Coparticipant Analysis: Toward a New Theory of Clinical Inquiry (Book Review)
Author: Fiscalini, John
Publisher: New York: Columbia University Press, 2004
Reviewed By: Karen J. Maroda, Fall 2005, p. 59
John Fiscalini’s Coparticipant Analysis is more than a little enigmatic. Its full title claims that it is a book of theory, which it is. Yet its main aim is to fully describe and define what is essentially a technical approach. One expects a high degree of scholarship in a theoretical text, fully acknowledging other contributors to the literature. But Coparticipant Analysis disappoints on this level. Although the author demonstrates a thorough knowledge and understanding of the major approaches in psychoanalysis, he is spare in his specific recognition of others’ contributions.
Other than Kohut, Kernberg, Sullivan, and Wolstein, many major theorists are given short shrift, relegated frequently to only their names and dates of publication. Ferenczi is credited as the pioneer who set the stage for a more mutual “coparticipant” process, but other notables in the arena of mutuality and disclosure of the countertransference like Aron, Ehrenberg, Hoffman, Levenson, Renik, and Searles receive only passing mention. Given that I have been writing and lecturing about self-disclosure and analysis of the transference/countertransference since 1991, I was a bit taken aback to see that I was not referenced at all. Although I will say that this author is not alone in bestowing his generosity mostly to those who are no longer with us.
That being said, I support Fiscalini’s efforts to define an approach to treatment that essentially incorporates the best of theoretical camps, the contemporary Freudian and the interpersonal/relational schools. His hybrid, yet original, approach advocates for a greater emphasis on personal responsibility, confronting the inevitable issue of power and control, and the need for simultaneous recognition and discussion of the transference and countertransference. He does not hesitate to note that current theory, building on Kohut’s emphasis on empathic acceptance, can lead to infantalization of the patient. Fiscalini stretches the limits on jargon a bit when he uses the term adutlilization, (try to say that three times) to describe the opposing event of expecting more from the patient than he can deal with. The author’s approach is pedantic and his sentences can be painfully long, but then he takes the reader by surprise, occasionally throwing in a short, muscular description that is picture perfect. He says, “The narcissistic person is both thick-headed and thin-skinned” (p.115) in one of four chapters devoted to narcissism, a subject he has written about previously and discusses with great clinical finesse. I think this book would have benefited from more of this kind of commonsense insight, as well as some clinical examples. I was disappointed to discover not a single case example or clinical illustration of “coparticipant analysis.”
Fiscalini is entitled to the preferred position of eschewing any prescriptive measures, but how can an analyst say something as radical as “...in coparticipant analysis, the patient is encouraged to be a coanalyst—to participate as fully as possible in the analysis of both transference and countertransference,”(p. 185) without illustrating this concept in some way? This volume quite successfully integrates Freudian, self-psychology and relational concepts into a new and original theory of treatment, reading like a textbook. I can only assume that the author would want it to be used as such. But it is severely limited because of the omission of case material. Perhaps Fiscalini believes that we instinctively know how to translate his theory into clinical action... But I didn’t, and I doubt that others would, either. He mentions his reluctance to discuss technique, saying that there can be no such canon. He specifically states that, “Thus, what defines coparticipant inquiry is not a specific clinical action or set of interventions, but rather a clinical attitude, openness to the unique or singular, a profound sense of one’s own and others’ personal selfness” (p. 28).
While this statement certainly precludes any technical guidelines, it does not preclude some type of illustration. From my experience, there can be significant disparity between how many of us who advocate self-disclosure and analysis of the countertransference actually translate these principles into clinical practice. So I kept waiting for an example of how Fiscalini implements his own theory, which seems both sound and workable to me. But it never came.
Given how quickly one can be ridiculed for recommending active participation, including sometimes challenging the patient’s view of reality, as this author does, perhaps he is protecting himself. If he is, I can empathize with his desire to escape criticism. But his otherwise thought-provoking and instructive book suffers greatly as a result.
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