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Berent, I. (1996). A Presence Announced By Its Absence.. Psychoanal Q., 65:389-391.

(1996). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 65:389-391

A Presence Announced By Its Absence.

Irving Berent, M.D.

Years ago a recently divorced woman in her late thirties presented a dream some months into her analysis in which she emphasized that her whole family was present. The scene was an old western town in which she and members of the family were hiding in and around buildings trying not to be shot. The patient mentioned each of her parents, her sister, and herself, and elaborated extensively upon their activities within the dream.

“You said your whole family is in the dream. Conspicuous by his absence is your brother. Where's he?”

My antennae had been aroused by the patient's emphasis on her whole family being present in the dream. Rather than attempt to have the patient associate to the numerous elements present in the dream, I had her focus on the “element” not present. A “negative” association, if you will.

In response to my inquiry the patient allowed herself to provide more details about her brother, and before the hour was done, she tearfully described an episode of their having had sexual intercourse as adults while drunk. The episode and its ramifications, including powerful guilt, contributed to her pushing her husband away and ruining a marriage to which she no longer felt entitled.

“Where's your brother?” proved to be the catalyst providing the disclosure of core issues in this woman's life. Without the “negative association” to her dream, her analysis might have remained obscure as, indeed, had been the case in her previous attempts at therapy.

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