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Key Concepts in the Work of Christopher Bollas

This series of four seminars is intended as an introduction to some of the concepts which Bollas has introduced and developed in his writing over the past thirty years.

Expanding on the legacy of Freud, Winnicott and Bion, his work is concerned equally with pathology, with the nature of psychic health and creative living, and with the intricate complexity of human subjectivity.

Each seminar will take the form of an in-depth exploration and discussion of two papers which participants will be asked to read in advance.

1. The Receptive Unconscious and Psychic Genera

Bollas believes that Freud was beginning to develop a model of the receptive unconscious in The Interpretation of Dreams but broke off from this after failing to recognise the transference in his analysis of Dora. Psychoanalysis has since focused mainly on the repressed unconscious, perhaps depriving itself of the source of creativity and subjective living. Bollas returns to dream analysis to develop his thinking on how the receptive unconscious registers psychically valuable experiences and perceptions and works them in with its own non-repressed emotional content and processes.

2. The Human Idiom

Bollas believes that we begin life with a psychic footprint, our human idiom, which is just as individual as our fingerprint. The experiences we have which are congruent with this kernel of the self enable us to reach our potential and find fulfilment. If, however, we are subjected to too many experiences which are dystonic with our idiom and cause us to adapt to their impingement, we lose sense of who we are. This includes those who are “abnormally normal” and neutralise the subjective nature of their personality. Bollas refers to this as “normotic illness”.

“I believe each of us at birth is equipped with a unique idiom of psychic organisation that constitutes the core of our self.” Christopher Bollas, 1992

3. The Evocative Object

As we move around, certain things are more interesting to us than others, depending on our idiom. We collect objects in our homes which contain clusters of conscious and unconscious latent meaning. This is the opposite of materialism. Bollas examines the way in which objects help us to think about different parts of ourselves and give us an inner experience which may be woven into our dreams. Objects play on our somatic senses and psyche, enabling us to experience the aspect of our idiom which they have evoked. This can be a two-way experience and Bollas draws on the way in which artists create objects such as sculpture, symphonies and poems from their subjective experience.

4. Free Association

Bollas believes that free association has been pushed to one side in recent years in favour of the analysis of the transference and this shift has impoverished psychoanalysis. He returns to Freud’s concept of “evenly suspended attention” which allows the analyst to “catch the drift of the patient’s unconscious with his own unconscious”. He considers the way in which transference interpretations may interrupt the flow of the unconscious’s own logic of sequence and may be made for the benefit of the analyst rather than the patient. He reminds us that there is meaning in the seemingly irrelevant and quotidian in the richness of free association when there is an analytic listener.

“It is a very remarkable thing that the unconscious of one human being can react upon another, without passing through the conscious.” Sigmund Freud, 1915

A reading list will be sent out on acceptance of application. There will be a maximum of 10 places.


Course Leader

Susan Hall is a member of the Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy Association of the BPF, working in private practice in Cambridge. She has attended clinical and theory seminars with Sarah Nettleton, Bollas’s editor and the author of The Metapsychology of Christopher Bollas. In 2018, Susanwas selected to attend a conference at Dartington Hall in Devon where Christopher Bollas himself prepared delegates to provide training courses on his metapsychology.

Course Fees

The course fee is £140 and is payable in full on acceptance of your application.

All proceeds from the course will go directly to the East Anglian Psychotherapy Network

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