Interpersonal Psychoanalytic Perspectives on Relevance, Dismissal and Self-Definition (Book Review)

Author:  Feiner, Arthur H.
Publisher: London: Jessica Kingsley, 2000
Reviewed By: Anita Tenzer, Fall 2002, p. 44

Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered: Some Core Issues, a chapter heading, introduces Feiner’s engaging, poetic, playful and stimulating examination of interpersonal theory. Bewitched and bewildered, perhaps, but he seems more tantalized than bothered by the ever-broadening life-transforming experience of psychoanalysis.

Interpersonal analytic investigation, says Feiner, has more to do with the “how” (the experience) than the “what” (the classification) associated with more “classical” approaches. Interpersonalists, like Isaiah Berlin’s fox, see many things, whereas classicists, aspiring to be more like his hedgehog, prefer one big unifying theory. Openness to many things allows for diversity, for change in theory and practice, and for curiosity and inquiry to flourish.

Openness mandates respect for the patient’s view of the interactions that occur between patient and analyst and allows them to “examine their relatedness in all its facets.” Like Levenson, Feiner stresses the importance of “demystification” of prior, particularly childhood, experience. He states (to my mind rather optimistically) that, by contrast, “the interpersonal psychoanalytic proceeding is an authentic enactment.” Certainly this is a desideratum but who is to know or to say what is authentic?

Context determines meaning. The present context affects memory and the determination of the past affects perception of the present and anticipation of the future. Feiner says that, “Changes in perception lead to changes in conception, and, subsequently, to changes in self-definition” I would add that perception is extraordinarily difficult to change, as demonstrated by Piaget, and that there has to be a huge effort to change behavior and cognition as part of this process.

Feiner, together with Lawrence Epstein, in Countertransference: The Therapist’s Contribution To Treatment (New York, NY: Jason Aronson. 1979), pioneered the crucial role of countertransference in contemplating the interpersonal field that patient and analyst create together. He focuses now in particular on the importance of the relationship between them and how it can aid the process of puzzle-solving (rather than problem-solving) in which they are engaged. Much is subliminal. The relationship provides a substratum for the patient’s sense of relevance.

Feiner’s interest in neurobiology and in Edelstein’s work on neural pathways prefigures recent research, which indicates that psychotherapy appears to effect neurological change. If this is so, it may be possible to see more explicitly what precipitates such change and also perhaps what keeps “what must be” in its persistent groove.

I shall conclude by quoting Levenson’s foreword in which he writes that Feiner “reflects a certain Frommian concern for the larger socio-cultural issues which, albeit delineating the interaction, are so pervasive and covert as to be hardly noticed” He does so in part by emphasizing, “misreadings, humor, play, puns, tunes, lyrics and touching (as) a way of bypassing the obsessional and controlling use of language…(through) an emotional language that gets closer to the bone.

Reviewer Note

Anita Tenzer practices psychoanalysis and psychotherapy in Manhattan. She is also a supervising and training analyst at the William Alanson White Institute.


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