The logic of metaphor and the importance of therapeutic context

I hesitated long and hard before deciding that it was right to call this book a “handbook”. After all, I might be arousing the impression that the book presents a blueprint for psychotherapy and that it contains concrete instructions for the creation of a reproducible model. You will not, in fact, find any such blueprint or linear instructions here. At best you will be aware, when you have finished the book, that after every session you will need to start again, with a fresh outlook and from an attitude of active not-knowing.

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The Infant Observation Method as a Useful Tool for the Refinement of Psychoanalytic Listening

Our work which began almost 30 years ago, using and applying the infant observation method, has confirmed that the significant experience in infant observation promotes changes in the participants, as many trained professionals will testify; they feel a greater sensitisation to non-verbal communication, an increased reliance on intuition, a stimulus to the feelings and the imagination; greater contact with their own psychic reality and that of their patients. Their clinical work is transformed and they often say that they are more reflective before formulating interpretations.

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Understanding Winnicott’s unique contribution to psychoanalytic theory and practice

During the 1980s, three critically ill patients from my private practice forced me to acknowledge, to my dismay, that traditional psychoanalytic theory did not provide sufficient support for their cases. They were an anorexic girl whose lack of hope prevented anything from flourishing in her life; a professionally successful woman, who nevertheless saw no meaning in life and whose brilliant mental performance, I later realized, was split off from psycho-somatic living; and a 23-year-old man, who presented the greatest psychic devastation I had ever witnessed, a mixture of dread, despair, and violence. 

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A Psychoanalytic Study of Pervasive Developmental Disorders

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What To Do If the Mind Does Not Develop is a psychoanalytic study of pervasive developmental disorders, based on what I have been able to learn in my work with children and adolescents, as a child and adolescence therapist in the course of about thirty years.

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Addressing the Gap Between the Psychological Needs of Children and the Services Provided

In a world where the torture, maltreatment, and neglect of children shamefully persist, it is incumbent upon all of us to intervene appropriately to put a stop to it – whether in refugee and displaced camps, conference rooms, or through developing more comprehensive campaigns and policies to hold perpetrators accountable (whether governments or rebels opposing governments), or indeed working in clinics where traumatised children and their families seek help. The manner in which we act to improve the opportunity for recovery in children and young people subjected to torture and other inhumane violent treatment should be our primary concern.

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Divided by education, by design, by normalised duplicity, should the UK be surprised to find itself in deep trouble?

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The shocking events, misinformation, betrayals, and back-stabbings of the last month suggest what a thoroughly divided nation we are. We are split along class and education lines in a way Continental Europeans can’t really appreciate. Those I have spoken to recently about Brexit – Dutch, Danish, French and Germans – are both shocked that we sacrificed our position in Europe and outraged by the resignations of the three main players and the ‘business-as-normal’ attitude in our public life.

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Why Mentalization is a gift for anyone working with Trauma and Neglect

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The interest in mentalization as a concept has been steadily on the rise over the last decades. Mentalization and mentalization-based theory aimed at collecting different schools of thought and years of research, and by doing that has succeeded in describing complex phenomena in relation to interaction between people – both when it is successful and when high emotional arousal prevents the ability to mentalize. 

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The Space of Shared Experience and the Art of Couplehood

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I would like to invite you to delve right in and explore the enigma of the art of couplehood and happiness. You may find you are one of those people who succeed in the practice of this universal art, or alternatively, discover you may resist it, unwittingly blemishing or spoiling your relationships with your children or spouse, or even with your co-workers, when part of a team. 

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How yoga can promote embodiment, connection, sensory integration, and anxiety-reduction in children

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Recent figures estimate that approximately 1% of the population in the United Kingdom has an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), which is almost twelve times higher than estimates made in the 1970s. According to the most recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, individuals with autism experience communication difficulties alongside repetitive and restrictive behaviours and sensory hypo/hyper reactivity. Those of us who parent and work with children with autism, however, know this is only part of the story.

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On Latency: Individual Development, Narcissistic Impulse, Reminiscence, and Cultural Ideal

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In psychoanalytical terms latency is defined as a developmental period in which psychosexual maturation marks time – it occurs after the oedipal phase and ends with the beginning of puberty, and is a period of emotional abeyance between the confusion and dramas of childhood and adolescence.
 

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The Establishment on the Couch: Analysing the politics of blame, fear, apathy and denial

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Psychotherapy and politics

As Britain nervily approaches an unpredictable general election, it’s hard not to identify with a certain troubled soul from one of our greatest dramas and reflect that “something is rotten in the state of” our politics.

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Confessions of a psychoanalyst who has not forgotten how to play

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There I was, walking along the streets of Buenos Aires in the early 1950s, when I ran into Alexander, an old childhood friend of mine. I had not seen him for many a long year. We had first met in primary school, and had spent some years together in high school. Later, I learned that, like me, he had gone on to study medicine, but in a different medical school.

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The Language of Drawings

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This book is the result of a long gestation period.  Life had taught me that I was a good communicator, meaning that somehow people I met soon seemed to believe that I was interested in learning of their thoughts and experiences.  When I began to work with children in my clinical practice I discovered Winnicott’s use of squiggles in his therapeutic consultations and I was simply fascinated by the apparently magical bridge that this simple game made between the child’s unconscious and the analyst’s professional scrutiny.

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The Harris Meltzer Trust, by Meg Harris Williams

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Donald Meltzer, who died in 2004, wished that the educational work disseminated over the course of over 30 years by the publications of the Clunie Press should continue to benefit both psychoanalysis and its applications in the world outside the consulting room. Clunie Press was started originally by Meltzer and his wife Martha Harris (Mattie) in memory of Roland Harris (a poet and teacher, who died in 1969). The new educational charity, the Harris Meltzer Trust, has been founded to continue the publishing work of the original Trust, in the spirit of these three widely loved and inspirational figures. 

Donald Meltzer

Donald Meltzer

It seems fitting therefore that it was launched by two books associated with Martha Harris and spanning the period of her publishing career. They are books which in complementary ways present Mattie’s legacy as an educator. 
 
The first book, Your Teenager, reprints in a single volume three small books originally published in 1969 that were designed for “ordinary beautiful devoted parents” (to adapt Winnicott’s well known phrase), to help them cope with their child during the turbulent secondary school years. The language is straightforward yet elegant and concise, revealing Mattie’s talent for expressing complicated thoughts in simple everyday terms. For if we look a little beyond the surface prescription, we realise the primary interest of the books is really in helping parents cope with their own turbulent emotions, which are aroused in response to their child’s adolescence. The structural hinge of her approach is her empathy with the struggling child in all of us; it shows in the gently piercing, detective quality of her location of the root of the trouble – namely, the difficulty of becoming educated, in the deepest and widest sense of that term. If the “central task of the adolescent” is defined as one of “finding their individual identity”, then the task of parents is a reciprocal one: it is to “re-educate themselves” through questioning their own relationships, values, emotions and principles, which will inevitably be stirred up and flung into the melting pot by their normally aggravating teenager. Her aim is that children and parents may make the most of this opportunity to develop in tandem, with a view to ultimately taking their place in “the great social class of the truly educated people, the people who are still learning”. 
 
Martha Harris

Martha Harris

At the same time these are also practical books, rooted in the everyday life without which no principle can find a local habitation and a name. A child develops mentally in the context of real failures and achievements, at the core of his or her personal solar system (in the analogy of Money-Kyrle and Meltzer), whose waves ripple outwards from a “little society” of expanding diameter. This relates to another interesting aspect of the books: namely the opportunity for comparison between the social context of today and that of 40 years ago, which is in various ways both surprisingly different and surprisingly similar; we have both progressed and regressed. Also this is probably about the minimum passage of time required before it is feasible to inquire whether a work has any “classic” or enduring qualities. In my view it is Mattie’s consistent focus on the growth of self-knowledge and on the very principle of education as something that takes place between an inner child and an inner parental object, that gives these books their classic – and deeply psychoanalytic – quality. Interestingly, they have remained in print in foreign translations despite being out of print here for many years.

The second book published by the Trust is very different in format and content, and yet, as readers new to Mattie will discover, it is essentially the same in spirit. It consists of her supervisions (recorded on tape) of infant and young child observations made by Romana Negri in Italy during the 70’s and early 80’s. The major part of the book concerns one particular child, observed from birth till age three, who delighted Mattie as representing a model for normal infant development, as distinct from the pathological or disturbed. She was among those who emphatically maintain it is impossible to help disturbed children (or adults) without having a clear conception of the thread of normal development with its mingled joys and sorrows, triumphs and frustrations, at the forefront of one’s mind. For this reason the book has been titled The Story of Infant Development
 
As with the Teenager book, what we may learn from reading The Story is something more than the pattern of development. We also learn about the process of observing itself and the pattern of symbol-making that it engenders. Bion describes the two equally difficult mental exercises that are required in the process of symbol-formation:
– firstly the necessity of perceiving the “facts” on the sounding-board of one’s emotionality;
– secondly, allowing this overwhelming amount of confusing information to find a pattern in one’s mind without imposing one’s preconceptions (memory and desire) upon it. 
 
These two processes interdigitate in the partnership between the two authors of this book. Many readers will be familiar with Romana Negri’s work with premature infants (The Newborn in the Intensive Care Unit, Karnac 1994); the later book demonstrates how to acquire those essential sensitive observational skills with the aid of a teacher who also becomes an internal teacher. For as Bion says: “Who is to put all this material in order?” In Mattie’s speaking voice there will be found none of those words that Bion objected to so vehemently as being “long, ugly, impressive and devoid of meaning” (his example being “psychoanalysis” itself!). 
 
More work will subsequently be published from amongst the wide repertoire of Meltzer’s and Harris’s teachings abroad. The Series’s latest book, Teaching Meltzer: Modes and Approaches (edited by Meg Harris Williams) will be published in March 2015. 

 

 
Meg Harris Williams
Discover Meg Harris Williams’ other books:

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The word AUTISM spelled out in letter cubes.

I consider that the treatment of an autistic child is an opportunity to observe and investigate the origins of verbal symbols and the creation of language, as well as the way the logic of thought is constructed.

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Parents are increasingly turning to private practitioners for therapy for their children

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Therapeutic work with children, young people and their families in private practice can be complex and challenging while differing significantly from therapeutic work in other contexts, such as education or CAMHS.

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Everything That is Left Unsaid Ties up Energy

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Therapy with Infants outlines a form of psychotherapy aimed at infants and young children who have experienced traumatic events before the age of three. With inspiration from French therapists, the specific method was developed by the book’s authors, Inger Thormann and Inger Poulsen, who discuss here the origins and key themes of the work. Both are experienced therapists who have practiced in private and public settings for more than twenty years. 

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Refining the Spectrum: We Need Better Diagnostic Distinctions for Children with AS

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Lonely, isolated, unwanted, mocked, shunned, rejected, denigrated, despised, ostracized, misunderstood and friendless: stringing together so many negative adjectives may seem a little bit exaggerated – but that’s exactly the point I am trying to make. My recent book, Asperger’s Children: Psychodynamics, Aetiology, Diagnosis, and Treatment shows how Asperger’s children have exactly these kinds of negatively ‘exaggerated’ perceptions and feelings. Adjectives like these have been applied to these children many times over the years. This is the way they most frequently describe and experience themselves. Their inner experience of the social world can with few exceptions be summarized in three words – untrustworthy, unjust and unfair.

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The Unconscious Language of Symptoms

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As is well known, each specialist approaches his patients concentrating on his particular field of work. If his investigations result negative, he can only try to reassure the patient or, if considered appropriate, refer him/her to another specialist – where the same clinical principles will be followed. General practitioners, paediatricians and various other specialists will often find themselves struggling with children or adolescents who present physical complaints that do not respond to words of reassurance or to multiple treatment attempts, even though all laboratory investigations fail to identify any underlying physical abnormality. My new book, The Language of Distress, describes a particular approach to such cases, where the consultation led to the finding that the response given by the parents to their child’s symptoms was, in fact, perpetuating their presence.

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