Emotional Communication

By Dr. Patricia Hugenberger

This year’s annual Cape Cod Conference demonstrated the way modern psychoanalysts use their emotional experiences to make powerful communications in clinical work, the classroom setting, in family life, and with people suffering from dementia.

Jane Snyder, Ph.D., Cert. Psya. opened the conference with a discussion and case examples from the audience of the meaning of emotional communication.  The group gave examples of emotional communication as a common experience of resonating emotionally with another person or group, and a specific analytic technique.  Modern psychoanalysts use their repeated countertransference inductions to make interventions in the here and now of the transference in a particular kind of intervention which is a direct emotional statement, question or command aimed to resolve repetitive communication patterns and resistance to progressive communication.  Dr. Snyder and Ms. Newsome emphasized that these interventions are thoughtful and the analyst uses them only after studying the patient and related inductions.  Faye Newsome, Cert.Psya. on the topic of group, also emphasized the power of the group and the importance of knowing the group, being careful not to attack defenses.  The question of how emotional communications would play out through the week was considered as the week began.

Numerous psychoanalysts from several schools of thought have explored various types and roles of emotional communication (Freud, 1937; Ferenczi, 1955; Balint, 1952, 1968; Richard, 2000; Winnicott, 1949;  Sechahaye, 1951).  Hyman Spotnitz, however, the founder of Modern Psychoanalysis, was the first analyst to develop a range of specific, goal-directed techniques of emotional communication and to explain their rationale within a well-developed theory of technique for the treatment of preoedipal disorders.   (Spotnitz, 1976, 1983, 1989, 2004; Shepherd, 2001; Geltner, 2007).   Analysts using these techniques work in the here and now of the transference-countertransference rather than relying on interpretation, which tends to keep the analyst and patient outside of the emotional experience of the interaction.

The second day of the conference offered case presentations in two parts and demonstrated these points.  Susan Benson, Psya.D. offered three case vignettes and with her supervisor, Mary Shepherd, Psya.D., discussed the recommended emotional communication interventions and Dr. Benson’s resistance to using them.  The discussion illuminated deeper understanding of the case dynamics including what the patient needed from the analyst in each case. Through the discussion, Dr. Benson became more aware of what was interfering with her making these interventions.  This was an excellent illustration of resolving the analyst’s resistance in real time, as blocks were revealed with questions from the supervisor and audience.

In the second half of the day, a panel, moderated by Eugene Goldwater, M.D., Cert. Psya. illustrated the use of emotional communication with patients with dementia.

Marjorie Goodwin, PMHCNS, Psya.D. began with a refrain from a Bette Midler song, Hello, which set the tone:

You know that old trees they just grow stronger
And old rivers grow wider every day
But old people they just grow lonesome
Waiting for someone to say hello in there, hello. 

She then presented a case in a nursing facility in which a simple repeated contact of greeting a deeply regressed non-verbal patient ultimately resulted in an extraordinary emotional interaction with Dr. Goodwin.

Christina Healey, RN, CAS, Cert. Psya., spoke of how she used her aunt’s favorite song, You Are My Sunshine, to soothe and relate to her aunt.  Joyce Smith, MSW, a BGSP student, moved the audience with her story of reconciliation and a second chance with her 91 year old mother.  At the end, an audience member said:  “I did not want to listen to a discussion about dementia.  But I am so glad I came, because I was so moved.”  The audience ultimately shared a variety of personal experiences with family members.

On the third day, Vanessa Cid, M.A., a preschool teacher and a recent graduate of BGSP’s Child and Adolescent Certificate of Advanced Graduate Studies program, delighted the audience with examples of her application of modern psychoanalytic techniques to her classroom work with three-year-olds, helping them to express their feelings, listen to each other and accept each other’s perceptions, without the need to problem solve.  As the discussant, Virginia Elliott, Cert. Psya.. noted, Ms. Cid was able to tolerate very powerful feelings and help very young children learn about themselves and each other with  remarkable results in the classroom.

In the second half, Jane Stoleroff, M.Ed. and Elizabeth Dorsey, Cert. Psya., tackled emotional communication in training at BGSP.  Ms. Stoleroff generously shared her understanding of her own emotional blocks in learning and what has worked and not worked for her.  Ms. Dorsey, and conference participants explored with her ideas of what might help her write her final paper.  The audience also joined in with their own experiences of what helps them to learn, wanting to understand their own blocks.

On the final day of the conference, Lorette Dussault, Psya.D. and her daughter, Jessica Richards, shared their journey of Jessica’s adoption by Dr. Dussault at the age of twelve from foster care and progressing to college, marriage and motherhood.  Working with, through and beyond powerful protective negativity to love and attachment were vividly and dramatically on stage in their stories.  Dr. Dussault’s analytic training, intuitiveness, acceptance, patience, persistence, and her own history all combined to help her give Jessica what she needed emotionally to trust and love.  Jessica’s amazing drive, maturity and intelligence were also on full display.  The power of this presentation carried over into the final wrap-up session led by Lynn Perlman, Ph.D., Cert. Psya.  Participants shared how the week’s experience allowed them to know themselves and their own longings and to feel more connected to others in the group.  Members were also able to address difficulties they had had with each other during the week or historically with people sharing quite remarkable histories.  For many, the conference provided a space where over time, and thanks to the presenters, discussants and the participants, they could experience a certain level of emotional communication and connection.  This conference also demonstrated how BGSP offers training that is applicable not only to clinical work in mental health or private practice settings, but also to work in nursing homes with patients with dementia, preschools and classrooms at all levels, work with children in foster care  and very powerfully in groups and family relationships.