Spotlight on Psychoanalytic Psychology, V. 28 No. 1

By Louis Rothschild, PhD

For the Spotlight of Volume 28, Issue Number 1 of Psychoanalytic Psychology, I have chosen to comment on Mia Medina’s lead paper, “Physical and psychic imprisonment and the curative function of self-cutting". However, prior to doing so, I also wish to point out that with the start of Volume 28, there are more changes to be found with the journal itself. Some of these changes pertain to Medina’s excellent publication. In addition to a new cover design, the journal is now divided into four sections: articles from the Spring Meeting in Chicago including Frank Summer’s keynote focusing on self-articulation, three research articles, two articles on adolescence, and three book reviews.

Medina’s paper recognizes a prizewinner. Here is a chance to read the paper that won the 2009 Stephen Mitchell award. In regard to the changes that pertain to this paper, Medina’s photograph and bio are also found here. As with the new cover, these changes are refreshing, and I recommend experiencing them first hand.

Medina’s paper on cutting utilizes qualitative research to make a case for a relational view of cutting as a curative effort. She compares data obtained in a clinic affiliated with the University of Gaziantep in Turkey to clinical data found in her outpatient work in Boston. The points of convergence and divergence support an argument that cutting is an effort to reclaim personal agency that goes beyond “doer and done to.” In that regard, I find myself thinking that she takes Foucault’s (2006) argument that hysteria is a relational move by subjects who are experiencing oppressive suffocation a few steps further. Medina’s use of cutting as a response to a presence of another that trades in a lack of recognition is worth taking the time to read. Here, cutting becomes a scream of protest about what it is like to be an extension of an other’s mental scheme, and this scream is also taken as a plea for a different relational configuration. With her psychoanalytic understanding that symptoms have meaning, Medina also addresses the danger of a clinical intervention that seeks to extinguish this distress signal as opposed to articulating its core experience.

Medina expands on the common relational themes that run through the paper. She provides an analysis of social class and other cultural variables in repression and defense. She discusses the difference between a constricted and vacant style found in more affluent Western patients and the straightforward ownership of existence in a sadomasochistic relational configuration found in the discourse of the Turkish subjects. Neither presentation is privileged, and each is tightly correlated to the culture in which the symptom formation occurs.

It’s appropriate that this paper won the Mitchell Prize. I was reminded of one example of Stephen Mitchell’s masterful writing on the importance of subjective meaning found near the middle of Hope and Dread in Psychoanalysis (Mitchell, 1993). Mitchell writes of walking with his toddler age daughter, and the challenge to surrender to her sense of what it meant to walk in order that he might become a good companion. Medina’s paper is a stark reminder of the tragedy that may occur when such sensitive wisdom is absent and recognition of another’s subjectivity is not forthcoming.

References

Foucault, M. (2006). Psychiatric Power: Lectures at the College De France, 1973-1974. A. I. Davidson, Ed. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.

Mitchell, S. (1993). Hope and dread in psychoanalysis. New York, NY: Basic Books.