Mary Tennes – The Transpersonal Dimensions of the Psychoanalytic Encounter
“My interest is in the inherently transpersonal dimension of the psychoanalytic encounter itself. Contemporary approaches are, I believe, reaching toward the recognition that there are aspects of the psychoanalytic relationship that only a transpersonal context can contain. My purpose, therefore, is neither to highlight particular content which our patients bring in nor to supplement psychoanalytic theory with spiritual traditions. Rather, my hope is to expand the lens through which we view our work so that we are able to see more of what is already there. In this sense, the transpersonal dimension could be said to be “the unthought known” (Bollas, 1987) of psychoanalysis itself—that which lies beneath the surface of what can be expressed and so is deeply embedded in all that we do yet simultaneously is not within our consciousness. Having chosen as our professional activity the pursuit of the unknowable and the unthinkable, we must take the opportunity to explore that which in ourselves and in our field lies only on the cusp of awareness.
To locate the transpersonal dimension within a psychoanalytic framework, it is useful to examine the history of psychoanalytic constructs describing the relationship of self and other. represents a necessarily oversimplified attempt to portray this development visually. Each figure within the diagram conveys a theoretical assumption about relational experience, about the nature of the self, and therefore about the therapeutic relationship as well. The theoretical evolution portrayed by the first four figures reveals the significant conceptual shifts that have marked recent decades. Whereas classical approaches (Figure 1) established a firm boundary between self and other, contemporary
theory (Figures 2-4) has moved progressively toward the notion that self and other cannot be so neatly delineated. Yet, as the diagram indicates, despite an increasingly nondualistic conceptualization of the relationship between self and other, the need to place a firm boundary (as represented by the solid line) somewhere characterizes all four models. Even intersubjective approaches (Figure 4), with their attention to the permeability of the therapist’s subjective experience, maintain a boundaried notion of the field by focusing their lens on that which is created and evoked between therapist and patient, but not beyond them. And it is this need for a circumscribed view of selfhood—perhaps the most powerful remnant of both the classical ideal and the Newtonian world view within which it developed—that defines the edge of our current paradigm. For as long as our theory requires that the boundaries of the self must to some extent be absolute, it cannot adequately encompass the full range of the analytic mystery. Thus, while leading us into new territory, our theory is at the same time restricted in its capacity to describe the landscape.
Figure 5 is an attempt to portray visually a model of selfhood that resists this need for certainty. Of course, such a model, like language itself, can never adequately convey the vast, mysterious, and indefinable nature of the transpersonal and so becomes inevitably reductionistic. I use it, therefore, primarily in an effort to highlight what is missing within the contemporary paradigm, specifically a model in which self and other, subject and object, both are and are not separate. The figure is meant to point to the radical leap involved in entering into transpersonal territory, namely, the willingness to move out of identification with the personal psyche alone. To be most accurate, these five figures, rather than being distinct, could be visualized as superimposed so that each is inherent in the other, reflecting a particular dimension of self-experience. The transpersonal, in other words, is not a separate dimension, as this figure might seem to imply. My purpose in delineating it is purely as a conceptual device so that we may examine more directly what is outside of the scope of our current theory.
Within a transpersonal framework, then, we move beyond intersubjectivity into a larger and more encompassing field. While acknowledging that we can never escape the structures of our own subjectivity, the transpersonal paradigm points as well to an objective ground of being that requires our recognition. In the same way that, at a personal level, the self must move past its own omnipotence into an encounter with the externality of the object, at a transpersonal level, the personal self must encounter ontological otherness—that which is beyond the personal altogether. From this perspective, personal selfhood is not the center of the psychological universe but is, rather, an individual manifestation of the transpersonal ground of being that always exists apart from, yet informs, any individual identity. As a symbol of infinity itself, Figure 5 points to the inevitably paradoxical and dialectical relationship that exists between the limited, finite, and subjective self and the unlimited, infinite, and objective ground of being of which it partakes.
Thus, in contrast to established psychoanalytic models that see the idea of ontological otherness (and its subjective manifestation in spiritual experiences of God) as a product of subjective structures, the transpersonal model sees the recognition of an objective ground of being as the only means to orient the self adequately in its development. Of all psychoanalytic writers, Bion came closest to this view in his description of O, or ultimate reality…
Contemporary psychoanalytic theory, with its description of the field between patient and therapist as a “third” presence, acknowledges at an intersubjective level the need to orient toward something “other.” Within the literature examples abound of therapists who discover the surprisingly direct correspondence between that which arises within the field and the patient’s developmental requirements. Recent approaches have led us to recognize that the patient’s capacity to shed the deeply compelling patterns of his or her history depends on the therapist’s awareness of the field as well as his or her capacity to relate to whatever arises within it as inevitably meaningful.
But our theory has stopped short of the leap that must be taken if we are to do justice to this recognition: namely, to see the direct correspondence between internal and external worlds as they meet each other in an all-inclusive field. When absolute boundaries drop away, all the factual realities that the patient must encounter, including the therapist’s idiosyncratic self-structure, the specific circumstances of the analysis, and the patient’s particular life situations, paradoxically provide both access to and means out of entrenched object relational binds. Thus, in contrast to the postmodern view that circumstantial realities achieve meaning only through our subjective constructions of them, the transpersonal model holds that meaning also arises as we are able to surrender (Ghent, 1990; Tennes, 1993) to the particular circumstances of our fate. Not only does the self use the environment to find its fullest expression, but, at the same time, the environment leads the self toward that which needs to be known. The mystery at the heart of psychoanalysis resides in this interchange between inner and outer domains.” (pp. 512-516)
Mary Tennes (2007). Beyond Intersubjectivity: The Transpersonal Dimensions of the Psychoanalytic Encounter. Contemporary Psychoanalysis, Vol. 43, pp. 505-525