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Sands, S.H. (2020). Body Experience in the Analysis of the Older Woman. Psychoanal. Inq., 40(3):173-188.

(2020). Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 40(3):173-188

Body Experience in the Analysis of the Older Woman

Susan H. Sands, Ph.D.

Psychoanalysis has yet to probe the experience of living in an aging body. Analytic writings on aging scarcely mention the body, while those on body development or the body in treatment hardly mention aging. I argue that we must focus more intently on body experience in our work with older patients—the patient’s, the analyst’s and ours together. I explore how the experience of bodily self-awareness—the body sense—is constructed and how it continues to be “remade” throughout our lives, even in older age. I decry our society’s “triumphing over the body” narrative, which dictates that we ignore, battle, or remodel our aging bodies at the very time they are becoming more vulnerable and in need of special attention. In analytic treatment, the older patient’s body-self development, like her self development in general, must be taken up from the point where it was earlier derailed. I explore three bodily themes in the analysis of the older woman: (1) Confronting and mourning bodily loss, (2) building embodied self-awareness, and (3) facing mortality. I propose that older women are actually primed to experience our bodies more deeply and pleasurably, because our bodies are quieter, slower and less driven to action. A transformational new capacity for body awareness, or embodiment, is an unrecognized benefit of aging, and, as I illustrate in the case of Judith, one which can mobilize other crucial psychological capacities.

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