Going through Crisis, Dealing with Crisis

This article discusses what is means to experience crisis and dealing with crisis. The word, “crisis” has its Greek origin, krinein, which means, “to judge”. In Chinese, the word for crisis is 危機– the first word 危 means danger and the second word 機 means opportunity.  This indicates that to be in crisis is to be in a state of having the possibility to make choices. This requires evaluation and re-evaluation of what used to be, or what we have been used to.

dealing with crisis

To be in crisis, is to experience a loss or a possibility of a loss of something that was important, that had a meaning in your life. The loss can be something that is tangible, like the loss of a loved one or loss of health, or something spiritual / mental, like loss of trust in someone/something.

Dealing with crisis is a process of creatively adapting to the crisis situation.

 The Change Process in Dealing with Crisis

The loss usually translates into very meaningful changes for the person in crisis.

It is possible that such changes are impetus for growth; though that is not always the case. Experience of crisis can be extremely disturbing and anxiety provoking. When we go through crisis, there is also the feeling of being very alone in it.

Types of Crises

A crisis may be the result of loss of one’s previous identity or role. The loss of (or the expected loss of) a significant person, often changes how the individual sees him/herself in his/her world.  The loss of health or a body part impacts likewise.

Crises occur with the natural course of life: puberty, leaving home, emigrating, having a child, getting divorced or approaching middle-age. These are some events in life in which people find themselves leaving familiar territory and having to make choices.

Getting Help in Times of Crisis

Help, to a person in crisis, is not a matter of giving advice or providing treatment. The best form of help comes in the supporting of the person through this difficult time of change.

Time is a main and stable resource. Stressful experiences occur when we expect a quick way out of the difficult feelings. Effective help comes in the form of one who is patient enough to be present with the person in crisis till he/she can fully integrate with the losses, and can come to terms with his/her new way of being.

This is also the “paradoxical theory of change” adopted by gestalt therapists.

Dealing with Crisis with Someone’s Help

If you are going through crisis yourself, find others who are able to provide you with the support to integrate the new meaning into your life. You can help them to help you, by telling them what you need and what you don’t need.

If you, for example, do not find the advice/consolation of well-meaning friends useful, say to them (if you can muster it), “I need you just to be with me, we do not have to find solutions right now.” Find someone to speak with about your difficult feelings of anxiety, guilt, sadness, grief, etc.

Certainly, getting professional support from a therapist or counsellor is also a good option.

How emotional writing can improve your mood — and health

I am inspired by the many special people with whom I have learnt this to be true; of the healing benefits of writing about life’s experiences expressively.

“Am besten gefällt mir noch, dass ich das, was ich denke und fühle, wenigstens aufschreiben kann, sonst werde ich komplett ersticken. ”  Anne Frank 1944

Translated as: “The nicest part is being able to write down all my thoughts and feelings, otherwise I’d absolutely suffocate.”

Research like those by Pennebaker et. al. in the 1980s have shown that groups of people who have been asked to write expressively about difficult times of their lives 15-20 minutes a day for 5 consecutive days benefitted more from the control group (who were asked to write  about superficial themes) in these areas (Horn et. al 2011):

  • they needed fewer doctor’s visits.
  • they had better immune parameters
  • less medical symptoms
  • less depressive and anxiety symptoms
  • experience overall better sense of wellness.

Putting into handwritten words your negative emotions, is especially useful. The term “negative”, refers to  painful feelings that we normally try to avoid and conceal from others and ourselves. These emotions are not “negative” in the sense that they are bad or wrong. These emotions, like fear, sorrow, panic, shame, envy, anger, grief, loss and sadness, have everything to do with us being human.

Emotions are embodied. This is not commonly acknowledged fact. However, when panic, for example, sets in, we feel it in the body.  This is why the panic attack is paralyzing. It makes us feel vulnerable.

Depression is not an emotion in itself. It involves a bodily action. Emotions are being controlled. Feelings of rage, anger and fear are being surpressed. There is so much energy in this surpression that the physical energy gers sapped out, leaving us weak.

Writing is a uniquely human activity. It is action. It is intellectual, and it is language. Writing expressions of emotions brings to action the emotions that underlie painful memories. Unlike speaking out or physically acting out the emotions, writing has a protective effect: it is a form of expression that is somewhat energetically controllable. The fact that the writer is control of his/her pen is an important factor for individuals who are psychologically fragile, who risk being overwhelmed (or even traumatized) by painful memories.

Since writing is also language, writing helps us to understand these emotions.

“(T)he most important thing for me is to understand. For me, writing is part of this process of understanding. Writing is an integral part of the process of understanding… If others understand in the same way I’ve understood, that gives me a sense of satisfaction… wie ein Heimatsgefühl*” Hannah Arendt 1964  (Gaus & Arendt, 1964).

*a feeling of being at home.

Expressive Writing in Psychotherapy

Personal experiences allow me to understand the usefulness of writing.

I encouraged almost everyone I know to keep journals, write blogs or keep sketchbooks.  There is no need to write in prose or even correct sentences (although many do write impressively). Simplicity is effective. Write everything down, even if there are doubts if the words are real/true/right or belong. Anything written wrong can be cancelled out later, but write first.

In the therapy session itself, difficult experiences or deeply emotional fantasies, dreams and thoughts can be written down.  Sharing between therapist and client during the sessions are potentially contactful moments.

For clients who have difficulty feeling or expressing emotion, this process is especially useful. Keywords are offered to them. These individuals learn first to intellectualize the meanings of the emotional word, then link them to the experience of the events. The possible outcome of which is a gradual encounter of the person with the realm of feelings.

Unlike spoken narratives, the client remains in control of how much he/she wants to write or express.  He/she has time to consider. Everything slows down. This is especially useful for very delicate clients.

Writing has an added dimension. The words do not disappear — unless the paper is destroyed.

Conclusion

Horn et. al. explains the immunological connection with expressive writing. Mentioned in the article presented are also theories behind how this activity can have such impact (p.254-257).

Writing can be part of the therapy session. The process of writing can shared — the client puts down the words while the therapist supports and provides a safe environment.

 

 

Bibliography

Gaus, G., & Arendt, H. (1964). Gespräch mit Hannah Arendt. R. Piper. Retrieved from web: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J9SyTEUi6Kw

Horn, A. B., Mehl, M. R., Detters, F., & Schubert, C. (2011). Expressives Schreiben und Immunaktivität: Gesundheitsfördernde Aspekte der Selbst-Öffnung. Psychoneuroimmunologie und Psychotherapie. Stuttgart: Schattauer, 208-227.

 

Panic disorder and loneliness

Panic disorders are sensed as physical symptoms. Often the root cause of these symptoms are not initially known to the person experiencing these attacks . This “not knowing” makes the physical reactions seem unpredictable, spontaneous and frightening. The sufferer is left feeling vulnerable to his/her condition when a panic attack seemingly arises out of nowhere.

In the field of neuroscience, a part of the brain is acknowledged as having something to do with panic (Solms & Turnbull 2002,  Solms 2015). This part of the brain is also connected to the feelings of loss and depression. It is very common to observe clients who experience depressive episodes, also feel panic. As the course of therapy progresses, feelings of loss emerge .

Changes in life situation can trigger panic attacks. Leaving home, moving to a new country or entering a new marital status, etc. become moments of new learning where trusted supports of the past are no longer available. Unfamiliar ground sets the cycle of feelings of loss of security. Panic attacks seem begin at times when the individual begins to develop a sense of autonomy in life.

Connection between panic attack and loneliness

Francesetti’s  (2013) mention of the link between panic attack and loneliness is noteworthy. He quotes a patient named Marco as saying “panic attack is basically an attack on acute loneliness.”

Reflecting on personal encounters with individuals who struggle with panic attacks…

The client narratives often speak of situations of leaving, being left behind, suffering emotions alone, having had to escape mentally from somewhere. Frequently encountered are narratives of terror feelings experienced by the person as a young child. With the progress of therapy, it often becomes clear how this  episode (and perhaps recurring episodes), gets to be experienced as something suffered alone. The adult client lives with the memories, but cannot make sense of them because he/she could not get the required acknowledgement from others that the event actually occurred.  The isolation and confusion is felt most deeply if the members of the family who were actually part of the scene of terror flatly deny the occurrence or severity of the event(s).

The consequence of such experiences is the embodiment of the fear, disbelief in one’s own experiences, guilt, and a need to distance the self from these feelings.

In therapy the task is to identify the emotions  and wounds associated with these early childhood experiences. These are then worked through together with the client in an experiential and empathic atmosphere. Being authentically present with the client, acknowledging that the events, its severity, containing the emotions that the client is too afraid to encounter, and validating the feelings and thoughts that exist with this event have provides relief.

Panic disorder is one of the most common reasons why people seek psychotherapy.  The decision to seek a remedy in this way is quite likely to be an instinctual one.

Bibliography

Framcesetti, G. (2013). Gestalt therapy perspective on panic disorder. In Francesetti, G., Gecele, M., & Roubal, J. (Eds.) Gestalt therapy in clinical practice: From psychopathology to the aesthetics of contact. Kindle Ed.  position 11673

Solms, M. (2015). The animal within us. Source: Youtube URL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JfqVIG9bejU.

Solms, M., & Turnbull, O. (2002). The brain and the inner world: An introduction to the neuroscience of subjective experience. Karnac Books.

Surviving the Corporate Work Environment Mentally

I am writing this article on behalf of some young clients who have come to me for coaching over the years.

The beginnings of life as a career person is no easy task. For a young individual in today’s world who’s armed with college education,  plunging into the world of “working adults” can feel more like falling through thin ice on a semi-frozen lake then taking a dive into warm waters.

 

The day you enter the new job, you are faced with the realities of work life as an executive, and the features that come with it:

  1. Office politics: you realize that there are individuals who make the rules, and there are individuals that protect the rules, there are henchmen, rivals, sympathizers and other members of a corporate chess-board. Unlike the chess board, you cannot tell who’s playing what role. This understanding comes to your awareness slowly and sometimes painfully.
  2. Underuse of your abilities: you have spent a small fortune (which you still have to repay) to get yourself educated, and years of preparing yourself for your career, and your work life does not seem to have use for it. You are disillusioned, bored and disappointed with the experience. Deep down you hope, that as you climb the corporate ladder, someone is going to take notice of you abilities and give you a chance to let your expertise be heard.
  3. Overwork: Although you feel a mental under-load, you are overloaded with work. Reports and budgets to create, minutes of meetings to write, sales calls to do, fire-fighting, correspondences, data-collecting, solving problems, responding to complaints, waiting for others to do their part of the job, managing, and datelines datelines datelines.

There are many more challenges faced when a young person begins work in a company, like conforming to corporate culture, work travel, overcoming personal issues. The above 3 factors seem to be the most prevalent and daunting issues that have come to my office.

Constant unresolved challenges lead to stress and burnout

The consequence of dealing daily with these challenges is work stress. Once we think of the work “stress”, we are no longer talking about needing a coach. What the client really needs is psychotherapy. Stress, after all, is the embodiment of negative emotions.

Stress is about how you, as a human being, somatically interact with the (work) environment in which you have put yourself in.

What most people do in this situation is try to “beef” themselves up. They go for courses on self enhancement, take efforts to socialize in the workplace, work harder and longer, get coaching. This helps to overcome the system that causes the stress, by “taking bulls by the horns”– so to speak.

The feeling of needing to “beef” oneself up is an alarm signal– that despite one’s education and skills, one still feels a lack of self.

My question is, if your body is already stressed, wouldn’t grabbing raging bulls just add to more stress?  This is ikely, and this has lead  many executives towards a situation of ultimate energy depletion.

This phenomenon energy depletion is called a “burnout”.

You love your career, you need your career. So, what can you really do to reduce stress, so that you can keep working?

The answer to this question is not answerable in a few paragraphs.  I can however invite you to see these things in the point of view of a psychotherapist, by asking yourself and answering honestly these questions:

  1. When I am caught in office politics, how do I feel about myself?
  2. When my colleagues say I am underperforming, how do I feel about myself?
  3. The scope of my work is below my intellectual/academic capacity, how do I feel about myself?
  4. My workload is heavy, can I admit to myself it is time to take a break?
  5. I am responsible for the sales figures/growth. How much of this is really within my control? How much of it is highly dependent on external factors (e.g. the market, economy, luck)?
  6. How do I feel about myself when I am not able to accomplish goal which are beyond my control?
  7. Can I admit that things are not entirely up to my control?
  8. I am being judged for goals set by the company, that are actually (realistically) beyond my control. Can I come to terms with this discrepancy?
  9. How can I cope with this discrepancy?
  10. Some colleagues are waiting for me to fail / to judge me / are competitive / deceptive / exploitative. How do I come to this conclusion? what were the signs? Despite all this, what can I do to preserve my sense of self worth?

Some of the above questions are tough questions. Many executives may have the urge to avoid them, and carry on the mantra “it’s no big deal, I can do it.” That’s fine, if it does not lead to a build-up stress.

When clients come for therapy because of burnout (or getting close to it), the answer to some of these questions are painful emotions : feeling of low self worth, disappointment, anxiety, depression and deep rooted shame, and loneliness.

It is better to see this as an opportunity to recover from a state of never-ending struggle with a stressful work environment.  The way one can do this is to re-access one’s relationship with the oneself, and one’s relationship to the job.

Finding resource for relieving work stress:

Think carefully, then of the following questions and statements:

Can you think of  yourself as a person while leaving out your educational and career status?

Complete this sentence. “I would rather go to work at this office, than …” (the answer can be “jobless” / “bored”…)

Tell yourself, “I am (my name). I am working as (my position at this company). I am not merely a (my position at this company).

Things that I am responsible for, but cannot control (e.g. sales figures)… who in the company can really control? Can your superior control the sales figures himself? If a colleague had better sales performance, is it because he/she had better control?

If you’re lagging behind your colleagues (or feel that way), what is the real impact of it to your keeping the job? How can you live with not being the best in the company? What is being the “best” really mean?

What available resources do you have to support yourself at your job:What resources can you get at work? (e.g. friends at work, good relationship with customers/partners). What resources do you have outside work? (e.g. friends, family, hobbies, religion, professional guidances, etc.)

I hope this article provides you with insight into the problems of being a human being of corporate life.  My ultimate message is: You are not your career. Try try try to see the difference.

By the way, this is the same thing I practice. I tell myself, “I am me, I work as a psychotherapist, I am not a psychotherapist.” This gives me a chance to work without judging myself, being stressed out or stressing my clients out. This gives me a chance to forgive myself if I make mistakes. This helps me to work more professionally.

I wish you a successful work life and a good career.

 

 

Narrative Impoverishment in Schizophrenia: Lysaker & Lysaker

“Schizophrenia is characterized by the profoundly diminished ability to experience and represent one’s life as an evolving story” (Lysaker & Lysaker 2006). Disorganized communication about facts, affects and thoughts is involved in disability and a cause of anguish, and a sense of self that lacks depth. There is a lostness of the self amidst an evolving life, and a sense of being an object of social control. The narratives are impoverished.

The article cited is interesting because it provides for a model of schizophrenia that allows us an idea about how we can work towards a functioning psychotherapeutic alliance with clients who aren’t able to easily provide a clear narrative or dialogue.

Read about Notes: Bakhtin’s Polyphonic Novel and the Dialogical Self

Since the work of psychotherapy involves also narratives, how and what can be understood in order to overcome the obstacle of the lack of ability in the client to form coherent narratives?

Dialogical Theory of the Self is used to understand the typology of the experience of self in schizophrenia.

Barren, monological and cacophonous narratives in schizophrenia

The authors asked these questions:

  1. How could someone lose a sense of him or herself amidst a life where there was formerly coherence?
  2. When one’s sense of self appears to be perishing, just what is it that seems to be vanishing (Lysaker & Lysaker, 2001)?

The answer to understanding this is the dialogical models of the self as written by Dimaggio et. al, 2003, Hermans 2004, Nietzsche 1966. That our sense and story of ourselves are part of inner dialogues of different self positions.

It is to be assumed that (p. 59) :

(1) narratives in schizophrenia may become impoverished when processes that allow for the shifting hierarchies within the self are compromised, and

(2) that the loss of sense of self may fundamentally involve the experience of the loss of dialogue.

Thus impoverished narratives may be reflections of diminished dialogical processes rather than merely weak stories.

Forms of narrative impoverishment and the sustenance of dialogue in psychotherapy

Lysaker and Lysaker suggests that other than forcing the client into narrating cohesively, more attention should be paid to the here-and-now relationship between client and therapist.

The client who has no stories to tell, has difficulty  putting into words or bringing to the mind, events and  people from the past experiences. The client can be encouraged to describe his/her experiences in the therapy room and his/her relationship with the therapist. The therapists encourages the client on, by sharing his/her own experiences.

If the relationship can be narrated it seems that other relationships might subsequently be narrated as well – leading ultimately to richer narration of internal feelings and conflicts.

For clients who get stuck in monologues, the therapist can bring the client back to the here-and-now by asking what is being experienced as the stories are being told.  The therapist can continually make statements or ask questions that encourage the client to relate his/her narratives to his/her experiences in the present.

(W)ith the monologue it may be more important to begin by understanding the suffering of a self that is dominated by a limited number of themes. This could include empathic reflections about how specific thoughts take control and make it impossible for the client to think of anything else. By reflecting on the weight of a delusional theme on the daily life and social relationships, the therapist may avoid agreement or disagreement with a delusion or obsessive theme while building the relationship.

Only after the contact through empathic listening is made, and the client is able to relate his/her experiences of the narrated themes, the therapy can move into the more cognitive approach of reality checking these themes.

From a dialogical perspective we reason that this cognitively-based process may diminish the power of the dominant self-positions and allow other self-positions to begin to contribute to the conversation.

In the case of the cacophonous narratives, the central methodology is the continual mirroring and reflection of what the client is saying at the present moment.  In the midst of the fragmented talk, there are pieces of self positions that, with the therapist’s validation, will take foothold.

In this manner independent self-positions might be thought to gather strength to the point where they the can again participate in internal conversations.

Relating to Gestalt Therapeutic Process

Taking the psychotherapeutic relationship to the here-and-now is a very strong feature presented in this article. This is also a major principle in gestalt therapy practice. We also get to appreciate how useful gestalt therapy can be for working with clients diagnosed with schizophrenia.

The other aspect mentioned in this article that I find is closely related to gestalt therapy, is that of phenomenology. Although the word is not mentioned, it is implicit when we bring to the awareness the experiences of creating the dialogue, while not getting sucked in by the content of the narratives. The therapist is handed the task of observing what is happening in the session, and not only focussed on what is being said.

Like most humanistic therapies, unconditional positive regard is the foundation of the work, which requires time and also patience.

 

 

 

Read also : Christopher Bollas on Mental Pain

Bibliography

Lysaker, P. H., & Lysaker, J. T. (2006). A typology of narrative impoverishment in schizophrenia: Implications for understanding the processes of establishing and sustaining dialogue in individual psychotherapy. Counselling Psychology Quarterly19(01), 57-68.

Kernberg: Working with the Antisocial and Malignant Narcissistic Personality Disorder Spectrum

 

Kernberg (2008) writes that for the treatment of any case in which antisocial features of the personality disorder (PD) are suspect, the following should be evaluated by the therapist. Such evaluation makes it possible to access his/her ability to rely on the patient’s ability to sustain the therapeutic relationship and also to access the safety of the sessions:

  • The presence or absence of pathological narcissism.
  • The extent to which the superego pathology dominates (i.e. which part of the spectrum of the triad).
  • The intensity of egosytonic aggression and whether it is directed against the self in the form of suicidal/self mutilating behavior, or violent behavior against others / sadistic perversion.
  • Severity of paranoid tendency.
  • Stability of the person’s reality testing (ibid. p. 130).

The prognosis for Antisocial PD is not expected to be good in psychotherapy, in particular, if the client has severe aggressive pathologic behavior, and /or if the patient has no social support which the therapist can work with. According to Kernberg, therapists should begin work with client only after gathering the facts surrounding the clients’ coming for therapy, social support, ability to proceed with therapy in safety.

The treatment of malignant narcissistic PD (MNPD) has somewhat better prognosis than APD. A precondition for treatment is also strict control of antisocial behavior, and removal from social environment that facilitates his/her current behavior—e.g. exposure to the street gang.

General Psychotherapeutic Strategies

Kernberg’s suggestions are:

  • Establishment of solid, unbreakable treatment frame.
  • Systematic interpretation of psychopathic transference.
  • Guiding the patient to communicate honestly (if at all possible) about their behavioral problems outside the session.
  • Combining the above narrative with the developed regressive behaviors experienced during the sessions.
  • Gradually making it possible to connect the pathological behaviors interpretively into cognitive and affective experiences in the transference.

Highly deceptive clients make this work almost impossible. In such cases family members or other informants may be of help. The therapist should always make it prioritize urgency of intervention:  1. Danger to self/others, 2. Threats of treatment disruption, 3. Dishonesty in communication, 4. Acting outside and inside sessions, and 5. Trivialization of the communication.

Kernberg also states that it is essential to look for affects through verbal and nonverbal communication, nonverbal behavior, and the transference. The content of what the client says is usually a weaker source of affective information than what goes in these realms (ibid. p.140).

Treating Personality Disorders with Gestalt Therapy

Considering Kernberg’s suggestion, I notice the congruence of his method to Gestalt therapy practice:

Gestalt therapy is focussed on the process of the therapeutic dialogue, i.e. non-verbal interaction / body language. Therapist also encourages the client to enact situations that cannot be talked about. Poor functioning personality disorders prevents the individual from communicating with the therapist on a contactful level. As Kernberg notes, there is a tendency for such a client to deceive / idealize and devalue/ play victim or rescuer or persecutor with the therapist. The awareness of the therapist of this phenomena is essential. He /she is most effective when he/she can contain the clients behavior without getting roped into the game.

For this reason, in gestalt work, we focus of body language / tone of voice together with what is said, and we also focus on our (the therapists) own personal reactions. What the therapist tells the client is not analysis, but a descriptive reflection of what the therapists sees hears and senses.

The client benefits from this kind of honest interaction, because he/she too are not going to be caught up in games. In the beginning, there will of course be discomfort and frustration. If the client sticks to the work, there will be progress made.

Read also

Symptom Relief in Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy is about Uncovering the Truth of the Self

Former Patients’ Conception of Psychotherapy 

Bibiliography

Kernberg, O. (2008). Aggressivity, Narcissism, and Self-Destructiveness in the Psychotherapeutic Relationship: New Developments in the Psychopathology and Psychotherapy of Severe Personality Disorders. Yale University Press.

Envy… and Gratitude

Envy is the idealizing of an object outside oneself, with the wish to devour the coveted object. This object is something possessed by another person or persons. The trappings of envy is that one cannot find peace through separation of oneself from the envied object and the envied other. The resultant is hatred and the need to destroy the other.

Envy can also be seen as a projection of goodness into another person, so that one idealizes the other while devaluing oneself, and eventually hating the other. Envy is a painful emotion and is almost not in the awareness of the individual. It is also integral to being human, and hence it exists in every reasonably living functioning person.

Envy vs. Jealousy

Envy is exists in terms of two persons– it involves you and me. I want what you have, because that is what I lack. Jealousy involves a third person. I am not allowing that other person to take you / your attention/ love, etc away from me.

Destructive Envy

If I cannot have what you have I’ll seek to destroy that coveted thing. Sometime this destruction is abstract.

Greed

Greed is a means to extract all the goodness from the other. Greed doesn’t necessarily seek to destroy. Greed is to consume without gratitude. Hence greed never gets satisfied.

Defenses against feelings of envy

Vanity or grandiosity is a defense against envy. To make oneself more superior to overcome envy of another. Self idealization, feeling omnipotent, not needing or depending on others.

Invidiousness, is a means to act so that the other becomes envious of you.  To projective identifying or evoking emotions of envy in the other. The problem this causes the person to fear the envious eye of other.

Spoiling, devaluing, rigid idealization, projection of envy (a superego that attacks and devalues own achievements) are examples of means to counteract feelings of envy.

When envy is strong, even what’s seems as a good object becomes a source of pain.

In normal experience good experience predominates over bad. Pathology aries when bad predominates good internally and externally.

Positive use of Envy

Constructive envy is one that inspires one to work harder to improve oneself. If I am envious of somebody’s abilities, e.g. piano playing, I practice harder. We also witness the energy derived from envy in the masterpieces created by highly creative people.

Gratitude as the Antidote to Envy

Melanie Klein tells us that gratitude is the antidote to envy. To be thankful is to be able to see the glass half full. Gratitude allows one to feel satisfied with what one has achieved or bestowed.

Bibliography

Carveth, D. (2016) Introduction to Kleinian Theory 4. Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bb-L_QXNyQU&t=2s

 

notes;

Pathologically violent projective identification, where the object (ego) is splintered, attacked. Reality is seen as persecutory and hated. When envy is intense, the perception of the good object is as painful as the bad object.

46:00 Psychopathology is  the result of early decision to try to base your life upon evading pain (Bion).  Psychotherapy is the process of turning this around. To help the individual face the pain and move on to more functional existence.

Otto Kernberg: Transference Analysis in Psychotherapy

This is a summary of Otto Kernberg’s lecture on Transference Analysis.  Transference is an important term in psychodynamic therapies, and even dialogic therapies like Gestalt therapy.

Cite this article as: Chew-Helbig, N. (05/2017), Otto Kernberg: Transference Analysis in Psychotherapy, in The Psychotherapist. Date accessed 04/2019, https://nikhelbig.at/otto-kernberg-transference-analysis-in-psychotherapy/.

 

Transference is defined by Kernberg as: the unconscious repetition in the here-and-now of a dominant pathogenic conflict of the past.

In Psychopathology this pathogenic conflict plays out in the individuals’ present style of relating with others. Kernberg explains the origins of this mode of relating to be from the attachment of an individual to his mother at infancy. Early relationships, environment and the psychosocial world affect the neuro-biological make-up of the individual.

The experiences of the past, good and bad, thus get activated in the here-and-now, and affect how the individual perceives current situations and how he/she reacts to this situations. How he/she perceives his/her role is also affected by these early experiences.

Negative affects that do not reflect current reality is seen as pathological. These get reinforced through misunderstandings and reaction to and of the environment. These fixated negative reactions become the character and reflect the personality of the individual.

11:00 Kernberg explains that a combination of past experiences (and these are distorted and play out together in the present, not just one event at a time. Although we all transfer our experience of the past to our present, it becomes noteworthy as a personality disorder when this experience was overwhelming to the person, and becomes distorted.

What is done in psychodynamic treatment?

To resolve the pathological conflicts of the past as they get activated in the present.

14:25 By setting up a “normal” situation in the treatment situation. To sit with the patient face to face, and allowing him/her to say whatever comes to mind without feeling in danger of being judged, and to listen attentively to the patient.

Invite the patient to speak openly, support the patient to feel safe in this interaction.

Therapist exhibits technical neutrality. This interaction activates a transference relationship. The therapist can then help the patient interpret this transference reaction to past experience. This is called transference analysis. The adult mind of the patient can then be supported in integrating his/her past experiences with the present situation, leading to normalization of affect in the present.

Significance to psychotherapy…

Paying attention to transference situation, or what we can understand as the relational events that occur between therapist and client in the therapeutic setting in the here-and-now is very important to working with clients because it works directly with the personality of the patient. This is usually the armor that stands in the way of the psychotherapeutic work.  Kernberg’s lecture featured  here is detailed, and he explains how relationship experiences of an individual in infancy has a role in the wiring of the brain. He also explains how with psychotherapy that works with transference, his/her affect incongruence can be “mentalized”, and integrated within the patient.

Borderline Personality Disorder Case Illustration

46:00 Kernberg cites a case study of a patient with borderline personality disorder.

22 years old female, suicidal attempts, overdose of medications and street drugs, frequent hospitalization. 3 previous therapies, unsuccessful. sexual promiscuity,  antisocial and manipulative behavior, violent affect storms, attacking people emotionally.

Treatment started haltingly due to multiple suicidal attempts. Kernberg describes how he experienced her behavior towards him, which were violent and un-compromising. Kernberg explains how he reacted to her firmly, and in my opinion, authentically. He specified what he could tolerate and what he did not.  He however kept focussed on the transference without trying to fix or analyze or advice.

The behavior towards the therapist in this case is what Kernberg describes as the transference. It is how the patient has learnt to behave towards others in a relationship.

What we can take from this, is that patients who have had severe trauma as children do play out their pathological relationships with the therapist. It is up to the therapist to be aware of this patterns of relation of the patient. Sticking to the focus of the transference, and reacting authentically (if you are angry, say so, if you do not accept the abuse, say so, and set limits while being firm and sympathetic).

Kernberg also says that therapist have to look at the treatment in the long term, and although we may be impatient to see change in the patient, we have to be patient.

Important points to protect the frame of treatment

  • safety of the therapist.
  • * use common sense.
  • * be patient in the long run.  session takes months and years.
  • * analysis of what is going on is essential.
  • * tolerance of transference analysis is variable.

Significance of transference in Gestalt Therapy

Gestalt therapists do not use the term transference. This is because of the traditional link this word has to traditional psychoanalysis that Kernberg speaks about.  But the concept of using the interaction of the here-and-now is very much Gestalt therapy. Dialogical Gestalt therapist work with what we call the intersubjective or the in-between. This in-between is the transference. Gestalt Therapist who adopt the strict theory of the method, work with the following processes that is also present in transference analysis:

  • * working in here-and-now, 
  • * attention to the dialogue between therapist and client.
  • * non-judgmental (we call this phenomenological) listening to the client, allowing the client to his freedom of speech.
  • * active listening to the client.
  • * reflecting back to the client how his/her behavior or way of interaction affects the therapist.
  • * supporting the client to understand his current way of relating to his/her past (often pathologic) experiences.
  • * allowing the patient to integrate this phenomena of his/her past into the present.

The dawn of Gestalt therapy was initiated by psychoanalysts like Wilhelm Reich’s “Character Analysis and Sándor Ferenczi. The writings of these men, have already addressed the issue of working with transference as a means of working through character.

References

Kernberg, O. (2016). 29 Otto Kernberg. Youtube.com. Accessed on 05/2017. https://youtu.be/-H9qZBIfjHM

Further Reading:

Clarkin, J. F., Yeomans, F. E., & Kernberg, O. F. (2007). Psychotherapy for borderline personality: Focusing on object relations. American Psychiatric Pub.

Doering, S., Hörz, S., Rentrop, M., Fischer-Kern, M., Schuster, P., Benecke, C., … & Buchheim, P. (2010). Transference-focused psychotherapy v. treatment by community psychotherapists for borderline personality disorder: randomised controlled trial. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 196(5), 389-395.

Yeomans, F. E., Levy, K. N., & Caligor, E. (2013). Transference-focused psychotherapy. Psychotherapy, 50(3), 449.