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44th Annual Congress of the Canadian Psychoanalytic Society

Emotional Turbulence: Working Clinically with Unformed Experience

May 30 (evening outreach)

May 31 – June 2, 2019
Sutton Place Hotel, Vancouver, BC

Avner Bergstein, Israel Psychoanalytic Society

“How are we to see, observe…. these things which are not visible?” (Bion, 2005). How does felt experience become thinkable? And what of a painful something which exists in the body, but which never becomes emotionally invested thought? How do we speak about the impact of what is unverbalisable and irrepresentable? How do we as analysts work with the ineffable, the inarticulate? With what is difficult in our patients?

These questions about connecting with subjective experience are central to contemporary psychoanalytic thinking, across the range of different schools of thought. Freud’s discovery of the unconscious obscured the fact that some, not all, parts of the unconscious can be known by the symbolic traces it leaves on our conscious waking lives. His dynamic repressed unconscious was a part of a much larger formless, not organized or articulated nor articulable subset of “proto” psychic elements that could be called the unformulated or unrepressed unconscious (Levine, 2013:43) and which may not be available to our senses.

While Winnicott writes of the fear of breakdown and the pull towards it, Bion writes of catastrophic change and the fear of it. Both meet in the sphere of the unrepressed unconscious. Both focus on the dread of encountering emotional truth encapsulated in the unmentalized, unrepressed unconscious, threatening the mind with a psychotic state. Yet both contend that this encounter, facilitating the integration of remote and unmentalized parts of the self, can save the personality from mental catastrophe, or alternatively from psychic death as a defense against it (Bergstein, 2014b). This interest in the unrepressed unconscious has broadened our notion of therapeutic action. The aim of lifting repressive barriers has been widened to include a process that involves extending the boundaries of the self to include split-off parts by analytic containment.

Along with different contemporary conceptualizations of the unconscious and unconscious processes have been changing formulations of the aims of psychoanalysis. At the centre of the change in the aims of psychoanalysis, based on the concepts introduced by Bion, is the function of transformation and emotionally invested symbolic creation. Although there are different views on transformational processes among contemporary theorists, converging formulations of psychoanalysis are concerned with how to bring those “not-yet emerged elements” of experience to a form capable of joining an associative network of feelings, thoughts, desires, and memories, so they can be discerned and forgotten; experienced in a way that they become unconscious.

What in the relationship with the analyst can set back in motion a suspended process of waking dream-thought to connect different and remote parts of the self?

The psychoanalytic quest is not traversing the caesura so as to arrive at a safe harbour, but rather widening the capacity for motion and free flowing between the two river banks. The mere movement and transition are what matters, and not its direction, hence there is no notion of moving forward towards a goal, a cure. The movement itself is what expands the mind and facilitates psychic life.” (Bergstein, 2013: 626).

This brings to the fore the complexity of what activates symbolisation or makes for its absence; the intrapsychic and intersubjective processes through which representations come to be formed, or not, and the psychotic and psychosomatic phenomena in both analysts and “patients who fear catastrophic change” (Bergstein, 2014b). All have implications for the analyst’s functioning and interpretation. Bergstein develops Bion’s idea of using processes of reverie and affective elaboration of analysts’ and patients’ concrete experience as instruments of intuition and as a means of traversing the gap between mind and mind. He proposes “the way to psychic transformation is pinned in the possibility to experience the past in the present, for the first time, in the transference. This, I suggest, is possible primarily through the analyst’s capacity and willingness to experience the agonies of breakdown in his flesh. It is the analyst who must «agree» to experience a catastrophic change, to lose his identity, even if momentarily,… (2014b:864).

Bergstein, A. (2013). Transcending the Caesura: Reverie, Dreaming and Counter-Dreaming . Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 94(4):621-644
———-. (2014a). DÉPASSER LA CÉSURE: RÊVERIE, CAPACITÉ DE RÊVER ET DE CONTRE-RÊVER. L’Anneé Psychanal. Int., 2014:113-140
———-. (2014b). Beyond the Spectrum: Fear of Breakdown, Catastrophic Change and the Unrepressed Unconscious. Rivista Psicoanal., 60(4):847-868
Bion, W. (2005). The Italian Seminars. London: Karnac
Levine, H. (2013). “The colourless canvas: representation, therapeutic action, and the creation of mind.” In: H. Levine, G. Reed, D. Scarfone, eds, Unrepresented States and the Constructon of Meaning. Clinical and Theoretical Contributions (pp. 42-71). London: Karnac

Avner Bergstein is a training and supervising psychoanalyst with the Israel Psychoanalytic Society. He maintains a private practice with adults, adolescents and children and has worked for some years at a kindergarten for children with autism. As the author of numerous papers and book chapters elaborating on the clinical implications of the writings of Meltzer and Bion, he conducts seminars focusing on primitive mental states. His papers have been translated into German, French, Spanish and Portuguese. He has also translated and co-edited the Hebrew translation of a number of psychoanalytic books, including works by Bion, Tustin and Ogden. Writing in a clear and lucid manner, Avner Bergstein integrates Bion’s sometimes highly theoretical thinking with everyday clinical practice, to facilitate his dense and condensed formulations and make them clinically accessible and useful. His first book, Bion and Meltzer’s Expeditions into Unmapped Mental Life: Beyond the Spectrum in Psychoanalysis (Routledge, 2018) is written for psychoanalysts and psychoanalytically oriented psychotherapists who are attracted to Bion and Meltzer’s radical thinking.

Learning Objectives

Participants will:

  • acquire further understanding of some of W.R. Bion’s crucial concepts;
  • expand their capacity to get in touch with unrepresentable states of mind;
  • acquire further understanding of the relationship between unmentalized, indigestible emotional experience and psycho-somatic complaints;
  • acquire psychoanalytic tools for thinking and working with violence.

New Programme Features

  • May 29-30, Pre-congress Working Party (WPSPTT) with moderators from France and the USA.
    Separate registration and registration fee is required for the Pre-Congress. Register here.
  • Keynote Address with Avner Bergstein, Training Analyst, Israel Psychoanalytic Society
  • Master Clinical Case Presentation with Avner Bergstein and discussant, Christopher G. Lovett
  • Work/Study Group aimed at in-depth explorations of a psychoanalytic topic led by a panel of Canadian experts:
    • The Psychoanalytic Study of Sibling Relation (Margaret Ann Fitzpatrick Hanly, Gabriela Legorreta & Jorge Palacios-Boix)
  • Invited Panel: Tuning the Wavelength with Philippe Valon (Paris) and Chris Lovett (Boston)

View the Congress Programme (PDF)

Registration and Fees:

Pre-Congress Working Party, May 29-30

Separate registration and registration fee is required for the Pre-Congress. Registration is currently underway and the deadline for registration is March 30, or as soon as the group is full. To ensure boundary issues are respected, each registration is considered provisional pending the final composition of the group. Alternatives will be offered if available; otherwise your registration fee will be reimbursed. We expect to be sold out so do not delay securing your spot. See details and registration here.

National Congress, May 30 – June 2

Registration is open. See below for details.

Full Registration, May 30 (evening outreach) – June 2
Members – $300 (on or before May 15) / $350 (May 16 onward)
Non-Members – $400 (on or before May 15) / $450 (May 16 onward)
Candidates – $150 (on or before May 15) / $200 (May 16 onward)
Students – $150 (on or before May 15) / $200 (May 16 onward)

Single Day Registration
Members – $200
Non-Members – $220
Candidates and Students – $120

Congress Banquet – $95

Reimbursement Policy:

Full refund up to May 15th, minus 20% administration fee. From May 16th onward, refund of 50%, minus 20% administration fee, up to 5 business days before the congress. No refund within 5 business days of the event.

National Congress Registration, May 30 (evening outreach) – June 2

Registration is closed for this event.
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