Sunday, April 22, 2012

A Little Reaction Paper On 2 Texts


David Shaddock’s textbook, Contexts and Connections: An Intersubjective Systems Approach to Couples Therapy is unusually well written, perhaps because he’s also a poet. I’ve just read its first three chapters, which provide a clear statement of the theoretical ground on which the rest of the book undertakes to teach therapeutic technique. That ground is a natural blend of Kohutian self psychology and the intersubjectivism of the Stolorow and Atwood team. I call the blend a natural one because the two bodies of thought converge on the idea that emotions arise between two or more persons. Though existential solitude remains a big deal in this psychology (especially in Stolorow’s philosophical work in texts like World, Affectivity, and Trauma), it gets coped with and ameliorated by the earnest cultivation of relationships, including and especially intimate relationships like the ones that couples have.
These pages also felt consistent with my investment in attachment theory, and though John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth do not appear in the index, there are references to Margaret Mahler’s work (which the psychoanalytic establishment seems to find less provocative and easier to accept). The index lists a few references to attachment, one of which I found striking:
“Providing one’s children selfobject experiences that were missing in one’s own childhood can mark a profound shift from a life endlessly dominated by the invariant organizing principles such deficits engender to a life of hope and possibility.” (p. 160)

"Intimate Partners," the 1986 Atlantic Monthly piece by Maggie Scarf was harder to swallow. The husband in one vignette gets dismissed as “immature and incompetent” for trying to change careers with limited success, though that has become very, very common in the intervening three decades.  “He had had a solid professional training when she married him: a master’s degree in business administration.” This made me smile, as I fantasized about sending Scarf copies of Bait and Switch by Barbara Ehrenreich and Stiffed by Susan Faludi.
I feel eager to invoke the “community psychology” stuff about the importance of social context, the economic landscape, the realities of resource depletion, and the ramifications of civilizational decline, with all the losses of social complexity and wealth that decline entails. Failing to be, say, an owner of land or housing at the height of the Roman Empire is quite a different thing from failing to acquire property in the Dark Ages, or in the teeming abundance of the American 1950’s, or in today’s post-industrial, post-plentiful world of systemic breakdown and contraction. I’m of the belief that this observation, properly adduced in therapy, can help to normalize some of the disappointments and setbacks that our culture tends to pathologize.