“She is seated in her chair, quietly anticipative. She is in no hurry. There is nothing that has to be achieved. She does not charge the situation with her temper. On the contrary, she is turned towards the other, listening attentively – present in the contact, though with no traces of intimacy or fervency. She is fairly softly spoken, yet clear and factual. A benevolent, lightly questioning tone characterizes her voice. No gestures, no jargon, no implicit jokiness, no sideward glances, no hidden implications. She upholds simplicity of words and expressions.”
This impressionistic image of the analyst at work is a condensed starting point for the journey that Siri Erika Gullestad and Bjørn Killingmo take us on with their recently published The Theory and Practice of Psychoanalytic Therapy: Listening for the Subtext (Routledge, 2019). They draw from decades of experience as analysts and university professors of clinical psychology at the University of Oslo to give a theoretically grounded account of their flavor of psychoanalysis, which they call “relational-oriented character analysis”. Making use of ego psychology, object relations theory and concepts of embodiment, they arrive at an approach to therapy that values form over content, the latent over the manifest. In the process, they differentiate between psychopathological developments stemming from conflict and deficit and formulate therapeutic principles that take account of the patient’s level of ego functioning and actualized affect at any given moment.
However, the result of their work is much more than yet another textbook of psychoanalysis. At every turn, we are invited into the consulting room to listen to verbatim protocols of sessions and to get a feeling of the affect in the room. This book is a treasure trove of clinical experience and a rare possibility to look over the analyst’s shoulder.
Sebastian Thrul is a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst in training in Germany and Switzerland. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.