Full day workshop:



The Potential of Transference, Countertransference and Enactment: The Cutting Edge

Workshop Leader: Claire Steinberger, Ed.D., J.D. 

Saturday, October 29th, 2011; 10:00 am to 3:00 pm

 Where: 16 West 16th Street (betw 5th & 6th ave); # 6MN; NYC, 10011

Fees: Pre-registration: $75/$40 – regular/ students. At the door: $85/$50 – regular/ students. 

(To register, please send the registration form (available at www.orinyc.org) and the fee to: ORI Administrator; 75-15 187 Street, Fresh Meadows, NY, 11366-1725. For more information, email at admin@orinyc.org.)

Who am I? Who are we? What is happening between us – then, now, tomorrow? What kind of ‘chemistry’ makes this particular dyad or triad a happening?  In therapy, does the analyst’s unconscious understanding make a difference?  

This “Dances of Intimacy” workshop (Part II, 2011) aims for the cutting edge: exploring ‘traditional’ as well as ‘contemporary’ epistemologies for analytic intervention with ‘challenging’ couples. While “Dances of Intimacy” (Part I, 2010)  focused on a more traditional ‘object relations’ approach, this workshop extends to a ‘post-modern’ epistemology – a relational frame for appreciating  dyadic (couple) and triadic (couple-analyst) process. In so doing, the focus moves from the couple’s (or patient’s) transference to the analyst’s unconscious or subjective self – a broadened (totalistic) view of countertransference experience.  In a didactic format, clinical vignettes and theoretical considerations highlight the complexity of transference, countertransference and enactment possibilities – and potentiality (Aron, 1991; 1999, Mitchell & Aron).

The contemporary frame emerges from a changing view of analytic countertransference as well as the exciting application of developmental and infant attachment research (e.g., Bowlby and Main, Stern, Winnicott).   IN therapeutic work with couples we are challenged by the “dance” – the unconscious mutual co-constructions of ‘internal working model (s)’: self-object relationships and affect, “alter egos”,  projected identifications, ‘dissociated’ states and multiple roles or selves –  a complex psychic world of developmental bonding, rupture, defensive protection – and repair.  Exploring theory and clinical examples, we consider the multiple ways couples try to balance reliability and stability with autonomy, imagination, unpredictability -- and passion.   Ultimately, relationships must manage ever-shifting and sometimes paradoxical needs: dependency and surprise, security and change, stability and fantasy, admiration and disappointment, jealousy, hatred, guilt and betrayal, fluctuating feelings of hope and dread.

Mitchell (2002), a relational analyst addresses the emotional risks of love and romance: 

It is natural enough to regard aggression and hatred as inimical to love, to try to protect love with a vigilant civility. But many lovers have experience the profound relief at love’s survival of the dreaded first real knock-down, drag out fight. A love that has endured episodic aggression has a depth and resilience obtainable in no other way. Because of love’s profound risks, hatred is its inevitable accompaniment, and paradoxically the survival of romance depends not on avoiding aggression but on the capacity to contain it alongside love. We shall see that inhibitions in hating a potential object of desire can serve as an obstacle to the development of romantic passion. ….Romance in relationships is a sandcastle for two… The sandcastles of romance demand, by their shifting nature, continual rebuilding” (pp. 120, 200)


Contemporary Understanding:  Infant research (Beebe, Stern, Lachman, Slade, and Winnicott) provides a dynamic foundation for contemporary theorists.  A voice for a “relational” (intersubjective) epistemology, Philip Bromberg (1996) notes the following about projective identification, multiple self states and ‘couple’ relationship:   

Projective identification saturates the manifest and latent content of psychoanalyses in its role as projected ‘alter egos’ or multiple self states or multiple selves. The analytic process begin to overlap in a funny way with doing couples therapy, it is virtually impossible for the therapist to make statements about any member of a couple individually while dealing with the problems that pertain to the couple as a single unit…. analytic process like any couple relationship constitutes a group entity on its own right.

The Analytic Third:  Contemporary Versions

Stepping forth from Bromberg: Does the analytic triad – analyst and couple – become its own group entity?  Is the analyst’s subjective position significant for understanding the couple system?  How does Ogden’s “analytic third” (1994), apply to couple therapy, e.g., a process that reflects an interplay of ‘three subjectivities” ( analyst, analysand and  “the analytic third”)?  How can transference, countertransference and  “enactment” be used for analytic understanding and interpretation?

Comparisons and Integrations

Traditional Framework. The shift from a one-person to two-person psychology emphasized the “intrapsychic -interpersonal” perspective (Freud, S.E., 1914). The ‘object-relations’ approach highlighted the role of projective identification, particularly where the infant and, later, adult, conveys (projects) intrapsychic wishes and self-representations onto a neutral ‘Other.’ In a Kleinian  ‘conflict-repression’  model , projective identification reflects unconscious intrapsychic conflict – the  subject  “uses”  the  (Other) in terms of  intrapsychic drive,  fantasy and desire.  Applying this ‘interpersonal” frame, family/couple theorists observe how the intrapsychic –interpersonal matrix builds on mutual projective-identifications and the “interlocking” of defenses and conflicts. Unconscious coupling ‘hooks’ each member of the dyad into a systemic dance – a range of healthy to more pathological inductions and possibilities.

The Analyst’s Role:  The ‘traditional’ understanding of  transference –countertransference phenomenon emphasized trajectories from ‘healthy’ (neurotic ) to increasingly pathological (borderline or narcissistic ) levels, where an amalgam of self-object representations, affects and conflicts play out in the coupling  (object-relational)  “dance” (e.g., Kernberg, Balint ).  As a rule, the “neutral” analyst observes how developmental (pre-oedipal  and oedipal conflicts and mental representations ) are acted out and, inevitably, turned-around  in once- blissful  and wishful  partnerships  (Goldshank, Sandler, Scharff, Slipp, Zinner and Shapiro).   In such arrangements, selfobject projections (part or whole object) become rigidly prescribed and predictive.  The analyst’s intervention typically aims to intervene in these self-predictive cycles, a ‘participant-observer’ position.   

Traditional Enactment. Where individuals and couples are concerned, the analyst aims for an objective eye, one where counter-transference offers insight into the ‘dysfunctional’ other – a tool for diagnosis. In this system, the analytic “enactment” is secondary to patient pathology and “acting-out.” 

Contemporary  Framework: Intersubjectivity

This “DANCES” Workshop (II) aims to extend the therapeutic paradigm with a “relational” epistemology – one that emerges in the post-Racker years (1957).   Racker transforms the traditional view of countertransference, emphasizing the healthy and pathological aspects of all participants -- a vision of ‘mutually construed’ transferences.  Countertransference is understood as a “subjective” experience, one that embraces the “totality” of the analyst’s responses to the patient.


Relationally-oriented theorists have applied infant research, extending the frame on “mutual regulation” and unresolved “mis-regulation” between subjects.   The analytic view of ‘psychic reality” concerns itself with co-construction and intersubjectivity – the unconscious co-mingling of participants’ dissociated states, self-object identifications and projections.  The uncomfortable or overly comfortable as well as non-compatible and disruptive “enactments” signal affective and/or object-related misunderstanding.   In this way, misunderstanding and/or missed (dissociated) states come alive for novel understanding and novel relational opportunity(Aron, Bromberg, Davies, Loewald, Mitchell, Ogden, Renik,Varga).

The Analytic Third : Mutually Constructed Intersubjective Space 

Contemporary Questions:

            How does the analyst’s subjectivity subtly shape interpretations, attitudes and actions toward the patient-couple, and does this, in turn, shape the couple’s transference? Can the analyst ever entirely remove herself from the influence of her own personal past and subjectivity? If the subjective status undermines analytic neutrality, can a non-neutral place be useful for family/couple interpretation?  

Enactments: Relational Voices and the Triad 

Goldberg (2002) states:  In contrast to the usual interpretive movement from depth to surface, is the image of integration, of gathering separate or split-off segments into a congruent whole… Just as we need to bring unconscious issues into the ongoing transference relationship and subject them to interpretation, so too must we recognize that disavowed content must join in the conversation. Enactments are regularly left out of the ongoing verbal exchange either by choice or out of psychological resistance. We may better circumscribe enactment as those interactions participating in the analytic dialogue that may be conceptualized either as transference and countertransference issues or as contributory to the pseudounderstanding /misunderstanding sequence… (where) in the mutual experiences of the two participants… something is amiss.  Enactment can thus be positioned as part of the sequence of creating and resolving misunderstandings..  Enactments  are never right or wrong or good or bad.


Family Therapy:  A View of Interpersonal – Intersubjective -Enactment Possibility

This workshop will explore the emerging shift in psychoanalytic discourse, moving from and between -- the interpersonal and relational paradigms. . We will examine clinical cases to understand the complexity of subjective and intersubjective experience, crossing from a focus on the “dyad”   to the three-person (couple-analyst) group or unity.      

“Enactment” takes on a wide scope of meaning depending on the theoretical model and/or the analyst’s idiosyncratic clinical proclivity.  It can be understood as a negative, “reactive” state or as opportunity to transform identifications, self-object organization and relational potential.  Where developmental and infant research is implied (‘internal working model’), early relational struggles are the ‘stuff’ of what we are – emerging in the psychic realities of transference, countertransference, collusive forms of projective identifications and enactment.  Couples express a range of developmental capacities and struggles and resolutions at preoedipal and oedipal levels. The personal past of individuals (couples and analyst) comes to life in mutually created relational patterns.  (Kernberg: (1974; 2010).   Ultimately, the analyst becomes a part of the ‘relational dance’, where unconscious conflicts and self states -- of all participants – are enacted in unique co-constructed patterns.  In this way, the analyst’s subjective experience – frequently a source of enactment -- can become opportunities for growth.

Traditionally, family systems intervention has looked at countertransference and projective identification from an interpersonal frame, one where a neutral analyst comes to understand unconscious projections.      This “Dances” workshop (II) aims to view the triadic system from a somewhat different angle – taking off   from Dick’s conceptual understanding of the couple’s “joint personality” (1967, “Marital Tensions”).  In this  “contemporary” focused  Workshop,  transference, countertransference and “enactment” exist in a “third” space (joint personality?) , leaving opportunity for mutual construction, understanding, misunderstanding and disowned opportunity.   


Bagnini, C. & Scharf, J.S. (2002). Narcissistic Personality Disorder in Couple Therapy: Holding and Containment. In Synder D. & Wisman, M. (Eds.). Treating Troubled Couples.                              

Bromberg, P. (1996). Standing in the Spaces: The Multiplicity of Self and the Psychoanalytic Relationship. J. Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 53(1).

Freud, S. (1914g) SE, 12, 145. Remembering Repeating and Working Through.

Goldberg, A. (2002). Enactment and Understanding and Misunderstanding. JAPA,50, 869

Goldklank, S. (2009). ‘The Shoop, Shoop Song’: A Guide to Psychoanalytic-Systemic Couple Therapy. J. Contemporary  Psychoanalysis, 45-1.   

Kernberg, O.  (1974; 2010) Barriers to Falling and Remaining in Love. JAPA, 22, 486.

Mitchell, S.A. & Aron, L. (1999).Relational Psychoanalysis: The Emergence of a Tradition. NY: Routledge.

Mitchell, S. A.   (2002), Can Love Last? The Fate of Romance Over Time. NY: Norton.  

Ogden, T. H. (1994). The Analytic Third: Working with Intersubjective Clinical Factors. Intl J. Psychoanalysis, 75: 3-19.


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