The Quiet Revolution in American Psychoanalysis: Selected Papers of Arnold M. Cooper (Book Review)

Author:  Cooper, Arnold
Publisher: Brunner-Routledge
Reviewed By: G. Michael Kampschaefer, XXIX, no. 3, Summer 2009, pp. 47-49

The “revolution” that has occurred in the field of psychoanalysis over the past fifty years has had two aspects; one “quiet” and one “loud.” The louder part of the revolution had to do with the lawsuit against the American Psychoanalytic Association during the 1980s, and to the challenges to classical theory and the technical proscriptions of ego psychology from outside the walls of the American Psychoanalytic Association, to which I refer later in this review. The “quiet” revolution was from within it. Dr. Arnold Cooper was a leading voice for and instrument of the latter.

I offered to review this book because, although I had been exposed to several of Dr. Cooper’s papers during my psychoanalytic training in the mid-1990s, I subsequently learned that one of my most influential supervisors had been supervised by him while a candidate at the Columbia institute. I was therefore keen to learn more about my own psychoanalytic heritage. What I found was a volume of papers I now consider to be essential to a deeper appreciation of the development of psychoanalytic theory and technique over the past 50 years. It is one I am glad to have on my shelf.

Dr. Cooper is one of the leading figures in American psychoanalysis. Co-author with Ethel Person and Glenn Gabbard of the American Psychiatric Association’s Textbook of Psychoanalysis and editor of the recently published volume Contemporary Psychoanalysis, he is a former president of the American Psychoanalytic Association and head of it’s powerful Program Committee during the critical period of the mid- to late 1970s, who successfully fought for greater tolerance of diversity. He is also a former vice president of the International Psychoanalytical Association, and a prominent promoter of psychoanalysis at Columbia University Center for Psychoanalytic Training and Research, where he has not only been a beloved teacher and training analyst, but also developed and ran an innovative and popular series of courses for undergraduates at Columbia on applied psychoanalytic theory.

Seemingly aware from his relationship with the brilliant, prodigious Edmund Bergler during his own formative professional years that our field consists of powerful ideas rather seductively promoted by charismatic authorities, Dr. Cooper’s contributions have been of a different but just as important variety. Rather than trying to develop a new school of thought around himself, he has been a keen observer, commentator on and synthesizer of the major ideas and developments in psychoanalysis such as masochism, narcissism, and issues of technique.

The title of this volume of selected papers, well edited by Dr. Elizabeth Auchincloss, also bespeaks the personality of the author, who has a reputation with colleagues who have known him well of being one of the nicest and most genuine people in our field. Apparently, Dr. Cooper’s diligence, as well as an honest, forthright style, succeeded in helping to gain voice, acceptance and status for what were at the time unorthodox, non-ego psychological views within American psychoanalysis (especially those of Kohut and self psychology); views which through other voices and in other forms have now become the New Mainstream (this author’s term).

Dr. Auchincloss’s insightful introduction to this collection alone is worth the price of admission, due in part to the biographical information about Dr. Cooper she generously reveals. He was raised in a social environment that primed him to notice and try to reconcile the differences between “orthodox” and “reformed” points of view, and that helped him to develop a sharp ear and eye for contradictions between what is said and what is done. Theories find us as much as we find them. One suspects after consideration of her introduction, in combination with the first paper, “The Impact on Clinical Work of the Analysts Idealizations,” that one’s attitude towards Freud and his ideas, whether at the extremes of fealty and devotion or disdain and repudiation, or somewhere in between, has as much to do with one’s preferred way of loving and hating one’s own parents, as the outcome of one’s negotiation of both homosexual (“negative”) and heterosexual (“positive”) Oedipal issues, as it does with intellectual integrity. Dr. Cooper thinks and writes with such candor about himself that I cannot imagine him disagreeing with this opinion.

Across all the works comprising this volume, divided into four sections (The Quiet Revolution, Challenging the Boundaries of Psychoanalysis, Vicissitudes of Narcissism, and The Analyst At Work) consisting of four to five papers each, Dr. Cooper certainly has his own clear and well-explicated point of view about all the binary issues pertinent to contemporary psychoanalysis. These include transference/countertransference, Oedipal/pre-Oedipal, the etiological role of genetic (in the classical and ego psychological sense, which he clearly understands and appreciates) versus developmental factors (such as the importance of research on infant development), cultural influences versus intrapsychic dynamics, interpretation versus the creation and maintenance of safety, etc. He communicates a sense of having worked to integrate these binaries which challenge every analyst during most every clinical hour in terms of what is most useful, if not in terms of what is most “true” (a quest candidates can be observed to pursue even in the face of postmodernism). His papers are remarkable for their high degree of courageous self-disclosure when he presents his work with difficult patients, as well as his articulation of the process of implementing the technical implications of new clinical and developmental research-based observations about infancy and pre-Oedipal experience.

Dr. Cooper began publishing early in his psychoanalytic career, but it appears that he did so most prolifically in the 1980s and 1990s. This was a time during which the dominant paradigm of ego psychology (an extensive body of work many contemporary candidates only barely hear about dismissively via negative characterizations from teachers, and may not even read at all) was being challenged from several directions: by developmental research (Margaret Mahler, Daniel Stern and others) and by the interpersonalists (especially writers such as Jay Greenberg and Stephen Mitchell who helped initiate what has become the new dominant relational school). Meanwhile, Merton Gill, Irwin Hoffman and others were pulling the rug out from underneath a rigid interpretation of the ideals of abstinence and neutrality, as well as our definition of what constitutes psychoanalysis versus psychotherapy. Dr. Cooper’s papers from this period are important for the light they shed on the major dialectics that characterized it.

It was the latter two sections of this book that intrigued me the most, primarily for their continuing clinical relevance. The papers in the sections “Vicissitudes of Narcissism” and “The Analyst At Work” were refreshing to read because they address the clinical usefulness of understanding the dynamics of what Cooper calls the “narcissistic-masochistic” character. I, too, have found Bergler’s writing on this subject (see especially Curable and Incurable Neurotics, [1961/1993]) to be replete with clinical “gems” such as one Cooper describes: ‘injustice collecting,” a commonly encountered manifestation of moral masochism. He combines that with Bergler’s “infantile megalomania” (i.e., the universal imperative of childhood that everything be about oneself), a term first used by Eidelberg in his 1948 paper. Together, they satisfy the unconscious wish for “victory through defeat” (Reik, 1941) or through “complaint.”

However, I noticed that Cooper maintains Bergler’s emphasis on pre-Oedipal factors (which he labeled the “septet of baby fears”), whereas I have found it unnecessary to theoretically restrict the genesis of masochistic dynamics to that period (Brenner, 1959). My observation has been that both Oedipal and pre-Oedipal factors, triangular as well as dyadic (mother-infant) need to be considered. Cooper recognizes this implicitly if not explicitly. When presenting case material in several papers, he makes statements to the effect that there were obvious Oedipal dynamics, but that he preferred to focus on those pre-Oedipal because he believes they are of primary importance and because they had been historically neglected in Freudian theory and ego psychology. Whereas a Freudian would see the pre-Oedipal material in an adult patient as serving a regressive defensive function against conflicted homosexual and heterosexual Oedipal wishes, Cooper assumes the opposite. For similar reasons, he privileges an attention to avoiding failures of empathy and to the establishment of safety in the therapeutic relationship over interpretation; especially over interpretation of the unconscious guilt and aggression that Freud thought central to the understanding of moral masochism.

I think I notice in his clinical material that in trying so hard to be caring and empathic, rather than the cold caricature of the classical or ego psychological analyst (“only questioning and interpreting”), he does not necessarily ensure the continuation of the treatment. In fact, my observation is that interpretation of a person’s guilt for both loving and aggressive transference feelings is often necessary to avoid its intensification and resulting premature termination (not that there is a guarantee, by any means). It seems to me that safety and interpretation need each other. Also, the reality is that one never feels completely safe, in or outside the treatment, just as one is never completely known and understood.

One way to view the enactments so oft discussed in recent psychoanalytic writing is as an outcome of an unconsciously escalating (for both analyst and analysand) interpersonal reverberation of transference and countertransference guilt. In my own practice, careful re-examination of the process leading up to the development of impasses such as the kind Cooper describes has usually resulted in my realization of unconscious countertransference guilt and/or shame reactions that turns out to also be a reflection of the patient’s own. Being able to interpret and work through (first myself, then with my analysand) such experiences more often than not significantly advances the treatment.

I ended up wondering if it is just as possible to overvalue concepts like safety, empathy and caring, or actions towards patients that demonstrate such, as it was for colleagues such as Kurt Eissler in an earlier time to overvalue interpretation, as Cooper repeatedly comments. The precondition for both safety and interpretation are the same. Freud’s fundamental “gospel” was that there is no experience of freedom without acceptance of that which has previously felt forbidden, whether that consists of the wish to be taken care of and protected or of the wish to control, penetrate, be penetrated by, or to punish and/or be punished by another.

But the therapeutic process is like sailing, isn’t it? We may be heeling to port or starboard (analogous to safety or interpretation) as we move along, but we will surely need to tack in both directions. Such a notion would be quite consistent with Cooper’s refreshingly candid admission in the first paper included in the book, “The Impact on Clinical Work of the Analyst’s Idealizations and Identifications”: “In effect, I have throughout my psychoanalytic career rarely enjoyed the experience of feeling that I really knew how to do it right”(p. 19). This courageous statement frees all of us to admit the same. It seems to me that no one could have said that fifty years ago.

After digesting this book, I looked on PEP and on the web with interest in what direction Dr. Cooper’s writing has taken since the papers included in this volume were published. I noted that as recently as 2008, at approximately age 85, Cooper is still serving well his important role as synthesizer of where we are at as a profession. In the abstract of a paper entitled “American Psychoanalysis Today: A Plurality of Orthodoxies,” he observes with the proud but slightly anxious, disconcerted eye of the revolutionary who sees the contrast between the excitement and promise of revolutionary times and the at least temporary chaos and even renewed hegemony of special interests which often follows:

“While we welcome the pluralism that has replaced the rejectionist policy of only a few decades ago, our contemporary pluralism is, to a surprising degree, a multiplicity of authoritarian orthodoxies (emphasis added ), each derived from a particular thinker, rather than a scientific discourse.”

The more I have thought about it, the more I agree with this characteristically astute observation. Now that relational theory has become, for some, the new orthodoxy, could there be yet something to be rediscovered from Freud that could become newly revolutionary? Every article about Freud I have seen in the popular media over the last ten or fifteen years seems to carry a headline to the effect of “Study Proves Freud Was Right...” Cooper sees great promise that neurobiology, where Freud started out, will both validate and enrich our field. He is almost certainly correct. However, if “neuropsychoanalysis” follows the trajectory of developments in subatomic physics, the new discoveries will also raise as many questions as they answer. In the meantime, this author looks forward to reading continuing contributions from sagacious colleagues such as Arnold Cooper. He would be one of the first to notice if that happens.

References

Bergler, Edmund. (1993). Curable and incurable neurotics: Problems of neurotic versus malignant masochism. Madison, CT: International Universities Press. (Original published in 1961 by Liveright).

Brenner, Charles. The masochistic character: genesis and treatment. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 7, 197 -226.

Cooper, Arnold. (2008). American psychoanalysis today: A plurality of orthodoxies. Journal of the American Academy of Psychoanalysis, 36, 235-253.

Eidelberg, L. (1948). Contributions to the study of masochism.  Contributions to the study of masochism. Nervous and Disease.  Monograph #75, 31-40.

Reik, Theodore. (1941). Masochism in modern man. New York: Farrar and Rinehart Inc.

Reviewer Note

G. Michael Kampschaefer
Oklahoma City, OK
gmkamp@msn.com

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