Harry M. Anderson, MD DPsych FRCPC*
Many claim that Metapsychology is of no use in the clinical situation and
should be abandoned. The author's researches show that this attitude is the
result of an incomplete scientific evolution of the theory. If enabled to
mature, it provides a sound foundation for the creation of a true science of
clinical research and practice.
On entering the field of psychoanalysis, the author assumed that
metapsychology would be its "basic science" and that its
"applied" ("technical" or "clinical") theories
would be created from it. In keeping with this belief, he steeped himself in
its study and developed respect for some parts of the theory before
discovering that his assumption was wrong. His curiosity persisted in spite
of collegial disinterest, however, and he was drawn into a long series of
surprising and unusual encounters that produced: a scientific method of
clinical research; several original researches; an unusually effective
self-analytic method; an intellectual bridge between psychoanalysis and its
neighbouring sciences; and a technical theory impervious to inappropriate
This paper introduces a formulation method that is rooted in
scientifically developed metapsychological concepts and principles and makes
primary use of the clinician's conscious, cognitive mental processes. It
should have special appeal to those who sense the nearness of a fine
marriage between psychoanalysis and cognitive-emotional science followed by
a scientific revolution.
An illustration of the approach is provided.
If the research principles of the hard sciences are applied to
psychoanalysis, and its theories are examined in "basic" and
"applied" ("technical" or "clinical") terms,
the body of theory known as "Metapsychology" would be considered
its original basic theory. As all psychoanalysts of the post-modern era
would know, however, the "meta" theory has fallen into gross
disfavour as a basic set of ideas to explain the phenomena of the
psychoanalytic domain. It has also become popular tradition to say that it
is of no use as an applied theory and should be put to rest as such. Many
would even say that as any kind of theory, basic or applied,
it is near death and should not be resuscitated. Only a very few have called
for its revival, and their appeals are not being heard. However, the
author's experiences in the course of a lengthy, scientific examination of
its concepts and principles reveal this dismissive trend to be the unwitting
outcome of undetected scientific errors.
Metapsychological theory was never given the chance that the traditional
sciences would have granted it. While it had an auspicious beginning as a
collection of reasoned "hypotheses" tied to observational data,
many of its ideas were elevated to the status of "accepted
conclusion" without being subjected to all the steps of the scientific
method. Its concepts (e.g. transference) were never concretely
defined for standardized clinical use, and its principles (e.g.
symptoms are compromise formations) were not exposed to research designs
that permitted intra-clinical testing by prediction. The loose and expansive
clinical observational field on which the theory took root was never
narrowed to allow for in-session objective perception. And although the
first analysts accepted Metapsychology as their evolving basic theory,
they fashioned their applied theories by a parallel means that left
them increasingly separated from it. In the case of formulation theory, for
example, they sanctioned the creation of a method that traditional
scientists would have rejected outright, and in doing so left a legacy of
problematic theory-making habit that has lasted. There are seven different
formulative methods that have been developed for clinical use to date, and
all are subject to symptomatic user defense and drive needs that can neither
be identified, controlled nor permanently removed from everyday operative
effect. They are approaches that invite emotional attachment to untested
theories, a phenomenon that would cripple the research endeavours of any
science. When several theories are competing to explain the observed data of
a scientific domain, it can be assumed that none have been scientifically
proved. And if one is adopted as a "favourite", what is
"believed" soon presses to become what is "perceived".
Then scientific possibilities come to an end.
This situation has undermined practitioner efforts to offer treatments
that are predictably successful and complete, and disturbed the confidence
of consultees who are attracted by some of the ideas and methods of
psychoanalysis. It has also created major problems for clinicians who seek
to conduct scientific researches in combination with their daily clinical
work. With no methods that make exclusive use of their conscious, cognitive
mental functions, practitioners and clinician-researchers are forced to
formulate with processes they cannot know (i.e. that are
"unconscious"), and the formulative act becomes a hit-and-miss
affair. Without them, as well, they are unable to define the "knowns"
and "unknowns" of the analytic domain and to separate researches
that are completed from those that are needed. Thus myriads of unexplained
clinical phenomena escape notation, delineation and investigation on a daily
This paper is intended to provide a first, brief outline of an unplanned,
twenty-six-year series of encounters in an unusual area of clinical study
that led to a demonstrable solution to these problems. It is also intended
to serve as an introduction to a book ("Metapsychological
Formulation") that is nearing completion. The author came to
psychoanalysis with an education in the clinical and experimental research
methods, and basic and clinical theories, of general, internal and
psychiatric medicine. On beginning his analytic training, he assumed that
the inspired research frameworks medicine had offered him would be
applicable in his new field, and he was well along the way to transposing
them to it before discovering that he was headed in an unpopular direction.
By then, however, his interests had a firm hold on his curiosity, and he was
led from the mainstreams of psychoanalytic theoretical endeavour to
unexpected research pathways that proved startling, exciting, astonishing
and rewarding at every major turn.
The paper describes how: (a) the currently accepted concepts of
the psychoanalytic "schools" (many of them originally
metapsychological) were studied for identifiability by concrete signs in
clinical material; (b) accepted principles were tested by prediction
using new clinical research methods; (c) some concepts and principles were
retained and reliable bodies of basic and applied theories were created; (d)
original researches in the areas of the psychoanalytic observational
field, symptom identification, surfaces and layers, the aggressive drive,
the genesis of symptoms, transference layering and curative factors
were carried out; (e) new concepts and principles were conceived and added
to already-developed theories; (f) and a new conscious, cognitive-emotional
method of formulation was developed.
The approach to be outlined is standardizable, teachable, and anchored in
logical premises that can be stated in explicit detail. It enables analytic
clinicians to spot all successively-appearing symptomatic elements in
clinical sessions and develop split-second, accurate formulations of each as
they proceed. It thus allows them to keep a finger on the clinical-process
pulse and monitor its activity closely.
The Pertinent Literature
The papers and books of a few psychoanalytic writers and at least one
academic critic contain implicit and explicit appeals for fundamental
changes in the methods by which psychoanalytic theories are created. As the
"M.F." concept offers significant responses to their authors'
requests, some aspects of the writings will be summarized to reflect the
timeliness of its introduction into analytic discourse.
Adolph Grünbaum (1993): pointed out (p.xi) that if Freud's central
ideas were to be tested clinically, research designs not yet imagined would
have to be developed.
Philip Holzman (Grünbaum, 1993): (p.xviii) observed that most
journal papers do not describe scientific explorations; (p.xxi) emphasized
the need for close examination of the basic premises of analysis; and
recommended the development of test methods capable of establishing validity
on the basis of sound evidence.
Robert Holt, (1989): asked (p.323) that metapsychology be brought
from the brink of death and made into a vital science able to explain
clinical phenomena; (p.324-327) summarized the problems with the theory that
plague most scientific critics; spoke of them as the result of disciplinary
default; observed that the analytic profession had never defined and
standardized its meta concepts; noted that it used them inconsistently;
described (p.338-339) the development of the applied ("clinical")
theory as philosophically problematic in the extreme; and recommended
(p.322-323) that analysts stop formulating by the use of unconscious
derivatives [as artists create] and change to methods anchored in the
observable clinical data.
Philip Holzman and Gerald Aronson (1992): noted (p.74) that most
psychoanalytic hypotheses had never been tested for validity; observed
(p.79) an intra-institutional hopelessness about testing them in the
clinical situation; noted that this attitude had led to the hermeneutic
conception of analysis: saw (p.83-84) the possibility of fine analysis of
observed data; considered the possibility of investigative methods capable
of prediction; described the current metapsychology as pliably submissive to
clinician desire and therefore scientifically useless; asked that it be
revitalized, not abandoned; and spoke of the intellectual isolation of
psychoanalysis from the other sciences as a nemesis to its theory
Otto Kernberg (1993): said (p.48, 49) it was generally thought that
analytic research had not been impressive; observed that practising analysts
knew little about what was being done; and listed (1996, p.1031)
thirty features of analytic institutes destructive to trainee creativity.
Arnold Cooper, (1995, Shapiro and Emde) described (p.389) most
psychoanalysts as: preferring to work like artisans; highly aversive to
standardization; antagonistic to operating from an exclusively cognitive
base; and attracted to freely-hovering attention and vague open-ended
Common Misconceptions That Collect About This Method
Because presentations of the M.F. method to psychoanalysts for the first
time were met with a number of unchecked assumptions and gross
misconceptions, some effort to dispel misunderstandings at the start of this
report will be made.
(1) The Method and Empathy: This paper is only intended to outline
the method's concept, development and approach to creating clinical
formulations, not to describe all aspects of its application. It should be
understood that those who use it are driven by a wide-ranging empathic
capability obtained by dismantling serious and severe symptoms at root
level. It is not the "rigid" and "obsessional" product
of a defensive mind, but the scientific yield of one freed of symptoms by
long, hard, original work on the self after a typically
"incomplete" training analysis.
(2) The Method, Clinical Priorities and Clinical Research: When the
M.F. clinical situation is simultaneously used for investigative purposes,
the requirements of the treatment have absolute priority. Research findings
emerge from parallel observations of the natural treatment process.
(3) The Method and the Pleasures of a Working Relationship: All of
the pleasures of a functionally-appropriate, real object relationship are
regular aspects of M.F. analyses. Analysands and their exploratory
assistants have fun, get excited, and experience satisfactions over
"jobs well done".
(4) The Method Compared to the Other Formulative Approaches: This
method is quite unlike the other prominent methods of psychoanalytic
formulation. In particular, it is not at all like the "free-floating
attention" approach to which it has unfathomably been compared. As will
become clear, the M.F. clinician's "attention" is neither
"free" nor "floating". It is singularly directed to the
hard data of the analysand's free-associative efforts and the concrete signs
of all symptomatic phenomena revealed by them. When symptoms are observed,
their meta structure-processes are dissected by conscious, cognitive means,
and when none are active the presented material is monitored continuously so
that assistance can be provided when needed.
(5) The Literature and the Subject of this Particular Method: There
is no specific literature on this subject. As indicated, a great deal
has been written on the inadequacy of the analytic profession's science (see
also Edelson (1988, p.xiv), and some have advocated an improvement of
metapsychological theory as an attempt at solution. However, no one who has
addressed its formidable theory-making problems of "conclusions without
proofs" and "categorical dismissals of possibility in the face of
obstacles" has recommended a primary, conscious,
cognitive-emotional, metapsychological method of formulation as a way
out of the long-standing speculation wilderness that has been imprisoning a
potential psychoanalytic science.
Conception, Philosophy and Evolution of the Method
When the author came to psychoanalysis from psychiatric medicine, he
brought a long-established interest in the field and a particular curiosity
about its theories that was already well-developed and at work. It was to
examine clinical material in process for the presence of metapsychological concepts,
and define such entities as "ego", "resistance",
"defense", etc., in terms of the concrete signs of their shifting
presences in patient sessions. Having pursued this interest for some
time during a prior psychotherapy teaching career, he soon developed an
automatic ability to recognize the concepts that "held water",
and, when several had been collected, the principles said to link and
explain their clinical behaviours became the subject of his attention.
However, while the identification of concepts posed no problem of
methodological design (being as it was a process based on observation and
definition), the study of accepted principles needed a method of
testing not yet devised. He therefore adapted some of the strategies of
general medical research and developed the following technique.
The "Minimalist Intervention" ("M.I.")
To straddle the difficult fence between the demands of treatment and
those of combined clinical research, only the most basic and uncontroversial
technical principles were employed in the course of the treatment task. (One
example was the provision of a well-thought-out, realistic and
explicitly-stated free-association process instruction.) No non-standardizable
concepts or untested principles were used, and conventional
theories that drew conclusions several inferential removes from the observed
clinical data (that were "data distant") were especially avoided.
Data-distant theories are untested theories developed by theoreticians
who moved from phenomenon to conclusion without knowing and demonstrating
the validity of the many inferences they drew in the process. Analytic
theories need to be developed in steps that test single inferences using
predictive methods if they are to become clinically reliable. However,
hardly any received analytic applied theories have been exposed to
validation procedures, and when they are used to posit deep-layered
structure-processes from small pieces of surface material, intervening
layers of great technical significance get lost and process disruptions are
1: A common application of one aspect of Freud's "Oedipus
Complex" hypothesis serves to explain the nature of the scientific
problem posed by such theories. If the clinician observes signs of a rivalry
within a triadic relationship system, he/she commonly infers and assumes the
general and specific natures of the analysand's drives without their
having appeared in his/her releasing associations. A passage in an article
by Theodore Shapiro (1977, p.577) illustrates this problem. In it, the
author speaks of the Complex as a main means of progress in work with
character pathology, and of how it can convincingly show analysands how they
repeat the past. However, the clinical example (p.565-568) used to back the
claim is not supportive. In it, the purported "Oedipal" material
does not emerge spontaneously in the subject's associations without
suggestive influence. The idea is introduced by the analyst in an
interpretation, and the manifest content of a dream is offered as confirming
evidence. By contrast, the M.I. approach directs the practitioner to develop
single inferences from the clinical data and test each formulative
hypothesis without suggestion. When the method is used to determine the
nature of the drive in effect at a specified moment, the
free-associative stream is observed for concrete signs of drive material,
and if none are present, the "layers" within identified
"surface" "defense systems" are studied. Then minimal
interventions are directed at successive layers of the systems until the
drive makes a direct appearance. This procedure allows for the testing of
formulations, whether they are based on established theories or on new
creations. It also removes the possibilities of theoretical bias and
confirmation of hypotheses by suggestion.
2: Of course it is not uncommon for analysts to say it is impossible
to design unbiased methods for testing the validity of theories. Donald
Kaplan (1994, p.192-193), for example, spoke of his disillusionment with
such ideas and opined that those who adhered to them did so out of naivety
and need. But his sweeping generalization was argued without any factual
proofs. The "naive" and "needing" people were not
identified, and no concrete support for the existence of their
wrong-headedness was provided. But even if the author's assertions
had been bolstered with data, there is little currency in closing the door
on scientific possibility. Reasons are scant for taking the position that
what has not yet been possible can never become so.
As the present author's experience with the M.I. approach grew, he found
it easier to reconcile his research use of the clinical situation with his
primary treatment obligations. All treatment work proceeded well with
"minimal interventions" when they were simple, certain, and not
contaminated with theoretical imaginings.
A Philosophy Of Science Puzzle Forms, And Views Are
When he began his intra-clinical studies of the formulation process, the
author was in the habit of using the formulative methods he had been taught.
When working with the material provided by analysands, he:
allowed formulations to emerge from the unconscious (Freud, 1912, p.112,
gave "evenly-suspended [free-floating] attention" (Freud,
provided "evenly-hovering attention" (Hollender, 1965,
remained equidistant from id, ego and superego (uncertain
used the counter-transference to assess the transference (Racker,
v studied empathic responses as signs of analysand subjective
experience (Kohut, 1971, p.300-307);
v used symptoms appearing in the self during sessions as
indicators of analysand communications (Jacobs, 1973)
As someone impressed by the powers of scientific methods, he had vague
difficulties in accepting the logics implied in these approaches, but they
were so widely used and unquestionably advocated that he tended to accept
them. Questions pressed, however, and his pursued curiosities eventually
made their philosophical difficulties less puzzling. As the barest use of
the simplest, most indisputable techniques began to prove itself capable of
assisting analysands with their self explorations, the traditional methods
of formulation started to reveal their fallacies. And Freud's advice to
formulate using the unconscious was the first to stand out.
Freud's recommendation was examined in light of the generally-accepted
fact that, by definition, the broad unconscious included an area
comprised of internal conflict that was impossible to know without lengthy
and extensive self work on the repression defense. Thus the idea that its
surface, conscious "derivatives" (i.e. "symptoms" -
"compromises of defense and drive") could contain capturable and
specifiable information that informed one person's mind about the particular
operations in the unconscious of another, became more than doubtful.
A New Approach To Intersubjectivity Theory Is Taken
Of course the idea that the unconscious activity of one mind can
affect the unconscious of another was not dropped, but it became
important to remove the seeming perpetual mysteries in existing
"intersubjectivity" theories and explore the phenomena they
addressed scientifically. To that end, then, a simple, testable hypothesis
was created and notations made of clinical material that illuminated it.
It was postulated that the most logical means by which unconscious minds
could be expected to influence each another was by the effect of one
person's concrete behavioural expression of conscious
"derivative" material on the perceptual apparatus of
another that was particularly primed to apprehend it for reasons
unknown. It was then posited that this idea could be examined for validity
if the clinician:
developed a heightened ability to observe his/her own perceptual
observed their behaviour when derivatives of unconscious activity in self
observed the physical and verbal expressions of analysands being
v developed a self-analytic method capable of identifying and
dismantling the layered defense systems in the self's derivative material;
analyzed the systems until depth-unconscious roots were released;
v examined the perceived analysand expressions and the
stimulated self unconscious material for matches that suggested specific
causal connections or otherwise.
The author undertook this investigative course, and his findings
illuminated what went on in at least one clinician's "responding"
mind. They revealed that it was acutely observant of analysand derivative
material because it was driven by still-unconscious depths that directed it
to: defend from traumata it had never mastered; and seek
material indicators in the other that offered the possibility of satisfying
inappropriate needs. They also showed that it projected feared
traumata and need-satisfying opportunities into the material that, when
analyzed, contained no such things. In other words, they indicated that
long after the completion of a training analysis considered successful at
the time, the analyst had a large reservoir of unsolved internal conflicts
in his depths. They also revealed that it was finding outlets for displaced
expressions of defense-drive derivatives being issued at his working self's
surface, and jeopardizing his formulative efforts without his knowledge. It
was using his conventional formulative theories, to produce conflict-driven
misperceptions of incoming analysand material, rationalizing its misdirected
technical responses to it, and achieving its aims without being caught by
his simultaneously-active observing self.
Two New Studies Help To Focus The "Puzzle"
As the author's experience and thinking progressed, he began to wonder
why conventional methods of formulation held such positions of popularity
and domination. He asked himself if they contained hidden truths that could
be scientifically discovered, then developed an examination into one of them
- the method suggested by Jacobs.
1: Symptoms In The Analyst During Sessions
This study (Anderson, 1979) addressed the question of whether symptoms
that appeared in the analyst during clinical sessions could be reliably used
to formulate the analysand's unconscious processes. Employing his developing
M.F. theory to analyze symptomatic acts that he observed in himself
during sessions, the author was able to undo enough layers to see that his
free-associative efforts were regularly leading him away from analysands as
the sources of stimuli that specifically stirred the mental operations
responsible for his symptoms. They were taking him to recent, personal
social situations in which intense conflicts had been mobilized, conflicts
that were continuing to percolate beyond awareness days after the events
that had aroused them.
He then proceeded to compare his metapsychological analyses of self with
the "meta" analyses of patient structure-processes he had recorded
(as a matter of routine) in the moments when his symptomatic phenomena had
appeared, and no "matches" turned up. The corresponding meta
configurations offered no reason to suggest that studies of the analyst's
symptoms and their unconscious roots could provide reliable information
about the unconscious processes at work in the minds of his analysands.
In one such investigation, for example, the analysis of a
"slip" in the analyst's mind – one that distorted a patient's
name as he welcomed the person in to a session - brought back a rankling
memory of a personal incident that had occurred while presenting a brief to
a social organization a week before. While the event had not continued to
capture his attention at an everyday conscious level, it had remained very
much alive and simmering in the nether region of his mind. In that obscure
place, defense and drive derivatives from a "social trauma" had
been waiting to spring to the forefront of his mental experience at the
simple sound (i.e. phonetic property) of another's name.
Further exploration of this experience revealed that, in the face of a
gratuitous critical attack on his character, the analyst's range of
serviceable aggressive responses had been seriously undermined by unknown
and initially-unknowable processes. When his self-analysis eventually
released them to consciousness, he came upon a traumatized self that was
frustrated and fuming at its lack of effective defenses in a situation that
had rightly called for them. It emerged in the midst of abundant signs of a
multifaceted conflict that: (a) had not been significantly touched by his
personal analysis; (b) had attached to a non-specific expressive
stimulus from his analysand; (c) and was dysfunctionally seeking (and nearly
finding) an inappropriate outlet in his work.
2: Symptomatic Behaviours In Consultees During Assessments
This study (Anderson, 1982) developed as a natural next step in the
author's expanding sequence of curiosities. With his new ability to observe
self perceptions taking place beyond common awareness, and using the valid
"meta" theories he had collected to date, he examined the
symptomatic behaviours of consultees in thirty-eight (38) consultations, and
some interesting findings were cast up.
It became apparent that he was very sensitive to consultee
symptoms expressed in the form of transference-determined behaviours, and
that he spotted their signs with an intensity of purpose. It also became
clear that such symptoms were: (a) numerous and frequent from the time of
the first telephone contact onwards; (b) of a range much greater than that
covered by common diagnostic categories; (c) exclusively of the
"character" type; (d) imbedded in "operative
transferences" that produced "resistances"; (e) always in
need of immediate formulation and intervention; (f) and often revealed by
concrete signs that were obscure to the point of being subliminal.
This work continued to open his eyes to the subtleties of concrete
patient process to which his perceptual apparatus was spontaneously
cognizant. It also led to the discovery of a very important phenomenon
underpinned by a principle that he came to call the "Glover
Effect". By the terms of the principle, transferences that are derived
from the root processes responsible for character symptoms and are syntonic
to the ego of the consultee's observing self: (a) operate at once in
consultation; (b) change perceptions of the real consultant behaviours, by
imposing transference-determined misperceptions upon them; (d) lay down
consultant internal mental representations that are indistinguishable from
those of the symptomatic self's original problem objects; (e) incorporate
and transform the consultee's perceptions of the essential elements of the
consultative process; (f) nullify all possibility of using such elements;
(f) and subtly destroy entire consultation-treatments at the start if left
undetected for long.
Recording Methods are Introduced
The next natural development in the author's expanding complex of
interests was the introduction of four methods of recording that made it
possible to capture the many intertwining elements of the clinical process
as consultative and treatment sessions progressed.
A type of Automatic Writing in small pen-hand allowed him
to record the details of the analysand's free-associative material and
objectify his parallel formulative processes as the two session elements
interwove in series of stimuli and responses. This practice also helped him
to define the frontiers of theoretical development by illuminating material
that could not be formulated because no tested theories to explain it
A Codification system helped him to record his
moment-to-moment monitoring of the clinical process as his perceptual and
other cognitive apparati carried it out. For example, an operative
"transference-of-defense" (Sandler with Freud, 1985, p.41), as
indicated by such a statement as, " ... I know you think I'm stupid,
so I won't burden you with ... " was codified in its context
in the following terms:
R/ [ < This entire codification is recorded in the
left-hand margin of
T/ the process note as indicated, and paralleling
OT/ the pertinent free-associative material to the right
SEEI/ (particular features of standard-setting activity cited)
TI(agg.?)/ (particular drive and form of drive cited – the drive form
TF (details of object expression - content and form)
MSD/ (effects of object threat upon self)
SD/ (particular defenses listed)
G (object origin of the transference-of-defense)
v R: a resistance is present;
v T: of the transference type;
v OT: of the "operative transference" type, (i.e.
affecting an element of the patient's use of the analyst and the other
v SEEI: from an object in the superego-ego ideal structure that
is imposing the "standard" ----- and forcing compliance with the
object's "judgements" ----- by the threats of
v TI(agg/ ?): directed against the --?-- form of the aggressive
v TF: resulting in the transference-determined fantasy of the
v MSD: motivating the self to defend by the effects of -----
v SD: forcing the implementation of the self defenses ----- ;
v G: deriving from an earlier and ultimately original object
----- (the object is named).
(If symptomatic activity appeared in the analyst's working self as he
developed and recorded his formulation, it was also identified, defined,
formulated and similarly codified at the point that it entered the process.)
Detailed Notations of material pertinent to researches in
progress helped the author to highlight and follow the several types of
clinical phenomena he was in process of studying at the time. They also
allowed him to report the concrete details of his formulative experiments
and results when making presentations, and enabled him to make such material
available for third-party study if suitable occasions were to arise.
Although Audio and Video Recordings, proved limited in
their usefulness for following and understanding the therapeutic process
(i.e. they said nothing of the analyst's internal-formulative and
subjective-reactive experiences, and nothing of the self analysis of his
symptomatic responses), when combined with the other forms of recording
described they helped create a multidimensional recording approach that was
capable of catching much of the analytic process in progress.
An Unusual And Thorough Self Analysis Evolves
As the author's ability to observe and separate symptomatic processes in
"other" and "self" increased, and as he isolated and
defined still-active symptoms in his working self, he was stirred to explore
that self more thoroughly. His written recordings of patient process
began to contain more on-the-spot self work, and his M.F. method led him
into a systematic analysis. It was a daily process that lasted twelve years,
went to the bedrocks of underlying conflicts, produced extensive, lasting
results, gave rise to new researches, and complemented those involving
A partial summary of this experience, written at its halfway mark in
1985, was published in 1992. The work was completed in the early nineties,
and revived only on rare occasions when the emotions associated with
familiar and already-analyzed conflicts became activated by unusual
combinations of events in sleep. Because it was carried out with the same
writing technique used with analysands, the entire process was recorded, and
its 5000 pages of on-the-spot notes have been preserved.
Some Particular Advantages Of The M.F. Method
v Draws on the impressive power of an asymptomatic,
theoretically-informed and fully-functioning cognitive apparatus that is
being energized by situation-appropriate emotions.
v Enables the user (clinician or lay person) to create
immediate, accurate, objectively-determined formulations of any kind of
symptomatic material in self or other, and to do so under any clinical or
v Insulates the clinician doubling as a clinical researcher from
endless, impenetrable, subjective mysteries, and allows him/her to work
with data that is concrete, completely knowable and could be quantified.
v Allows for the intra-session testing of old or new hypotheses
v Provides a means for undoing clinical confusions generated by
unsuspected and undetected lacunae in conventional basic and technical
v Permits the self-analytic user to proceed towards as-yet
unreachable depths, carry out ground-breaking researches on the way, and
permanently dismantle the conflicts responsible for incomplete analyses
and the countertransferences that result from them.
v Arms the practitioner with confidence in the face of apparent
treatment impasses (those dark days of the clinic when analysands are
proclaiming the futility of the process and the inadequacies of the
clinician's contributions) by enabling him/her to know if a present
technical position is correct and should be maintained.
v Offers a theoretical framework for accurately assessing the
research claims of others, and for doing so with an economy of effort.
v Allows the practitioner to have conscious,
cognitive-emotional, moment-to-moment access to all of the elements of the
two-sided clinical process at all times.
v Allows teacher/authors to know and describe the intricacies of
their observational and formulative efforts in detail.
v Could be programmed to create a sophisticated software program
used for consultative and a variety of other purposes.
v Can contribute to the development of cognition-emotion science
by the creation of finely-detailed visual representations of the
structures and processes of symptomatic mind function.
Illustration OF THE METHOD IN OPERATION
The following example is from a consultation taken at random from
thousands of records on file. While it involves only a few brief moments of
the preliminaries to a possible first consultative meeting, the material
involved is of a type that could present at any point in any analytic work.
The situation to be described calls on the consultant to respond with a
constructive, interventive contribution to the prospective consultee's
communication, and his/her ability to formulate systematically, correctly
and at once is excitingly challenged.
It should be understood that the material to be provided is intended only
as a brief illustration of the Metapsychological "Formulation"
Method. The inclusion of fine definitions, intraclinical predictive testing
methods, new research findings, interventions and effects, would take the
author far beyond the goals set for this paper. All such topics, along with
a follow-up report of the situation to be outlined, will be provided in the
earlier-mentioned book on formulation. The M.F. method's Theory of
Intervention, a subject in its own right, will then be separately addressed.
In what follows, all technical terms when first introduced will be
highlighted by bolding and italicizing (as so), and when used
in a final summary of the formulation to be developed, bolded (as
so). Several of the terms will be recognizable from general psychoanalytic
writings, while others that have emerged from M.I.-M.F. researches will
prove original. Although the new terms will not be defined, the contexts in
which they are applied should help to explain them.
A Telephone Call
In January, 1981, a mental health professional in a western Ontario town,
"Mrs. K.", referred "Victor C.", a twenty-nine year old
visiting researcher from Europe, for consultation regarding the possibility
of his entering analytic therapy. She did not forward anything other than
the person's name.
Mr. C. phoned and left a brief message, and when the consultant called
back this conversation took place:
"Hello, Victor C------- here."
"Hello, Mr. C, Dr. Anderson returning your call.
"Thanks for getting back to me, Dr. Anderson. I've run into
quite a problem.
I'm over here from -------- with my partner, Den------ .
We've been living together for seven years. We've talked about
marriage and kids but we've never taken the step. About five months
ago, I met a visiting consultant from the U.S. Her name is Bel------
. We had an affair before she went back to ----- ------- (a
university on the west coast) and things haven't been good for me
since. She phones me often, and I keep in touch. There's a
possibility that I might move to be with her, but I can't decide
anything at this point. Meanwhile, I've been getting increasingly
anxious and depressed and I haven't been keeping my deadlines at
work. I'm a research engineer and I'm on a special job. (pause)
.......... I don't think I've ever felt so bad in my life." (pause)
........."I guess you would recommend meeting separately
with me and then with Den------ .... (brief pause) not
that I want to keep secrets." ........... (pause)
.................. "I sound awful, don't I."
This excerpt lends itself to an illustration of the number of
metapsychological concepts that can be concretely identified in a
small segment of clinical material, and how, when combined with tested
linking principles (proven "meta" theories), they
can be used to develop a metapsychological formulation.
The Identification Of Symptoms
The M.F. clinician's initial task with this presented material is to
identify the signs of any "symptomatic" elements within it
and formulate the underlying mental operations responsible for them.
Traditional analytic theories put little stock in the importance of
systematically spotting and working with symptoms from the start of
consultation, but the author's close metapsychological monitoring of many
consultative engagements has shown that such an effort is essential to
successful treatment. As earlier indicated, the processes underpinning
character symptoms become manifest in the first moments of a clinical
contact, and they create untold complications if not addressed at once. The
problems they produce are not grossly apparent at first, but they can seal
the fate of an entire treatment, without anyone knowing what is happening.
In Mr. C.'s case, the consultee's initial consultative communication
contains elements that are symptomatic of three separate, but related
problem mental operations, and the expression, "I guess you would
recommend meeting separately with me and my live-in lover." is the
first. This is a statement made within seconds to a new object,
about whom nothing is known that could explain how it was generated. Mrs.
K., the referring consultant, had no information about that object that
could have been communicated to the consultee to account for it, and it is
obvious that the present consultant has not even thought of how he would
recommend approaching the consultation, let alone said anything to that
effect. The consultee, however, is talking to him as if he were someone
who has formed such an opinion, and this behaviour is a hallmark of
problematic mental activity that is either syntonic to the ego
of the consultee's observing self (i.e. ego-syntonic)
or beyond the scope of its self-observing powers (i.e. unconscious)
because of being repressed.
Developing A Formulation
In this part sentence, a self of the non-observing type - a
functioning structure comprised of ego and drive,
but not the suprastructures - has contacted a consultant to
describe a painful, unresolvable personal problem and find out if the
psychoanalytic method would be a suitable means of repair. It may have other
uses to which it wishes to put its newly-met object, but this is the one it
has implicitly expressed and the one that is realistic, and when the
consultant has clarified this idea in his mind, it becomes a reference
point for his study of the consultee's material. If he
observes engagement behaviours that do not fit the referential framework it
provides, he will be able to identify, describe and explain what he has
observed so that the consultee's observing self can obtain
self-analyzing access to the internal sources of its troubles and join in a
collaborative study of their properties.
The ego of the described self has developed a fantasy of
the new object that is not the result of objective perceptions of the real
figure's behaviour. It is the outcome of a projection of the
features of an internal object, and the marker of a transference
that has developed prior to the described telephone conversation.
In this material, there is no concrete sign of an observing self that is
monitoring the self organization that is in contact with the consultant
(i.e. the self-in-contact). The transference-determined
"consultant" fantasy is largely in ego-syntonic relationship
to any latently-operative observing self because the self-in-contact is
engaging its new object in the belief that its perception of it is
reality-based. It is also doing so with little sign of restraint (such
as in, "I've been wondering if you would suggest seeing me
separately and then my partner, doctor, but tell me, how would you recommend
approaching the situation?"). The "I guess" part
of the consultee's statement removes it from the realm of complete ego-syntonicity,
but its functional effect on the self-in-contact's behaviour is not
insignificant. An unsuspecting observing self is allowing the engaging self
to act out its response to an unwitting misperception of
the consultant that has been created from the projected features of an
Here, the transference mechanism has forwarded the
properties of an object in a mental representation developed
by the internalization of objective perceptions of an earlier,
"real" object, to the self-in-contact's perceptual apparatus. This
operation has primed it to perceive what the self has been expecting, and it
has formed a mistaken mental representation of the consultant from the
details forwarded. It has endowed its new object with a thought and
behaviour pattern that is not the result of objective perceptions of its
real behaviour, and its attribution has resulted in a symptomatic
response. Although the material communicated does not directly reveal the
operative presence of the above-described underlying processes, they can he
inferred from it.
The symptom type outlined here is one of the character symptom
kind, because tested M.F. theory allows the prediction that the behaviour it
produces will prove to be repetitive, and therefore
"characteristic" of, the self's manner of relating to many
objects. It can be differentiated from symptoms of the symptom
neurosis category (i.e. phobic, dissociative, obsessive-compulsive,
conversion, or reactive-depressive) by the observable presence of a direct,
object-relationship feature. In symptoms of the symptom-neurotic kind, signs
of direct, conscious, self-expressive connections with engaged objects are
The Metapsychology Of Character And The Developing
The author's researches have revealed that character symptoms are the
behavioural expressions of character transferences from
problematic, internal objects, transferences that regularly and unwittingly
attach to new objects, including analyst consultants, throughout the self's
life span. The priming and biasing of the perceptual apparatus that is
fundamental to the phenomenon, is the process that was earlier termed the Glover
Effect. By the terms of the "Effect", when what has
been experienced becomes expected, and what is expected becomes perceived,
the in-taken elements of real object behaviour become grossly and
essentially transformed, and, when the self-in-contact's mental
representation of its new object is explored, the figure is found to be
behaving in the same manner as the old. And if the process is not
interrupted, it repeats with the same object and every other subsequent significant
object encountered, and the recalled behaviours of all
previously-engaged objects become indistinguishable from those of each other
and the original problem-figure. The self-in-contact is led to expect that a
new consultant will repeat the behaviours it believed were experienced at
the hands of its earlier objects, starting with the person most recently
encountered and proceeding back through several relationships to the
original. This means that when the concrete signs of a first-appearing,
consultation transference fantasy are delineated in detail, exploration of
its parts leads to the most recent figure in a long chain
of transference-transformed real objects that, followed over time,
ends with its genesis in an infant-childhood
In Victor C.'s case, this theory permits the prediction that Mrs. K., the
referring consultant, will be the initial source of the first operative
transference to the present consultant and the most recent
transference object in a lengthy transference chain leading backwards in
time. If she did not observe and address Mr. C.'s transferences from the
start of her consultative process, he will be found to have developed a
mental representation of her endowed with the negative properties of an
original caretaker object and those of a succession of subsequent figures
perceived in minimally objective and maximally projective terms.
It can also be predicted that Mr. C.'s self-in-contact will approach the
current consultation with its ego and drives under the influence of the
hypothesized transference from Mrs. K., and in view of the fact that
untroubled people (i.e. those who have had optimal, growth-enhancing,
self-expressive freedom in relationships with their original caretakers) do
not seek psychoanalytic consultation, that ego's mode of relating will not
involve direct expressions of the self's aggression or desires (i.e.
drives). Much of its original capability to engage in straightforward
interactions will have disappeared during development, and it will approach
the current consultant as the negotiating part of a self that is vulnerable
to what it expects to be the assumed "wants",
"not-wants" and dangerous reactions of the other.
In the light of these formulative considerations, then, the present
consultant will not be remiss if he postulates that a technically-significant
transference was unwittingly operative in Mr. C.'s earlier consultation, and
that a transference of the intermediate transference type from
Mrs. K. will prove to be the source of the first one he encounters (an
hypothesis that can be tested by the means that have been earlier
The Telephone Call, Continued
" ... not that I want to keep secrets." is a brief
statement, but when its structure-process is metapsychologically dissected a
great deal of Mr. C.'s internal mental activity can be inferred from it. It
is an example of the familiar negation.
Here, Mr. C.'s self-in-contact continues to operate beyond the scope of
his observing self and in ego-syntonic relationship to it. It is under the
influence of an operative transference-of-defense in which the
fantasied object of the consultant is critical of those who wish to keep
secrets. There is nothing in the material to indicate the nature of the
criticism or the threat that it can be presumed to be posing, but whatever
it is, the self is seeing fit to defend from it and doing so
by particular means.
First it is anticipating that the object is critical
of selves that keep secrets from their partners, is sensitive to possible
signs of such intent, and would try to catch them out if any became
manifest. Then it is preventing that possibility by
interrupting and constricting its description of its problem
and its wish for assistance, and denying that any such
intention was present in the statement that it made a millisecond before.
As this whole sequence of inferable mental process has taken place in the
self without a specific stimulus from the consultant, the expressive
behaviour it has produced qualifies as a "negation". That is, the
self is defending from a fantasied object by counteracting (negating) the
impression that it thinks the object has started to form. It is not simply
clarifying a misimpression that the consultant has expressively
indicated he is or could be forming. The consultant has not,
in any objective way, stirred the process.
It should be noted that this material does not necessarily indicate that
"secrets" are inferable from the self's initial
statement (i.e. "I guess you would recommend meeting separately with
me and my live-in lover."). The stimulus for the denial is open to
the possibility that the self is dealing with a very suspicious,
standard-bearing object, one that finds and judges
"secret-keeping" under every rock, so to speak. However, the most
likely hypothesis is that, in its initial statement, the self was indirectly
expressing a desire, and the transference fantasy in which the consultant
was recommending separate meetings was derived from an internal object that
only grants wishes when expressed by suggestion.
An effort of this sort is usually called a "manipulation".
It implies that the transference-determined "consultant" has a
symptomatic character structure disposing him to be nudgeable to suggestive
input but not by direct request. A behavioural phenomenon of this type goes
hand-in-hand with a transference of this order, and, on observing such a
behaviour, the author postulates the presence of what he calls a manipulation
At this point in this formulative process, the question of where the idea
of "couples therapy" arose should be raised. Was it in Victor C.
or Ms. K.? Is the consultee seeking it, or did the first consultant suggest
it? Has a whole sequence of defense operations been set in motion by a
recommendation from Mrs. K. that was incorporated by an undetected
intermediate operative transference? Or has Victor C. set out to indirectly
shape his further engagement with the present consultant without making his
own aims explicit?
Whatever the answers to these questions may be, the presence of an
internal object located in one of the suprastructures, either the superego
or the ego ideal, has been established. It is making itself
known by the signs of a character transference, and its presence so early in
the consultation illustrates a principle that is generalizable in clinical
work, namely that the character transferences in effect at the start of
consultation are always derived from objects in the suprastructures.
The Telephone Call, Continued
"I sound awful, don't I?" begins to confirm the formulative
hypothesis that a transference of the operative transference-of-defense type
from an object in the superego or ego ideal is at work. It is also
functioning as a resistance in that it is creating a
perception of the consultant that is causing the self-in-contact to behave
in a manner at odds with its own consultative goals. The resistance is of
the transference resistance type, and it is entirely ego-syntonic
to the observing self. The consultee will therefore be unable to observe,
contain, explore and dismantle it without the consultant's informative
In this segment, the self-in-contact can be heard to be monitoring and
anticipating the fantasied object's responses to it's disclosures as it
proceeds, and, before it goes very far, it is indicating that it
"knows" what it is reporting is bad stuff in the extreme (i.e. "awful").
Here, the conception of multiple selves (not a
reference to MPD) in simultaneous operation is useful. One self organization
is listening to the verbal expressions coming from another, as well as to
the consultant as it expects him to be. It is aligning itself with a
transference-determined consultant who is issuing a judgement
based on a held standard, and it is indicating knowledge and
acceptance of the latter's critical reception of the expressing self's
utterances. Because of the protective and social features of the listening
self's action, the author calls it the defense part of the social
[*Note: The latter term has proved to be more
accurately descriptive and less misleading than that of Winnicott's
"False Self". In the author's usage of it, it is one part of the self-in-contact,
the other part being that of the "real self". It (the social
self), in turn, is comprised of both a defense and an adaptive
part. When new objects are engaged by the social self of a self-in-contact
that is suffering from an unwitting operative transference, the material
issued from its defense part is more surface to, and therefore more
technically significant than, what is observable from its adaptive part.
Meanwhile, the real self material (what little if any there may be of
it at first) is expressed in the context of the adaptive part's
behaviours, and it is a further layer down in the total self-in-contact
communications. This is to say that: the "defense part" of the
"social self" of the "self-in-contact" is to the fore
and looking out for the signs of the transference-determined dangers it is
assuming; the adaptive part is one layer down and seeking
indicators that would allow it to give expression to as much of the real
self's drive as would be safe, and the real self is not directly
represented in the presented material.]
In this segment, the defense part of Victor C.'s social self is
anticipatorily assuming an affective response akin to revulsion from the
consultant. There is no material to indicate the details of the self's
fantasy of the object's mental processes (i.e. the content and tone of the
"consultant's" "judging" thoughts and the form they are
expected to take when expressed), but it can be presumed that, as the
expressive self was describing its reason for consultation, the defense part
of the social self's perceptual apparatus experienced the effect of a visual
and/or auditory representation of a critical object that it took to
be the consultant. And in the representation it perceived the details of the
judging behaviour it assumed.
Although the object from which the transference has formed is clearly in
one of the suprastructures, the material provided does not say in which
structure it is to be found. Nor is the nature of the ultimate threat
implied by the self's object-monitoring behaviour known (i.e. the object-behavioural
repercussion that can be presumed to follow the critical
judgement if the latter goes unheeded). However, the ego ideal is suggested
by the type of negative affective response that the self is expecting ("sounds
awful"). Objects in the superego tend towards affects of the
"anger" type, whereas those in the ego ideal show a prevalence of
the "disappointment" kind.
The Formulation Summarized
The material Mr. C. provided in the first moments of his phone call was
formulated as presented, and a running metapsychological formulation of its
symptomatic elements was created in seconds. In developing it, the
consultant followed the principles of observation and hypothesis used by the
"hard" sciences and functioned as an expert informed by tested,
data-close theoretical concepts and principles. Stripped to its essentials,
it emerged as follows.
Character symptoms are being stimulated by the consultation process
that Mr. C. has set in motion. Three character transference elements
are in effect. They are from an object or objects in the suprastructures.
The first two cannot yet be placed in a particular substructure, but the
third is likely located in the ego ideal. They are syntonic to
the ego of the observing self and that of the social self
that is engaging the consultant, and their ego-syntonicity is of a very high
degree. They are operative transferences and they are functioning as resistances.
The transference fantasies of the analyst that are involved are
possibly, but not necessarily, unconscious.
The transferences are causing the defense part of the social
self that is the self-in-contact to closely observe and monitor
the object's responses as well as material from the adaptive part
(and its real self connection) that could escape into expression if
not caught at the point of pre-discharge. The monitoring is in the service
of apprehending and preventing fantasied traumas. The traumas are
ones that involve negative judgements followed by repercussions
from the fantasied consultant, based upon standards he is incorrectly
believed to hold. In response to the third transference element, the
monitoring self is assuming that non-compliance with the involved standard
will invoke an object affective response of the "shocked
revulsion" type and stimulate affects associated with an experience of loss
The affects have been experienced in an earlier situation with an
original object that stirred them. They have been traumatic to the
self that was engaging that object, and the defense part of the social self
developed from the experience.
The potential for expecting a repetition of the original traumatic
experience in the present consultation has been given "real
possibility" status by a default of systematic transference analysis
that characterized the previous consultation.
Nothing is known yet about the specific object or objects and events
responsible for the genesis of the described symptomatic
Material bearing on the type of self drive that is in underlying
effect is minimal, but the M.F. theory of character development would
predict aggressive drive forms layered over libidinal.
The suggested manipulative means by which the self is attempting
to get its wishes met points to an aggressive drive form of the assertive
type that is bound from direct expression by operative defense systems.
Nothing is yet known of the self's interchanges with the referring
object, or of the transferences present during the first consultation, or of
how the idea of couples therapy was started and given momentum. But the intermediate
transference concept suggests that the referring consultant is the most
likely immediate source of the "couples" idea.
The surface elements of the problematic operative transferences
are comprised of ego-syntonic, ego ideal type fantasies
of the consultant that may or may not be unconscious. In them, the
consultant is directed against oppositional and assertive forms of
aggression in the consultee's social self. He is coercing it into
inhibiting direct expressions of "want", blocking
expression of a reasonable right to keep a secret, and forcing it to
accept inappropriate censuring of its reported behaviour. The threat
that he is applying in conjunction with his censuring activity is one that
produces a loss of esteem, and the motive for defense that it
is generating is a painful affect that the criticism is expected to release
upon being taken in.
At its surface, the self has no effective defenses to stop the
fantasied consultant's inappropriate demands, and no effective means
for reversing his inhibiting behaviours. It cannot act to obtain its
reasonable privileges without anticipating dangerous interference that
cannot be repelled. It cannot demand (assert) its rights to direct
expressions of want to "meet separately" and "keep
secrets" (i.e. speak confidentially) if it chooses. Nor can it oppose
the inappropriate object application of a dysfunctional standard-judgement-repercussion
system. It can only: comply outwardly with the other's standards;
use manipulation to get its needs met; apply the anticipate-prevent-by-self-constriction
and denial defenses to retain its rights to privacy; and absorb and
suffer misplaced censurings as it attempts to make its troubles known.
Conclusion And Follow-up
The above illustration demonstrates the extensive amount of detailed
mental structure and process that the M.F. method can reliably extract in
seconds from small segments of spontaneous consultee expression. By its
application to the material provided, it has allowed the consultant to
develop a remarkable first formulation of his consultee's initial operative
transferences and obtain suggested information bearing on the latter's
symptom-generating experience(s) with at least one early, problem, caregiver
As can be seen, the formulation is in a hypothetical form that is
testable. Each of its elements can be used as the basis for a prediction and
further examined by means of the M.I. method. And in this case, as the
theories applied in its development have already been scientifically
validated, the consultant can use it immediately. If he can adapt it to the
situation in which he finds himself (i.e. listening to a prospective, but
not-yet-decided, consultee for the first time and on the phone), he can
begin helping Victor C. to mobilize his observing self's interest in what
can be hypothesized to be the same mental processes responsible for his
depression and lethargy symptoms.
The consultant was able to do so, and after offering two, simple,
purely-analytic (i.e. not deviations from regular technique) interventions,
Mr. C., sounding relieved from seeming certain dangers at the hands of his
new object, set about enthusiastically arranging to meet for consultation.
An elaborated version of the consultant's formulation along with his
interventive input and Mr. C.'s responses will be provided and discussed in
detail in the book to come.
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