Modern Psychoanalysis

Modern Psychoanalysis is a treatment for relieving mental and emotional distress. Its simple technique heals through the talking interaction between patient and therapist. Join us to learn more or post your own thoughts.

Thursday, May 05, 2016

Mechanisms of Cure

Mechanisms of Cure

Practical Use of Modern Psychoanalytic Clinical Techniques

Within our overall mission of helping to cure what ails someone; our thoughts, and subsequent clinical applications of technique in therapy sessions may be viewed from a variety of perspectives. Following our initial contact, are all our innumerable questions regarding the etiology of the patient’s ailments, how to view the case, how to view what is going on in the session, and what to do, or not do, etc… in response to the patient’s contacts with us.

This writer’s opinion is that the practical matters of treatment deserve the most attention. The concern is that we are using clinical techniques that are appropriate to the circumstances, i.e., that work! Clinical techniques have little or no value if we are simply following a formula without appreciable improvement in the lot of our patients. However, I’d like to speak here for a bit about some general guidelines for the analyst’s talking.

In particular, what functions are served by psychosis and how should we treat psychotic material during therapy sessions?

Functions of Psychosis

People are complicated… thus, while the origins of psychosis are likely multidetermined in a particular individual, psychotic operations may be recognized by their biological and psychological results. Dr. Hyman Spotnitz notes that “An excessive tie-up of neurons in fixed and pathological patterns and overactivity or underactivity of certain neuronal systems are generally associated with mental illness.” (1985, p. 96, emphasis original). Psychologically, the psychotic operation functions partly as a defense; Dr. Spotnitz says that in

   …view of the tendency of the schizophrenic patient to take flight, mentally or physically, from a frustrating object, his capacity to engage voluntarily, for therapeutic purposes, in a psychologically retrograde process is assumed to be extremely limited…the move backward in memory may give rise to severe defensive regression and tempt him into the ultimate refuge of psychosis. (1985, p. 170, citing Rothstein, A., 1982). 

Modern psychoanalysts, such as this writer, are usually interested in providing a setting where patients are able to engage in progressive verbal communications, otherwise known as “maturational communications.” While all of the patient’s communications are silently, and continuously analyzed, little or no interest may be shown by the analyst towards patient’s psychotic material. This approach avoids forcing our patients into regression.

The question arises, what about the value of insight or understanding as a clinical tool? Dr. Spotnitz provides a concise answer in the following dialogue with one of his patients (1985, p.260), from a section entitled:

The Key to Analytic Cure

       A: Suppose you convince me that you are as inadequate as you say you are, where does that lead us?
       [P: That will help you treat me.]
       A: How will it help me?
       [P: Then you will understand me.]
       A: How will my understanding help you?
       [P: It will help me get well.]
       A: Understanding alone doesn’t help anyone get well. I have demonstrated understanding and you are not getting better.
       [P: Then how am I going to be cured?]
       A: What cures you is dealing successfully with whatever interferes with your talking out your feelings, thoughts, and memories as they occur to you here.
How Much Talking by the Analyst?

Obviously, the answer to this question is that it depends on the circumstances! The analyst needs to insure that the patient’s frustration levels during the session are in a tolerable range. Let’s says that an exceedingly small amount of frustration may be helpful to our patients, but larger amounts are normally counterproductive. Action potential is a related concern. In this writer’s estimation, many, if not most individuals, are more susceptible to taking action, rather than talking, where intense human emotions are involved. Our natural “preference” for action (whether conscious or unconscious) is somewhat remedied by the analyst’s abilities to resolve resistances to maturation communications. Dr. Hyman Spotnitz says:

   The analyst’s participation in resolving resistance is consistently one of providing communications that will enable the patient to verbalize freely all impulses, feelings, thoughts, and memories. In the course of progressive language discharge, the interneuronic structures whose repetitive activation… has served to block maturation are gradually redirected. (1985, p.104).

Too much talking, or too little talking, by the analyst (possibly mirroring the patient’s parents), each have the potential of proving damaging to the patient. The amount of talking needed from the analyst is expressed by Dr. Spotnitz in terms of “units of communication,” and Spotnitz says that even as little as “…2 to 5 units of communication with gradual expansion in this range…” may be appropriate for patients requiring resolution of certain resistances (1985, p.110).

Patients may be greatly frustrated and distressed when they first arrive at psychotherapy. Modern psychoanalysts are particularly well-trained to work with patients as they present, and to help these patients fulfill their desires for personality maturation.


Spotnitz, H. (1985). Modern Psychoanalysis of the Schizophrenic Patient: Theory of the Technique, Second Edition, New York, Human Sciences Press.

© 2016, James G. Fennessy, M.A., M.S.W., J.D.
Matawan, New Jersey 07747

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Talk Therapy Progress Notes

Talk Therapy Progress Notes

Some modern therapists may have felt a need for documents (required in some states) which more accurately reflect how they actually work with their patients. I’ve developed a psychoanalytic progress note form which may be printed if needed or useful in one’s practice. 
I’ve made the form available at: Google Drive, and have also posted a permanent direct link to it on this site.
James G. Fennessy, M.A., M.S.W., J.D.
Matawan, New Jersey 07747

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Some Miscellaneous Thoughts on the Clinical Practice of Modern Psychoanalysis

Some Miscellaneous Thoughts on the Clinical Practice of Modern Psychoanalysis
These thoughts and questions are primarily directed to modern therapists. In this context I’m assuming that modern analysts are already aware that they have their own “blind spots” and defense mechanisms - first, as people; and, second, as analysts, to protect them from “dangers” of the analytic situation.

The Omnipotent Analyst
While the curative mechanism we use is talking, language also uses and intensifies our feelings of omnipotent control. In reality language is simply an overlay on top of the organizing functions of our brain which are emotional/implicit/non-semantic memories, more primitive and present from birth. (See e.g., Fennessy, 2006).

In this respect, analysts in training sometimes succumb to the temptations of finding new outlets for their own narcissism through a mechanism that looks something like the following:

“Aha, now I am fully aware of what the pattern is… I am getting so aware (so much better)… (and then) …. Now I am much better and much more aware of everything….”
In other words, the narcissism of the analytic student does not disappear, but simply changes it's manifestation – creating in some cases omnipotent analysts who merely portray self-aware analysts. It’s a type of play-acting that many of us are all too familiar with.

This becomes a challenge for both analysts and patients when therapeutic sessions contain lots of primitive material on both sides, or when the analyst must face the challenge of feelings aroused in the statement “I’m doing nothing.”

The ultimate problem for the therapist is encapsulated in a recent comment by an esteemed mentor of mine: “It’s the resistance that burns you out, not the feelings.”

Analysts with these challenges may tend to avoid numerous feelings, including positive feelings such as love and compassion, as well as negative feelings. Using Winnicott’s term, over a period of time the “continuity of being” of the analyst may even be severely threatened.

While some of us may be under the impression that everything revolves around us, therapists don’t usually have less of the narcissistic instinct than others do, though it makes a bigger difference to us and to our patients than some realize.

We might ask, why have we chosen a “helping” profession in the first place? I think this is an important question for each of us to answer.

Some analysts maintain an attitude of helping, or wanting to help, as their main source of satisfaction or fulfillment for doing the therapeutic work. This is not necessarily an impediment to good work. Insofar as this attitude represents a feeling, or set of feelings, it should be experienced and worked through; and there may be situations where the analyst can use the feeling.

However, in a clinical sense it is important, for the patient and the analyst; that all of the narcissistic components be worked through; because of the analyst’s need to separate their impulses from what might need to happen in the room to actually help the patient.

The Importance of Emotional Education
The education of modern analysts through Transference and Resistance Workshops in each school term (previously mentioned in this forum) provides the necessary environment for training many modern therapists in working out these important issues.

The long term group environment of the “T&R Workshops” help students examine and work through their own emotions and tendencies at the same time as they observe and interact with the emotions and tendencies of other members of the group.

Students learn to experience the delicate balance of feelings that we all have throughout life. In this context, we may find that our own narcissism becomes increasing annoying to us over the years; we may also learn that many of us overevaluate our relationships in the workshop, or the other members of the group; or that our own narcissistically-based activities may carry a degree of risk (of narcissistic injury) to us due to the overvaluation of objects.

We may also learn that it’s better to go with the feelings; rather than try to force the balance and that there’s a limitation to most attitudes when we try to consciously impose them on ourselves, rather than let them develop naturally. Or, we may be aware of that constant tug-of-war between living in one’s own head and living in the world.

The workshops, when later combined with the powerful effects of our own analyses, individual and groups supervision, and case presentations, help modern analysts become far more effective with their own impulses and with others.

As with our patients, the repetition of certain statements or certain important things over a period of time helps with the learning process and our development of different perspectives. It’s a life-long process for most of us.

While we need to learn to work with our feelings, we also need to keep in mind that for many patients it’s not the similitude of feelings, but the similitude of words that makes a difference in modern analysis. This is not to infer that therapy doesn’t need to be something of a genuine relationship, at least in the sense that genuine emotions are involved. But, we must also understand that successful modern therapy depends on staying with the patient, not taking the patient where we want them to be.

We do not understand everything. Other things we know something of, but many of those are still imperfectly understood – such as whether and how might protective impulses overlap with aggressive impulses. How often do we seek to “protect” our patients – intervening as well-meaning parents may have in the past to cut off their free associations?

A little goes a long way. Many of us tend to think that our words need to “make an impression” on others. A natural human tendency is to use an abundance of words where less will do, or to repeat ourselves, or to overemphasize our points. In my experience, patients are much more sensitive to our words than we normally realize.

Opposing our native tendencies, it could be said that words tend to have more value when we use them less often (though hopefully measuring those words we do use). The fact that an intervention or clinical technique of some kind may be warranted in a particular case should not cause the therapist to leap ahead in an unrestrained manner. Are we simply suppressing our own narcissism for a time, waiting for the opportunity to display our brilliance?

While thinking of my patients, I’m sometimes reminded of an interaction I observed a while ago:

I was sitting in a waiting room when a mother came in with her young daughter; the child was about 2 years old. There was a big bucket of toys in the waiting room and some children’s books. The young girl was quite active; crawling around on the floor; grabbing toys, offering some toys to the mother and quickly moving on to the next toy. For quite some time the mother pursued the child; constantly trying to interest her daughter in a book the mother held, but to no avail. As it became increasingly important to the mother to interest the child in the book; the child remained active, but undeterred from her own tasks. At one point the mother looked at me in frustration and apologetically stated, “She doesn’t read.” I remember having strong feelings of wanting to say something to the mother, but also thinking it would be too intrusive to do so. It was most saddening to me that the mother ignored the child’s attempts at communication (with the proffered toys) as much as the child ignored the mother’s crazy attempts to force her 2 year old to read.
To help our patients we need to learn to pay attention to their efforts to communicate and recall how difficult that may be for some. Sticking closely as possible to the patient’s own words, and staying with the patient where s/he is, are most important.

According to my same mentor “patients have lives outside of their sessions with us.” We might also like to keep in mind that the successive frustrations inherent in personality growth make the ordinary living of life an exceedingly difficult task for extremely disturbed persons; their entire lives may be exercises in frustration and/or anxiety.

Just as mental/emotional difficulties are usually multi-determined and over-determined, so therapists and patients alike frequently have more than one reason for what they say or do. So often in observing individuals with difficulties we might say “They must be doing this on purpose.” To an outside observer it may look that way, or it may look like acting or melodrama; while the internal experience of the patient could be quite different.

While our words may be the same, meanings remain individual to each one of us. What makes what happens in the session real? How do we bring the reality of the patient’s life/patient’s emotions into the room? You don’t disclose everything – why should your patients? I suppose it doesn’t hurt to have as many explanations as possible available to us when we are feeling perplexed by some of our patients.

Yet, our theories and ideas can also get in the way of good treatment. So we say that to the extent that a particular view, or model, or idea helps us with a particular patient in a clinical setting it should be maintained and to the extent that it does not help us, it should be discarded or filed away for future clinical use.

And every interruption interrupts the patient’s free association. Additionally, anything the analyst says creates a counterpressure in the patient; (e.g., one may actually increase the amount of action by specifying it’s prohibition).

The frustration engendered by the analyst intervening at the patient’s point of defensive operations can also work as a re-creation of that primary frustration that started things along the continuum. If so, the analyst walks a fine line, keeping that frustration within certain limits; protecting the patient and allowing the growth process to develop further.

Of course, that’s the point. Clinically, the only value of transference is that it can develop into resistance and be resolved. Don’t foreclose opportunities for transference - whenever you speak, you do! (e.g., “Of course, we could never have sex;)” (unless your patient is psychotic).

What is the importance of the analyst as a suitable “object” for the patient? - i.e., it would do less good for a patient to lie on a couch in an empty room and talk to the walls - there is an intrinsic importance to talking to an acceptable “other.”

The acceptance of all of our feelingsOur society sometimes mirrors that “mind-body split” that takes place as part of our maturation.

I’m reminded of someone I know who has all kinds of unusual physical things going on, but he’s seen a number of doctors and had countless tests in the past few years, and they can’t seem to find much wrong with him. His wife recently commented that he was at the end of his rope and “willing to try anything.” I asked if he’d be willing to talk with someone and was quickly told, “Oh, he would never do that!”
While not usually desired in life, it can be useful for us to be aware of all of our negative (as well as positive) feelings in the countertransference. For example, even a negative feeling such as hate may be useful in the countertransference because I think 1). It is often overlooked, by analysts, patients, parents; 2). It may be found side-by-side with other undesired feelings; and 3). Known or unknown, it is (or was) a part of many relationships.

There’s usually another side of the coin when it comes to feelings; i.e., sex/aggression, frustration/love, etc.., etc… One of the many benefits of a bit of experience is that after a time modern therapists sometimes develop a type of “inner voice” with respect to their range of feelings and interventions.

Asked to describe the process: “How did you know that was the right intervention at the right time?”

The experienced therapist may answer: “I’m not sure;” and only later be able to articulate a specific reason.

Acceptance of all of our feelings results in benefits for modern therapists as well as for their patients.

Fennessy, J. (2006). The Mind in Modern Psychoanalysis, online at

© 2008, James G. Fennessy, M.A., J.D.
Matawan, New Jersey 07747

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Clinical Techniques: #4 - Joining

Clinical Techniques: #4 - Joining
According to Dr. Hyman Spotnitz:
“Many communications that have a maturational effect reflect the old adage: If you can’t lick ‘em, join ‘em… The term ‘joining’ denotes the use of one or more ego-modifying techniques to help the patient move out of a repetitive pattern.”
(1985, p. 253).
This statement gives us some indication of both what “joining” is, and why we might use it; i.e., that joining avoids attacking the patient’s defensive mechanisms, while simultaneously helping the patient to engage in progressive communication with the therapist.

Dr. Benjamin D. Margolis says that:
“The ultimate purpose, in every instance, is to help the patient mobilize and liberate the negative (as well as the positive) feelings he has long kept submerged. The analyst accomplishes this by first joining the patient’s resistance and supporting and reinforcing his uncooperative attitudes.”
(1983, pp. 219-220).

Reinforcing uncooperative attitudes!?! – statements such as these give the reader some idea of how uniquely modern analysis works, as well as why it often works when other methods fail.

Dr. Spotnitz amplifies the intent even further; saying that

“The term ‘joining techniques’ is loosely applied to a number of basically similar interventions… By and large, all of these interventions communicate the same message to the patient: I am like you.” (1985, p. 263).
Thus, patients who may have spent a lifetime being criticized by well-meaning others, commonly find that modern psychoanalysis provides them with an experience where they can feel connected in a way they have rarely experienced otherwise in their lives.

A theoretical way of looking at the same thing is to say that “By functioning as an ego-syntonic object, the analyst facilitates the development of transference on a narcissistic basis as well as its eventual transformation into object transference.” (Spotnitz, 1976a, p. 142).

The various joining techniques used by modern analysts are sometimes further roughly divided into “ego-syntonic” and “ego-dystonic” joining.

One of the better known ego-dystonic joins used by Dr. Spotnitz related that when a
“… young man, trying to force the analyst to talk to him, shouted that he would 'get off the couch and bash your head in.’ The analyst responded ‘I’ll bash yours in before you can get off the couch.’”
(Spotnitz, 1985, p. 265).

Ego-dystonic joins such as this appear counterintuitive, but frequently help patient’s verbalize negative affects and feel more comfortable in the treatment relationship.

Benjamin Margolis has given us some wonderful examples of different types of ego-syntonic joining:

“P: I slept poorly last might and feel tired today.
A: You look tired.
P: I feel miserable.
A: You’re entitled to feel miserable.
P: (after a harrowing review of his life’s history) I haven’t had
much in the way of pleasure.
A: Life has been one misery after another.”

(1983, p. 214).

None of these techniques are applied in a cavalier manner. As with any of the other modern analytic techniques we have discussed, therapists would do well to keep in mind Dr. Spotnitz’s caution, (1976b, p. 146), that

“Technical proficiency is of little avail if it does not help the analyst to develop in himself the kind of feelings that will catalyze the release of his own emotional energy in language.”
Margolis echoes Spotnitz by saying:
“Joining is a powerful technique for resolving narcissistic resistance in psychoanalytic therapy. Its very power, however, calls for prudence in determining when and how to apply it… Generally speaking, technical skills such as joining come into perspective only as they further the objectives of a comprehensive therapeutic design… The joining technique, presented as it is, has no intrinsic significance.”
(1983, p. 211, emphasis original).

The significance comes from a trained therapist utilizing the technique when necessary and when this is something the patient needs. As Margolis says,

“If the analyst is in resonance with the patient, his joining and mirroring remarks, while addressed to the literal resistance message, will simultaneously engage the unconscious emotional contents sheltering behind it.”
(1983, p. 213).

Clinical techniques such as joining have greatly increased the ability of modern psychoanalysts to deal with difficulties in patients which were previously thought to be irremediable.

Though years of modern analytic training may be necessary to obtain even rudimentary proficiency in these techniques, they help modern therapists provide effective treatment to those who were formerly believed to be beyond help.

Margolis, B. (1983). Joining, Mirroring, Psychological Reflection: Terminology, Definitions, Theoretical Considerations. (Modern Psychoanalysis, Vol. 11, No. 1 & 2, 1983; as reprinted in Modern Psychoanalysis, Papers of Benjamin Margolis).

Spotnitz, H. (1985). Modern Psychoanalysis of the Schizophrenic Patient: Theory of the Technique, Second Edition, NY, Human Sciences Press.

Spotnitz, H. (1976a). Psychotherapy of Preoedipal Conditions, N.Y., Jason Aronson.

Spotnitz, H. and Meadow, P. (1976b). Treatment of the Narcissistic Neuroses, NY, Man. Center For Advanced Psychoanalytic Studies.

© 2008, James G. Fennessy, M.A., J.D.
Matawan, New Jersey 07747

Monday, March 17, 2008

Beannachtaí Lá Fhéile Pádraig Daoibh!

Beannachtaí Lá Fhéile Pádraig Daoibh!

He stumbled home from Clifden Fair
With drunken song, and cheeks aglow.
Yet there was something in his air
That told of kingship long ago.

I sighed - and innly cried with grief
That one so high should fall so low.

But he plucked a flower and sniffed its scent
And waved it toward the sunset sky

Some old sweet rapture thro’ him went
And kindled in his bloodshot eye

I turned - and innly burned with joy
That one so low should rise so high.

"High & Low" by James Cousins (1873-1956).

2008, James G. Fennessy, M.A., J.D.
Matawan, New Jersey 07747

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Clinical Techniques: #3 - Interpretation

Clinical Techniques: #3 - Interpretation
It may be useful to begin looking at this topic by briefly contrasting the modern understanding of the uses of interpretation with the classical approach. According to Dr. Hyman Spotnitz (1985, p. 166):
“Primary reliance on interpretive procedures is a distinguishing characteristic of the classical method. ‘(t)he ideal analytic technique consists in the analyst’s doing nothing other than interpreting,”… (quoting Fenichel and others)…, and the goal of the analyst is to provide insight.”
Where do verbal interpretations fit in modern psychoanalysis? While our previous writings have underscored the importance of continual silent interpretation to a successful modern analysis; we have also alluded to the potentially ego-damaging effects of interpretation on many of our most vulnerable patients.

As the title of this article suggests, modern analysts do use spoken interpretation as a clinical technique; though the expectation is that they do so in a much more careful manner than previous generations of analysts.

When may verbal interpretation be used as a technique in modern psychoanalysis?

That answer depends on the analyst’s answer to another important question - Where is the patient at?

A rule of thumb that might be applied is that “(a)n intervention is of value only when it helps the patient move out of a pattern of resistant behavior that is being engaged in ‘right now.’” (Spotnitz, 1985, p. 252, emphasis original).

Thus, verbal interpretations may be used when the patient is ready for them, and when s/he will not be damaged by their use. In the “resistance to cooperation” stage, for instance:
“When the patient is really cooperative, he solicits communications that will help him verbalize spontaneously and uncover the immediate obstacles to this. Then it is desirable for the analysts to interpret and answer questions with a view to facilitating the patient’s understanding of the analytic process.” (Spotnitz, 1985, pp. 181-82).
Spoken interpretations may even help protect the patient’s ego at times. For example, one patient, deeply engaged in self-attacking behavior; and saying “My friends tell me I should just let it go. I don’t let things go. I just keep talking about the same things over and over, but nothing ever changes;” was told “Certain things may need to be talked about over and over.”

In this case, the patient’s immediate reaction showed the effectiveness of the intervention – the patient was reassured, less self-attacking, and thanked the therapist for understanding the patient’s need to talk about some things over and over.

Dr. Spotnitz, (1985, p. 276), says that in supervision of other therapists, he has sometimes given the following advice (regarding patients jumping up from the couch):

“… the analyst may make an interpretation pointing out the significance of his own behavior, such as ‘You jumped off the couch because I stirred up too much emotion.’ Such an interpretation tends to facilitate the verbalization of hostility by the patient.”
Spotnitz points out the goals of “maturational interpretations” as follows:
"Any type of intervention that helps the patient say whatever he really feels, thinks, and remembers without causing narcissistic injury (citing Lucas) is designated as a maturational communication…. At the other end of the continuum is the interpretation that is given when requested, and when it will help the patient articulate his own thoughts and feelings… The therapeutic intent underlying the maturational interpretation is to help the patient talk progressively…" (Spotnitz, 1985, p. 253, emphasis original).
The intellectual attractions of interpretation to classical psychoanalysts may have been the cause or result of a certain amount of hubris in the profession in the past. I do not mean to suggest that modern analysts are exempt from this; or that modern analysts might not “inadvertently” use verbal interpretations inappropriately.

A case that comes to mind is one where the patient previously related a long and painful life story to the therapist. Some time later the patient and the therapist had a “falling out.” The patient experienced painful feelings as coming from the therapist, but managed to verbalize those feelings, in spite of the fact that s/he and the therapist were not getting along with each other.

The therapist’s response was to say “Kind of like… (alluding to a previous incident in the patient’s life)". Rather than investigating, the therapist effectively ignored the painful feelings of the patient in this case, even while appearing to connect to them through the interpretation that was given.

What could have been happening? There are any number of possible explanations; the therapist may have been defending against the feelings, may have been thinking s/he would “help” the patient, may have been too self-absorbed to relate to the patient at that moment, etc…, etc… What seems most clear is that this therapist was missing something from the therapist’s own unconscious.

As we’ve discussed many times before, successful treatment most often depends on analysts being closely in touch with their own thoughts, feelings and impulses. This is why modern analytic training takes so long and requires so much of it’s psychoanalytic candidates.


Spotnitz, H. (1985). Modern Psychoanalysis of the Schizophrenic Patient: Theory of the Technique, Second Edition, NY, Human Sciences Press.

© 2008, James G. Fennessy, M.A., J.D.
Matawan, New Jersey 07747

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Clinical Techniques: #2 - Commands

Clinical Techniques: #2 - Commands

Dr. Hyman Spotnitz (1985, p.255) says that “(t)he preferred intervention when the treatment gets under way is the command.” In spite of this, the use of the command as part of our clinical armamentarium could be said to be even more frequently “overlooked” than the use of our first-mentioned clinical technique, silence.

Why is this?

First, ideally modern psychoanalysis is a patient-centered, patient-driven approach to therapy. (See e.g., Fennessy, 2008). This infers that the therapist does not attempt to direct the patient in the same way as s/he might in other therapies.

Beyond that, it must be mentioned that many of the applicants for candidacy in modern analytic programs start out with personalities that aren’t easily adapted to the idea of giving patients direct orders or commands; quite the contrary. The ability to use or develop divergent clinical techniques (such as commands) may, therefore, depend on the quality of training received in the psychoanalytic institute.

Luckily for some analysts, however, in modern psychoanalysis
“… (c)ommands are not issued to secure obedience;” instead:
“(t)he therapist’s intent … is to find out whether the patient wants to obey or defy and to help him communicate why he wants to do so – in other words, to mobilize resistance and, eventually, to resolve it.” (Spotnitz, 1985, p. 255).
According to Spotnitz, commands may be as simple as ordering the patient to “(l)ie on the couch and talk,” or they may be effectively “formulated in terms of the patient’s resistive attitude…,” for example:
“The patient may say… that he is not going to talk any more. A reminder that he is supposed to talk tends to intensify the resistance of a negatively suggestible person, but if he is told, ‘You’ve talked too much. Keep quiet for the rest of the session,’ he may reply, ‘I will not’ – and continue talking.” (1985, p. 255).
Notice that when we use the term “resistance” in modern psychoanalysis we are normally referring to “anything that interferes with talking.”

Robert J. Marshall refers to commands, such as those used in the last example, as
“… prescribing the resistance in that the therapist literally orders the patient to exercise resistance. Prescribing the resistance may be best used with negatively suggestible persons. These are persons whose characterologic mode of response is ‘No.’” (1982, p. 69).
Marshall (1982, pp. 69-70) then gives the following case involving his patient, Sam, a 10-year old boy:
“He began a series of resistances after announcing that he wasn’t going to say anything more about his life. When he reiterated his unwillingness to talk, I said (in essence), ‘Sam, you’ve really told me a tremendous amount about yourself in a short period of time. I think you deserve a vacation in talking about yourself. So now tell me what kinds of things you can do in order to avoid talking about your life.’ I also indicated to him that I thought he was an ‘expert’ in thinking up ways of avoiding talk. I enjoined him to tell me any conceivable ways of avoiding talk so that I might recognize those ways with other children. He readily revealed all of his ploys… At this point I suggested to him that there probably were good reasons for his not wanting to talk, that he should really talk if he wanted to be helped, but that it was okay if he didn’t talk. Sam then ventured some complaints and feelings about his parents about which he felt guilty.”
This excellent example shows that commands may thus be used as part of joining the patient’s resistance. (“Joining” as a clinical technique will be separately discussed in a later article).

Marshall also used “requests” similar to commands to great effect with a 13-year old boy named Bill, who appeared to be the polar opposite of Sam – Bill was extremely anxious to please his therapist. Over a period of weeks, Marshall confronted Bill “…with a series of unreasonable requests such as bringing me a ham and cheese sandwich for lunch,” until Bill was finally able to object and later “became more comfortable in revealing his rage…” towards his dictatorial therapist. (1982, p. 65).

Spotnitz indicates that commands may be used to help certain patients restore control, to help teach patients to assert themselves, or for patients who cannot tolerate or respond to questions. (1985, pp. 256-57). Likewise,
“Countercommands may be issued. When ordered to do something by a patient, the therapist may say, ‘You do it.’ A patient who commands the therapist to ‘Keep quiet,’ may be told, ‘You keep quiet too.’ ‘Tell me,’ ‘Say it,’ and other brief statements in the imperative mood are often made.” (Spotnitz, 1985, pp. 256).
As with all of our modern psychoanalytic techniques, these interventions are never used haphazardly, but only as part of the treatment plan. Though the technique is simple, the implementation of it is not – it takes a skilled modern analyst to use these techniques in furtherance of “the talking cure.”

Fennessy, J. (2008). Narcissism and the Contact Function, in PRACTICE MATTERS, A Journal of Modern Psychoanalytic Treatment Technique (Vol. 2), Philadelphia, PSP.

Marshall, R. (1982). Resistant Interactions: Child, Family, and Psychotherapist, NY, Human Sciences Press.

Spotnitz, H. (1985). Modern Psychoanalysis of the Schizophrenic Patient: Theory of the Technique, Second Edition, NY, Human Sciences Press.

© 2008, James G. Fennessy, M.A., J.D.
Matawan, New Jersey 07747

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Clinical Techniques: #1 - Silence

Clinical Techniques: #1 - Silence

The powerful clinical techniques, or interventions, used in Modern Psychoanalysis have been mentioned in our previous articles, but it may be illustrative to examine some of them in further detail over the next few articles.

Silence is mentioned first, not because it is most important, but partly because it is sometimes overlooked or not thought of as a technique, or as an intervention. Coincidentally, it is most likely to be used, or possibly overused, with new patients or with new analysts.

How do I mean this? With new patients, the analyst has very little information to go on. A good number of modern analysts refuse to look at notes made by others in a new patient’s chart; these analysts want to get to know their patients individually, without any preconceived biases.

Modern analysts are also likely to be the least intrusive of therapists; as a rule they encourage their patients to talk about anything the patients want to talk about; rather than forcing them to answer the therapist’s questions, or requiring talk on certain subjects.

Given this situation, where very little is known about the new patients, silence is almost the intervention of choice, i.e., it is not so likely to damage a new patient’s vulnerable ego.

With new analysts, there is a natural fear of making mistakes, relevant to often justifiable concerns about the possibility of harming new patients, but also relevant to the analyst’s concern for self.

Silence is frequently the ideal tool for creating what D.W. Winnicott referred to as a “holding environment,” a place where the patient can feel safe and be given room to grow. (See e.g., Winnicott, 1986). In this sense, one could say that silence creates a space.

Silence can, likewise, be improperly used. By its nature, silence can be depriving. Analysts who remain unaware of their own strong countertransferences may even be capable of unconsciously using a depriving silence as a weapon against their patients.

Furthermore, silence can be an inappropriate response to some of the real life tragic events that can happen to patients while they are undergoing therapy, such as losing a loved one.

Dr. Spotnitz has discussed some of the different types of silence that may exist in the therapeutic setting. (See e. g., Spotnitz, 1985, pp. 249-50). Patient’s reactions to silence vary greatly. For example, Spotnitz tried remaining silent for a prolonged period with six different patients and noted six different reactions. (1976a, p. 28). Also, the same patient may report that silence provides a sense of power on one occasion and may complain about it at other times. (Spotnitz, 1976b, p.198).

One of the most important considerations in using, or not using, silence is the frustration level of the patient. Spotnitz (1976b, p. 172) says “The treatment may be preserved by controlling the degree of regression. To accomplish this the analyst may… limit the amount of silence to which the patient is exposed.”

However, the analyst must be careful in working with silence:

“It might appear that [a non-stimulating]… climate would be created if the analyst kept quiet. However, silence may at times be more stimulating than words. A great deal of anxiety can be produced by too much silence as well as by too many words. The anxiety level of the patient has to be studied, to determine whether silence or a communication would be more therapeutic in a particular situation.” (Spotnitz, 1976a, p.129).
Spotnitz (1985, p.175) also put the issue in a slightly different light in the following:

“Whereas the relatively stable patterns are just studied silently, the analyst does speak to lower the frustration-level and help the patient verbalize frustration-tension when a sudden intensification of such patterns is observed. Inasmuch as silence can have a soothing effect or exert increasing pressure on the patient, the analyst needs to regulate the amount of verbal communication he engages in, depending on whether he wants to intensify or to diminish pressure on the patient to verbalize."
Analysts need to know a great deal about themselves to effectively work with others where clinical techniques such as silence are involved. This is why modern analysts have their own analysts and supervisors to talk to, or be silent with.


Spotnitz, H. (1976a). Psychotherapy of Preoedipal Conditions, N.Y., Jason Aronson.
Spotnitz, H. and Meadow, P. (1976b). Treatment of the Narcissistic Neuroses, NY, Man. Center For Advanced Psychoanalytic Studies.

Spotnitz, H. (1985). Modern Psychoanalysis of the Schizophrenic Patient: Theory of the Technique, Second Edition, NY, Human Sciences Press.

Winnicott, D.W. (1986). Holding and Interpretation, London, The Hogarth Press.

© 2007, James G. Fennessy, M.A., J.D.
Matawan, New Jersey 07747

Monday, September 17, 2007

Priorities in Treatment

Priorities in Treatment

Modern Psychoanalysts have adopted one of their most important guidelines from the Hippocratic Oath - “First, do no harm.”

A first step to help insure that they “do no harm” is for the analyst to rely on the contact functioning of the patient’s own ego.

Do the patient’s statements or questions indicate that the patient aware of the analyst as an individual? Is the patient content to lie on the couch and talk until hell freezes over? Does the patient prefer to be silent? etc.., etc..

In any of these cases the analyst will respond (or not respond) based on what the patient’s contacts say about the individual s/he is dealing with. Rather than imposing interpretations or unsolicited ideas on vulnerable patients; modern analysts base interventions or responses, if any, on the contacts they receive from those patients.

Additionally, as long as the patient is talking and engaging in progressive communication, the analyst is usually not intervening much at all.

When resistances become operative, there a type of hierarchy involved in dealing with them. One could say that resistances are dealt with according to a system of priorities - depending upon what kind of resistance is being manifested at the time. The priorities in treatment can be conceptualized as follows:

1. Treatment Destructive Resistance – The treatment destructive resistance (or “TDR’) is first in priority and foremost in every good analyst’s mind. It refers to anything which will destroy the treatment if left unchecked. Therefore, the first question most analysts ask when confronted with new behavior or dialogue is “Is this a potential TDR?” i.e., “can this wait, or do I need to deal with this right now?”
Patient’s questions which might be totally innocent in a more social setting, such as “How is the parking near your office?”; or patient’s statements such as “I didn’t have an easy time parking here;” would each need to be carefully investigated and considered as potential treatment destructive resistances in the modern analytic setting.

When attempting to deal with a TDR, “all bets are off;” i.e., the analyst may use a variety of clinical techniques which might not otherwise be used - to try to save the treatment. The premise is that if the patient is not coming to talk s/he will not otherwise be helped.

2. Status Quo Resistance – At this stage the patient has settled in to treatment and clings to old patterns; the patient may wish to conceal any “bad feelings” and/or concentrate on proving that s/he is a good patient.

3. Resistance to Analytic Progress – In this stage, which may be difficult to distinguish from the last, patients may experience anxiety over investigating anything new or adding anything new to the treatment. Thus, the patient may have largely abandoned the idea of clinging to the old “status quo,” but may also be fearful of the new material or of “being pushed” towards new realizations.
4. Resistance to Cooperation – Here, patients may try to concentrate exclusively on themselves; to the exclusion of their analyst. In a group environment this could be called “resistance to teamwork.” At this stage, patients may be aware of their therapists as “real people,” but may not realize the importance of working together, or may not want to give their therapists the satisfaction of doing so.
5. Resistance to Termination – This stage can involve the patient’s falling back on old habits in an effort to keep the old relationship with the analyst. In this regard, some modern analysts believe that there should be a natural end to most treatments at a certain point, whereas others do not believe treatment needs to end as long as both parties want to work together. In either case, it is usually thought that the feelings surrounding the ideas of termination (i.e., separation) should be worked through.
Spotnitz, 1985, pp.175-183, Spotnitz, 1976a, pp. 86-88 and Spotnitz, 1976b, pp. 183-191.

In actual treatment, the above stages of resistance often overlap or are blurred together. Patients can display behavior reflective of several different stages in a single session or can slip back and forth between stages over a period of time.

Also, while treatment destructive resistances are generally far more common at the beginning of treatment, they can also arise when moving from one stage of resistance to another, or at any other time.

Resistances or defenses are not always obvious or easy to detect; its a good bet that many patients even do their best to conceal them. Therefore, the best modern analysts know that they need to be constantly sensitive to their own feelings as a guide to bringing their patients successfully through every stage of treatment.

Spotnitz, H. (1976a). Psychotherapy of Preoedipal Conditions, N.Y., Jason Aronson.
Spotnitz, H. and Meadow, P. (1976b). Treatment of the Narcissistic Neuroses, NY, Man. Center For Advanced Psychoanalytic Studies.
Spotnitz, H. (1985). Modern Psychoanalysis of the Schizophrenic Patient: Theory of the Technique, Second Edition, NY, Human Sciences Press.

© 2007, James G. Fennessy, M.A., J.D.
Matawan, New Jersey 07747

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Child Development Presentation

Child Development Presentation

Studies of early parent-child interactions, family dynamics and child development have greatly contributed to the science of Modern Psychoanalysis. The modern analyst’s ability to successfully deal with a wide range of mental and emotional difficulties is frequently informed by the knowledge gained from these studies.

One of the foremost experts in child development, Dr. James Garbarino, will be appearing at a presentation sponsored by the Philadelphia School of Psychoanalysis in the near future.

Dr. Garbarino’s credentials are truly impressive; among other things, he holds the Maude C. Clarke Chair in Humanistic Psychology and is the Director of the Center for the Human Rights of Children at Loyola University in Chicago. He earned his B.A. from St. Lawrence University in 1968 and his Ph.D. in Human Development and Family Studies from Cornell University in 1973. He is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association. Dr. Garbarino has served as a consultant to a wide range of organizations, including the National Committee to Prevent Child Abuse, the National Institute for Mental Health, the National Black Child Development Institute, the U.S. Advisory Board on Child Abuse and Neglect. In 1991, he undertook missions for UNICEF to assess the impact of the Gulf War upon children in Kuwait and Iraq, and has served as a consultant for programs serving Vietnamese, Bosnian, and Croatian child refugees.

Dr. Garbarino is the author and/or editor of numerous books including: See Jane Hit: Why Girls are Growing More Violent and What We Can Do About It (2006), And Words Can Hurt Forever: How to Protect Adolescents from Bullying, Harassment, and Emotional Violence (2002), Lost Boys: Why Our Sons Turn Violent and How We Can Save Them (1999), and Raising Children in a Socially Toxic Environment (1995).

Dr. Garbarino’s presentation is entitled
“Developmental Pathways To Aggression In Girls and Boys” and will be held on:

Saturday, October 6, 2007
from 1:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m. at
The Radisson Warwick Hotel1701 Locust Street, Philadelphia, PA 19103
A reception and book signing will follow at the Philadelphia School of Psychoanalysis, 313 South 16th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19103 from 3:00 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.

This is such an important topic that I recommend attendance at this presentation for all clinicians or members of the public who are able to do so.

The cost for the presentation is minimal, but SPACE IS LIMITED, so early reservations are required by MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 24, 2007, Via E-Mail to: or by calling PSP Administrator, Tamika Hall at 215-732-8244, Ext. 222.

Further details are also available at the news page of the school's website:

© 2007, James G. Fennessy, M.A., J.D.
Matawan, New Jersey 07747

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Curing Schizophrenia

Curing Schizophrenia

Views of Schizophrenia

A simple internet search for the word reveals a profusion of definitions with similar typecasting; e.g., Schizophrenia is “a chronic, severe, and disabling brain disorder...” (NIMHa, 2007), or “a severe, lifelong brain disorder,” (Medline, 2007), or a “disease.”

The reader may perceive something approaching a unanimity of opinion on the idea; i.e., that since this “disease” involves the brain and these authorities have deemed it to be “lifelong,” it must ipso facto be something strictly biological. A host of inferences follow: “it’s all in the genes,” “you’re born with it,” “there’s something wrong with their brains,” “the poor parents,” “medicine can cure them, if only we can find the right medicine,” “there’s no hope,” etc..., etc...

This writer thinks most of these views are about as useful as earlier ideas that people with schizophrenic symptoms were guilty of witchcraft. At least the same National Institute of Mental Health Report listed above candidly admitted:

“…schizophrenia is believed to result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. All the tools of modern science are being used to search for the causes of this disorder.”
NIMHb, 2007.Nature or Nurture?In fact, medical science has been looking for a biological cause for schizophrenia for close to a century and has yet to find one. Over that time, many announcements of such “findings” have been made – always accompanied by the greatest publicity, but none were proved to be verifiable.

Another curious fact of this “disease” is that people who have it sometimes spontaneously recover. How then is it a disease? Or a brain disorder? Or lifelong? It is a rare disease indeed where people spontaneously recover and where there is no known physical etiology.

What about the “environmental” factors mentioned; i.e., the family backgrounds of the people who develop schizophrenic symptoms?

Peter Breggin, M.D. (p. 103, et seq.; see generally, 1994) speaks of one of the seminal reports on schizophrenia in the history of psychiatry, the study of the Genain Quadruplets (all of whom had schizophrenic symptoms). He notes that the report of the study recites the potential “biological” evidence for schizophrenia in that case in almost inexhaustible detail – but somehow neglects to consider it noteworthy that the family life of the quadruplets included such horrors as having acid poured on their genitals.

John Modrow, did not suffer the same horrors as the Genain Quadruplets; but did endure a significant amount of craziness from his parents, which he describes throughout his outstanding book “How to Become a Schizophrenic.”

Modrow notes that:

“The claim that most schizophrenics come from perfectly normal families deserves careful consideration… (regarding a case study he presented earlier)… Although the parents in this family appeared to be very ordinary and sensible people, they were later found to be playing with their daughter’s mind, subjecting her to strange ‘telepathy experiments’… it took over a year of investigation to discover those parents’ bizarre behavior.”
1995, pp. 205-206, emphasis original.

In spite of the extreme craziness of his own parents, Modrow still thinks of them as “basically decent and relatively normal” (1995, pp. 206); but also says:

“Had a psychiatrist examined my parents… he would have found… nothing strange or odd… Moreover, had that psychiatrist known my parents intimately for several years he probably would have retained his favorable opinion of them… However… there is no doubt in my mind that their behavior towards me was the major cause of my schizophrenic breakdown.”
Modern Psychoanalysis of the Schizophrenic Patient
It is no accident that the decisive text in modern psychoanalysis is entitled “Modern Psychoanalysis of the Schizophrenic Patient.” (Spotnitz, 1985). Though the theory and techniques in that book are equally applicable to all sorts of mental difficulties, Dr. Spotnitz arrived at those results through his groundbreaking work with schizophrenic patients.

Spotnitz (1985, p. 17) proceeded from the premise that “Regardless of etiology… there is no evidence that the condition is not completely reversible.”

“The operational concept follows: Schizophrenia is an organized mental situation, an intricately structured but psychologically unsuccessful defense against destructive behavior. Both aggressive and libidinal impulses figure in this organized situation… Obliteration of the object field of the mind and fragmentation of the ego are among the secondary consequences of the defense.”
Spotnitz, 1985, p. 57, emphasis original.

As to the “environmental” variables, Spotnitz says:

“It is unnecessary to postulate that a particular type of relationship produced the infantile pattern. It may be in part innate and in part learned. Even in cases where it was taught by the mother, her attitude may not have been pathological; there may simply have been a disequilibrium between her emotional training and the infant’s impulsivity. The dynamics of the mother-child relationship are not uniform in these cases. More significant than whether the parent actually loved, hated, or was indifferent to her infant is the fact that the totality of his environment failed to meet his specific maturational needs…”
1985, p. 68, emphasis original.

In this writer’s opinion, the techniques set forth in “Modern Psychoanalysis of the Schizophrenic Patient” work equally well with other mental difficulties because mental conditions have much in common – they are all part of the human condition.

One could even say that mental difficulties are normal; part of being human - the only question being whether we still function well in spite of our difficulties, or whether those difficulties have reached intolerable proportions, such as with the schizophrenic condition.
The Talking CureMany people will use Herculean efforts to appear normal, to distinguish themselves from those with problems, to split themselves off from the idea that they themselves might have any mental difficulties at all.

In spite of the efforts and protestations of these ordinary people, however, skilled observers have little difficulty seeing the underlying troubles in most of us. And, if the troubles reach a stage where they seriously interfere with the individual’s ability to love, work, or play it may be time to seek help.

When we speak of the physical illnesses we tend to think of cure as involving the complete eradication of anything relating to the condition. Not so with mental conditions – in those cases, the cure consists of placing the individual in a position where he or she can love, work and play without serious hindrance – where they can be productive and enjoy life.

The particular weakness of the individual is not likely to be completely eradicated. If a person tends to display in a phobic, or an obsessive-compulsive, or a schizophrenic, or any other way, they could have some resort to their characteristic mechanisms even after being cured. After all, we do not cure people from being human; nor do we seek to.

But, the person who has been competently treated by a modern psychoanalyst will be able to enjoy the whole range of human feelings and action available to the best of us.
Breggin, P. (1994). Toxic Psychiatry, New York, St. Martin's Press.

Medline. (May 24, 2007). Service of the U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health, online at

Modrow, J. (1995). How to Become a Schizophrenic, Everett, Wash., Apollyon Press.

NIMHa. (March 1, 2007). “Schizophrenia,” National Institute of Mental Health, online at

NIMHb. (Jan. 24, 2007). “What Causes Schizophrenia?” National Institute of Mental Health, online at

Spotnitz, H. (1985). Modern Psychoanalysis of the Schizophrenic Patient: Theory of the Technique, Second Edition, New York, Human Sciences Press.

© 2007, James G. Fennessy, M.A., J.D.
Matawan, New Jersey 07747