Australasian Journal Of Psychotherapy
NO.1 - 2016
This edition of the Australasian Journal of Psychotherapy brings together five papers1 presented at the 2016 Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy Association of Australasia conference, held in Auckland, New Zealand. The theme of the conference was “Sexualities: Psychoanalytic (Re)Thinking: Sex, Gender and Sexuality.” The attendees were treated to a rich array of psychoanalytic perspectives on this theme, both theoretical and clinical. Several speakers focused on Lacan’s view of the development of sexuality as it relates to the choice of one’s sex, thereby departing radically from Freud’s statement “Anatomy is destiny”. Others challenged dichotomous and hetero-centric views of gender, offering a more fluid reading of human sexuality. The grounding of many of the papers in both clinical and personal observations was particularly valuable in bringing into focus the lived experience of people of differing gender identities.
As several writers observed, psychoanalytic institutions have not always dealt kindly with those people — patients, clinicians, and trainees,— who do not conform to heterosexual “norms”. And, if any greater or more painful reminder was needed for us to stretch our understanding and empathy beyond narrow definitions of sexuality and gender, it was the dreadful irony that the massacre of 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, should occur on the same weekend as our conference. I would like for this reason to dedicate this issue of the journal to the memory of those whose lives were taken, or transformed, by this terrible event.
Paul Foulkes, whose eloquent paper “Ozymandias: Protection of the Father” opens this volume, is troubled by the theoretical fragmentation and internecine conflict he observes in contemporary psychoanalysis, likening it to the chaotic Tower of Babel, where none could communicate because of their different languages, and work ground to a halt.
Drawing on examples from art and poetry, as well as theories of change in science, Paul explores the intrapsychic factors, and in particular, the Oedipal issues, that may underpin what he fears is a stultification of growth in our field. He believes it is imperative for us to examine critically assumptions and outmoded psychoanalytic theories which, left unchallenged, will cripple our profession.
To this end, Adam Becker’s paper, entitled “Shame and Prejudice: Psychoanalysis, Homosexuality and Othering”, is a thoughtful critique of the “heterosexist” history of psychoanalysis and its training institutions. Adam argues that classical theories of homosexuality are underpinned by a need to disavow hated or frightening aspects of homosexual experience in both individuals and groups, which are then projected onto others. He argues, persuasively, that psychoanalysis has both mirrored social prejudices and at times perhaps, through its heteronormative theorizing, promotes them.
The negative impact of unwitting and unexamined assumptions and theories about sex and gender is also the subject of Nicci Rossel’s paper, “Fear of Knowing: Homophobia and the Repercussions”. All of us, Nicci contends, no matter how liberal we may believe ourselves to be, carry a degree of homophobia. But for those in the queer community, there is a particular challenge. Nicci speaks movingly of the struggles of patients, and therapists, for whom homophobia is, as it were, “in the drinking water”. Such an attitude leads, Nicci argues, to an unconscious internalisation of homophobia, for gay people themselves, which greatly complicates their development of a relationship to self as a unique and valued individual. Further, Nicci critiques trenchantly those views which equate queer identity with pathology.
Gloriana Bartoli, in “Reflections on the Development of Love and Sexual Identity” offers an extended case study of a young woman for whom the trauma of a lost father during childhood cut a swathe through the unfolding of her sexual identity. Through gradual understanding in psychotherapy of the meaning of her somatic symptoms and sexual identifications, an integrated sense of self begins to emerge for this patient. Gloriana embeds her work in a masterly explication of Oedipal development and her psychotherapy principles and process.
In the final paper, “Repairing Broken Links to the Feminine: A Gendered Lens on Striving for a more Integrated Sense of Self”, Jo Violet offers a beautiful reading of two cases in which the cultural ubiquity of denigration of the feminine intersects with problematic early parental relationships to complicate the development of gender identity in two young men. Jo argues that all of us, both men and women, need to come to a rapprochement between the feminine and masculine aspects of our selves or risk being mired in paralysing anxieties about dependency and agency, or avoidant attempts at fusion with the lost body of the m(other).
Elisabeth Hanscombe has once again provided us with two engaging book reviews. Coincidentally, both of them focus on writers preoccupied with profound questions about our relationship to art, literature and creativity. In the first review, of The Good Story: Exchanges on Truth, Fiction and Psychotherapy, Margaret Stoneham has reservations about the capacity of J.M. Coetzee and Arabella Kurtz to think creatively, at least in this collection of their email exchanges, about the nature of truth, especially as it relates to fiction and to psychotherapy. She finds their conversations curiously reductive, and narrowly dichotomous, closing down fruitful discourse in the search for definitive points of view.
Wayne Featherstone, on the other hand, is deeply impressed by Gregorio Kohon’s work, Reflections on the Aesthetic Experience: Psychoanalysis and the Uncanny. He is intrigued by Kohon’s idea that, in encountering a work of art, the viewer/reader is unsettled, temporarily losing a sense of his normal, boundaried self, and is required to “’construct’ [his] own work of art in order to re-constitute [his] de-centred, discombobulated sense of self”. Kohon immerses the reader in the subjectivity of time, history, and memory, emphasizing, says Wayne, “the uncertainty of knowledge and its inevitable incompleteness”.
As always, it has been a pleasure to work with Elisabeth, and the scientific committee of the PPAA conference, and I thank them for their time, careful attention, and support. I am also grateful to my colleague, Carol Bolton, who has generously offered to proof-read copy for the journal. As those of you who have undertaken this job themselves will know, combing through galleys to find errors of spelling and punctuation is one of the unsung tasks in producing a journal, usually only noticed when there is a mistake, so I am particularly thankful to Carol for taking this over.