on 25 October 2006
For the practicing clinician, "Awakening The Dreamer: Clinical Journeys" is an exciting trip into the shared reality of the interpersonal field in which psychoanalytic treatment takes place, and into the critically important dissociated aspect of that field. The book is a totally engaging read, clinically alive and wonderfully erudite, drawing on the history of psychoanalysis, literature, poetry, and neuroscience. Both clinically and conceptually, it provides an indispensable frame of reference that will deepen even treatments that appear "routine," but Bromberg's perspective is most breathtakingly powerful in helping the analyst reach the many so-called difficult patients currently finding their way into our waiting rooms.
From the vantage point of what is experienced as "me" at a given moment, a patient's "not-me" self-experience, because it cannot be formulated cognitively or linguistically, is communicated through enactment in the interpersonal field of the analysis --a shared dissociative experience that requires the co-participation of the analyst in processing it. By Bromberg's willingness to share with the reader his most intimate thoughts and feelings as he describes his actual work with patients in evocative detail, he provides the reader with an extraordinary window into the enacted channel of affective communication that links dissociated self-states in patient and therapist while what we call "the work" is going on.
Bromberg vividly portrays how the optimal analytic relationship involves an ongoing process of collision and negotiation between the subjectivities of the participants and is thus "safe but not too safe." In this relationship the analyst allows himself to perceptually experience and contain the existence of his own "not-me" states and eventually share the details of his subjective "awakening" with his patient while simultaneously communicating his attunement to the issue of how affectively "safe" this self-revelation is feeling to his patient. The analyst is in effect disclosing his personal encounter with a "not-me" self-state in the patient, and by so doing he allows that aspect of the patient's self to feel recognized relationally and thereby begin to "awaken" too. An increased tolerance for surprise gradually replaces dissociative defenses against potential traumatic shock because verbal meaning, including that of "safety" is negotiated rather than unilaterally defined by the analyst. By the therapist's surrender to the domain of personal reality --his own and the patient's-- for which no words exist, those areas of the patient's subjectivity that have been traumatically invalidated, find a relational context through which "not-me" can become part of "me," and participate creatively and spontaneously in the process of living.
This book by Philip Bromberg, "Awakening The Dreamer: Clinical Journeys," is a remarkable accomplishment, a courageous and inspiring example of clinical writing at its best that should be read and reread by therapists and psychoanalysts of all persuasions.