The Course of Life: Completing the Journey (Volume 7) (Book Review)

Author:  Pollock, George H. and Greenspan, Stanley I. (Editors)
Publisher: Madison, CT: International Universities Press, 1998
Reviewed By: Mary E. Pharis, Spring 2002, pp. 41-42

This is the final volume in Pollock and Greenspan’s classic series, The Course of Life. The series was revised and expanded to seven volumes from the original three-volume set published in 1980 and 1981 for the National Institute of Mental Health by the United States Government Printing Office. The original three volumes were subtitled Infancy and Early Childhood; Latency, Adolescence and Youth; and Adulthood and the Aging Process. The 79 chapters were the work of 93 contributors, many of them such superstars in psychoanalytic circles as Anna Freud, Erik Erikson, John Bowlby, Peter Blos, Daniel Offer, Margaret Mahler, Marion Tolpin and Heinz Kohut.

Almost all of those original contributions have been republished in the current series, most with only minimal changes. The series is now published by International Universities Press. The newer volumes add 24 new chapters, and 63 new contributors had a hand in producing the revisions and new material. The focus of the revised volumes is both more broad and deep: infancy, early childhood and adolescence each now have their own separate volumes, while middle and late childhood are surveyed in another. Volumes on Early Adulthood, Late Adulthood, and Completing the Journey conclude the series.

The last volume in the series, Completing the Journey, the focus of this review, is the least expensive at $55.00, but clearly the best bargain if we are to measure value by original and current content. Eight of its 12 chapters are entirely new contributions authored by 15 analytic reviewers not previously included in the 1980s volumes. Published in 1998, it is five years more current than any of the revised series’ prior volumes.

As with most edited volumes with multiple authors, this one is uneven. A particular disappointment is the introductory chapter, Old Age, by Ewald W. Busse. Perhaps I found it disappointing because in the 1981 edition this was one of my favorite chapters. It was packed with the kind of exceptionally well-chosen demographic data on the U.S. aging population that brings joy to any academic’s heart, offering fine detail on the physical health status of the elderly: mental illness prevalence rates among the old (with particular focus on depressive illness, suicide, phobias and hypochondriasis in that subset of the population); and demographics on employment, SES, marriage, sexual behavior, and widowhood in late life. It is a tremendous service for any author to compile and present in cogent form such a fine summary of the status of any particular segment of the population. Alas, in Busse’s minimally revised 1998 chapter, only three updated sources of data from the intervening years are incorporated, and thus the chapter seems out-of-date. Still, his summary discussions of psychological, social and psychoanalytic theories bearing on old age offer an appropriate welcome, background, and introduction to the subsequent chapters in the volume.

In contrast, the minimally revised chapter on Reminiscence and Nostalgia: the Pleasure and Pain of Remembering by Pietro Castelnuovo-Tedesco still seems fresh as it makes its thoughtful distinction between nostalgia and reminiscence. In this short and tight contribution, Castelnuovo-Tedesco argues that “[r]eminiscence and nostalgia are separate entities and can be distinguished, especially when psychoanalytic concepts are applied (p.104).” He notes that reminiscences are sharp, vivid, often triggered by visual impressions or other sensory stimuli, and are ego-syntonic, gratifying psychological phenomena. And he believes they are central to “the development, maintenance, and evolution of identity (p.107)” in old age.

Castelnuovo-Tedesco sees nostalgia as different. Noting that nostalgia originally meant homesickness, he suggests it reflects a need to idealize the past, and he draws our attention to the vaguely dysphoric tone that characterizes nostalgia. He believes that people for whom nostalgia is a major affect in old age typically are “past-oriented; their longing for the past matches their dislike of the present and their dread of the future (p.110).” They are those old folks that Erikson indicated masked their despair with the face of disdain. Castelnuovo-Tedesco suggests that there is more integration of the past in a reminiscence, more introjection and identification with the lost objects, which permits those who are reminiscing to hold on to a safe inner anchor while allowing them forward movement, psychologically, even to the end of life. The person who is dominated by nostalgia, however, has not fundamentally given up the original loved object, and so has not been freed to move forward in the aging process.

I found these observations on reminiscence and nostalgia very helpful in understanding the affective tone of free associations in patients I work with as they talk about the past, and I listen with a more informed ear now to the quality and the frequency with which some patients tell and retell the tales of their childhoods.

Two of the new contributions in Completing the Journey are focused on minority populations. Joe Yamamoto, Arturo Silva, and Christine Chang report on Transitions in Asian-American Elderly, while F. M. Baker discusses The African American Elder. These authors are quick to acknowledge that single chapters cannot do justice to the immense complexities involved in trying to capture distinctions in the aging process in minority populations; even whole books on these topics have difficulty with the task. That said, Yamamoto, Silva, and Chang do the better job of helping the reader to appreciate the importance of a detailed understanding the path any single aged person has traveled through life within the context of that person’s culture, and its history and ecology. Given the immensity of the task laid upon the authors of these chapters, we can understand why it was that psychoanalytic contributions to the understanding of personality development as it relates to the aged in particular minority populations are not given much space. Nevertheless, especially for those interested in analytic work with minority populations, these are valuable new contributions.

Other new chapters on attachment behavior in dementia, depression in elderly women, grandfatherhood, and the shifts in analytic theory regarding the aged are useful contributions as well. Erik Erikson’s brilliant paper in Volume I of the 1980 edition, Elements of a Psychoanalytic Theory of Psychosocial Development, which covered in superbly condensed form his life-span theory, is not present in Volume VII of the new and revised edition because it was focused on the entire course of life, not merely on its final stages. But Helen Kivinik, his co-author of Vital Involvement in Old Age (1986), presents his theory and their views on the aging process, showing how an individual’s progress through the life cycle, and his or her management of the psychosocial tensions (no longer called “crises”) at each stage, culminate in an identity resolution that is as unique as that individual’s fingerprint. She concludes, “The very essence of balancing integrity and despair has to do with facing the certainty of sudden interruption -- and becoming involved, nonetheless” (p.134).

A central controversy in psychoanalytic circles has revolved around the questions of whether or not there is genuine structural growth in adulthood. Freud’s dour view of analysis with patients past the age of 50 is mentioned by several different authors, and cited as one of the impediments to the advance of psychoanalytic understanding of the older adult: “The psychoanalytic study of aging was held back by [Freud’s] dictum that the mental processes of older persons are too rigid for treatment by classical psychoanalysis (Kahana & Morgan, 1998, p. 161).” But again and again in this volume psychoanalytically informed researchers, reviewers and authors challenge that gloomy viewpoint, arguing with considerable force that “Evidence of significant change in psychic structure in adulthood is now very well confirmed by numerous multidisciplinary findings (Calvin Colarusso, 1998, p.289)” or, as Robert Emde has written, “...it may be, in fact, that the psychology of adult development is as important for clinical psychoanalysis as is the psychology of early development (quoted by Calvin Colarusso, 1998, p. 290).” While this may not be news to those of us over the age of 60 who have benefited from a lifetime habit of careful self-scrutiny or from re-analyses at advanced ages, it nevertheless seems important that so many of these distinguished authors now freely challenge Freud’s assertion.

The closing chapter, Calvin Colarusso’s Development and Treatment in Late Adulthood, from which the quotes above are taken, is a special treat. Not only does Colarusso present the data supporting the notion that structural change can occur throughout the life cycle, he presents a thoughtful and well-constructed conceptualization of development in adulthood, including specification of developmental tasks of late adulthood. He offers guidelines for conducting a life review and an adult diagnostic evaluation, and he proposes that Anna Freud’s concept of “developmental lines” be extended through the complete life cycle. He cites the literature on the analysis of older patients, and raises treatment issues including transference and countertransference; he concludes with some review of special techniques for working with the elderly. As is true for most edited volumes, I found that reading this book was a bit of a bumpy ride, perhaps a little like life itself. But Colarusso brings the ride to a smooth and satisfying end, as we might all hope will be true for our own lives.

In 1981, if you had bought the paperback edition of the three-volume Course of Life published by the U.S. Government Superintendent of Documents, it would have cost you a total of $31.50. The newly revised and expanded set costs $492.50 if you buy each of the seven books individually. While the cost is now more than 15 times greater, the content has only increased by 23 percent.

The good news is that one-third of all the new chapters in that seven volume series are contained in this final one. Concluding the Journey, the least expensive of the series, it is far and away the best value.

References

Erikson, E. (1980) Elements of a Psychoanalytic Theory of Psychosocial Development. In G.H. Pollock & S. I. Greenspan (Eds.) (1980). The Course of Life: Psychoanalytic Contributions Toward Understanding Personality Development, Volume 1: Infancy and Early Childhood. Washington, D.C.: USGPO
Erikson, E., and Kivnick, H.Q. (1986) Vital Involvement in Old Age. New York: Norton

Reviewer Note

Mary Pharis is a Division 39 member, a past president of the Austin Society for Psychoanalytic Psychology, and retired from the University of Texas at Austin where she was the Willoughby Centennial Fellow in Child Welfare.

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