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Coleman, M.L. (1958). The Paranormal Triangle in Analytic Supervision. Psychoanal. Rev., 45C(3):73-84.

(1958). Psychoanalytic Review, 45C(3):73-84

The Paranormal Triangle in Analytic Supervision

Marie L. Coleman


In psychoanalytic treatment, one basic assumption made in evaluating anamnestic material is that members of the primary family group sense each other's motivations regardless of overt behavior to the contrary. So committed are we to this viewpoint that when a patient denies having experienced prior awareness of given impulses or attitudes in a parent, we mentally counter his denial with the thought that he did know, but repressed the knowledge.

Asked to explain how the patient, as a child, might be presumed to have correctly apprehended his parent's psychodynamic state without overt verbal or behavioral evidence, we would reply that such comprehension is acquired through the perception of subtle clues, through cumulative prototypical situations which invite judgmental abstraction, and through spontaneous insight based on similarities in the parent and child. In general, we know that physical proximity, similarity of psychic structure and shared experience contribute to unconscious as well as conscious understanding of the primary object.

The regularity with which patients do subsequently prove to have understood the unconscious of their parents, however, acts as a barrier to the exploration of additional-or even alternative-hypotheses regarding modes of transmission and reception of data which evidentially fall outside the tried-and-true category. Whether we like it or not, significant evidence exists that such communication of vital information takes place in at least one type of relationship which only symbolically resembles the family constellation and which contains none of the foregoing ingredients that we theoretically hold responsible.

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