development. Third, Samuels suggests that the images of the primal scene, of the parents in interaction together, is an indicator of the patient's overall internal situation. There may be signs that this is stuck or allows a vitalizing interaction of opposites. Another possibility is that the primal scene cannot be imagined at all, out of an overwhelming fear of the consequences of conflict.

The discussion section of the paper deals with some crucial aspects of Samuels's hypotheses. He likens the simultaneous functioning of literal and metaphorical understanding to Jung's notion of a combined reductive and prospective approach in analysis and advocates an interpretative style which can embrace both. He discourses briefly on Jung's ‘objective psyche’ as the source of knowledge, insight, and imagination.

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