Double Bind and Paradoxical Communication: A Hazard to Mental Health

Double Bind and Paradoxical Communication: A Hazard to Mental Health

The world of electronic communications exponentially opens the door to some very interesting comments. For example, I recently read a statement that exhorted its readers to focus their attention upon the need to ensure that something had to be “squashed.” “Squashed?” I thought to myself. I don’t hear that word too often in everyday life. It seems like an attitude that opposing elected political figures might develop, or what one nation would attempt to do to its enemy (declare) in a state of war.“Squashed”—crush, suppress, stifle, subdue, forcibly squeeze something into a tiny space. The conclusion of the entreaty was somewhat of a shock: “With warm regards.”

Squash, crush, stifle, subdue—with warm regards?

I thought, “What is this kind of statement?”  Then, I realized, it’s the form of communication known as the double bind. Like a road sign that you’re looking at that says: “Do not read this sign.” You cannot do both what it asks and implies simultaneously. The double bind or paradox gives the illusion of space between the opposites, but the space isn’t really there. The effects of such paradoxical communication can be devastating, especially to those already experiencing disturbed emotions.

Unless the more vulnerable are helped to be able to untangle or unravel themselves from being trapped within the double bind or paradoxical communication to which they are exposed, they will become consumed by doubt, which will in turn reinforce enactments of repetition-compulsion. This, I propose, is the real path, simply stated, to the development of repetition-compulsion states, designation of which has been so elusive for many years.

The only way out of such traps is an inter-subjective approach, which is why models based upon behavioral techniques boast of great promise, but never really work. In fact, the latter techniques only make matters worse, since they add feelings of guilt and shame to the already present sense of anguish about being trapped.

The Chicago Center for Psychoanalysis: A David and Goliath Epic

I made a brief reference to The Chicago Center for Psychoanalysis in a previous discussion. There is a story of the great perseverence demonstrated by CCP that really needs to be told:

The history of the founding and process of growth for The Chicago Center for Psychoanalysis (CCP) is an intriguing and courageous one, with its earlier beginnings traced to a time when the traditional psychoanalytic institutes refused to accept non-M.D. applicants for full clinical training.

CCP was the first free-standing psychoanalytic training institute for psychologists established outside of New York City and Los Angeles. It traces its beginnings to the late 1950s, when a small number of clinical psychologists (all psychotherapists) came together to form a study group for the purpose of deepening their understanding of all aspects of psychoanalysis. This small beginning eventually evolved into what became known as “The Bettelheim Study Group.” This was essentially a clinical case seminar devoted to the psychoanalytic process, and it continued in that format until 1972.

The Study Group set a precedent for the Center, seeking out psychoanalytic educators of eminent national reputations, talent, and accomplishments: teachers such as Thomas French, Heinz Kohut, Michael Serota, Ernest Rappoport, and Edoardo Weiss.

With the emergence of the Division of Psychoanalysis within the American Psychological Association in the late 1970s, several psychologists from Chicago were invited to serve on the Steering Committee of the Division. One of the first orders of business at the Committee’s meeting in New York City was to focus upon the urgency of meeting the organizational and educational needs of psychologists outside of New York City, Los Angeles, and Topeka (at that time, home of the renowned Menninger Clinic).

Those who attended this historic meeting from Chicago were inspired upon their return to do what they could to further the goals of Division 39. Spearheaded by these people, an organizational effort was begun to create a local chapter of Division 39, which came to be known as the Chicago Association for Psychoanalytic Psychology (CAPP). The local chapter of the Division was thus born, dedicated to the development of psychoanalytic education and practice for psychologists.

A variety of programs within the local chapter soon engaged the energies and interests of various clinical psychologists, most of whom became involved in the Center, active as leaders and officers of the local chapter. Early in its existence, CAPP set up a yearly symposium in Chicago that attracted psychoanalytic educators and clinicians from across the country, such as Roy Schafer, Sidney Blatt, Martin Mayman, Rudolf Ekstein, Bruno Bettelheim, Hedda Bolgar and Sydney Smith for all-day workshops and symposia. These events brought out full-capacity, excited audiences and succeeded in sparking the interest of the mental health community in and around Chicago. Attendees included graduate students, social workers, psychiatrists and many clinical psychologists, both from the academic as well as the private practice communities.

In 1982, it became apparent that a more structured and sophisticated model of training was a necessity if clinical psychologists in Chicago were going to join the broader psychoanalytic community of psychologists, since it already had developed, with a reputation of considerable prestige, in New York City where the majority of Division 39 members were concentrated.

With the advice, consultation and guidance of noted psychologist-psychoanalysts from the Los Angeles Center for Psychoanalytic Studies, the Postdoctoral Program in Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis (New York), The Derner Institute at Adelphi University and the Columbia University Center for Psychoanalytic Training and Research, a committee of CAPP members convened, taking the first steps in setting up a psychoanalytic institute which was eventually to be known as The Chicago Center for Psychoanalytic Psychology (CCPP).

The initial step was the establishment of a small study group consisting of a carefully selected group of CAPP members who met in a series of seminars presented as an introduction to classical readings in psychoanalysis. This was followed in 1983 and 1984 by a series of intensive weekend seminars held for this study group. In 1990 the name of the Center was changed to The Chicago Center for Psychoanalysis, a title more representative of the Center’s function.

The CCP faculty has included nationally and internationally renowned psychoanalytic authors and educators. It is arguable that no other analytic training center or institute in the country has ever had a teaching faculty as esteemed as that of the small CCP program. The faculty members have been the leaders of the classical, post-classical and leading-edge, contemporary relational models of psychoanalysis. It is only fair to pay homage to these distinguished faculty members from across America, who came to offer their wisdom to help transform a small group of psychologist “renegades” into what is now one of the most intellectually intense, free-standing psychoanalytic training programs in the United States.

CCP Faculty Members: 1984-2004

Elizabeth Auchincloss, MD

Virginia Barry, MD

Alan Bass, PhD

Jessica Benjamin, PhD

Harris Berenbaum, PhD

Mark Berger, MD

Bruno Bettelheim, PhD

Dale Boesky, MD

Hedda Bolgar, PhD

Christopher Bollas, PhD

Jennifer Bonovitz, PhD

Maurice Burke, PhD

Fred Busch, PhD

Bertram Cohler, PhD

Jody Davies, PhD

Muriel Dimen, PhD

Darlene Ehrenberg, PhD

Gerald Fogel, MD

Rita Frankiel, PhD

Lucy Freund, PhD

Lawrence Freidman, MD

Paula Fuqua, MD

Glen Gabbard, MD

Lester Gable, MD

Robert Galatzer-Levy, MD

Benjamin Garber, MD

John Gedo, MD

Mark Gehrie, PhD

Merton Gill, MD

Peter Giovacchini, MD

Lorraine Goldberg, PhD

Jay Greenberg, PhD

William Greenstadt, PhD

Meyer Gunther, MD

Irwin Hirsch, PhD

Irwin Z. Hoffman, PhD

Michael Hoit, MD

Marvin Hyman, PhD

Lawrence Joseph, PhD

Donald Kaplan, PhD

Louise Kaplan, PhD

Jerome Kavka, MD

Oliver J.B. Kerner, PhD

Nathan Kravis, MD

Frank Lachmann, PhD

Eli Lane, MD

Ernest Lawrence, PhD

Jonathan Lear, PhD

Robert Leider, MD

Norman Litowitz, MD

Nell Logan, PhD

J. Gordon Maguire, MD

Martin Mayman, PhD

Joyce McDougall, EdD

Stephen Mitchell, PhD

George Moraitis, MD

Dale Moyer, PhD

Kenneth Newman, MD

Donna Orange, PsyD

Edward Owen, MD

Michael Parsons

Fred Pine, PhD

Warren Poland, MD

Joanne Powers, PhD

Ellie Ragland, PhD

Leo Rangell, MD

Moss Rawn, PhD

Owen Renik, MD

Barbara Rocah, MD

Bernard Rubin, MD

Roy Schafer, PhD

Howard Shevrin, PhD

Norma Simon, EdD

Vivian Skolnick, PhD

Ignes Sodre

Donnel Stern, PhD

Nathan Stockhammer, PhD

Harvey Strauss, MD

Frank Summers, PhD

Johanna Tabin, PhD

Richard Telingator, MD

Arnold Tobin, MD

Marian Tolpin, MD

Phyllis Tyson, PhD

Judith Vida, PhD

Jerome Winer, MD

Elisabeth Young-Bruehl, PhD

The French Quarter: A Reminiscence

Historic Apartment Rows in the French Quarter

The French Quarter

Very late last night, actually in the wee hours of the morning, I found myself repetetively searching for an image of a tiny, tiny house.  Finally, a sudden thought of New Orleans’ French Quarter emerged (along with a curiosity about how or why that had occurred).  Searching through my memories of last week, I began to realize the context within which this seemingly uncanny recollection had come into view.

Participating in a free-flowing discussion with a small group of adolescents, at a certain point our conversation shifted to issues related to achieving a stronger sense of one’s own particular vocational wishes, opportunities or potential choices.  These interactions included considerations about the differing, unique paths or journeys that individuals might take during that process.  In my own mind, I was thinking (associated with the element of freedom that we have, despite the constraints of “given realities”) that any choice that we make inevitably is accompanied by a sense of sacrifice and loss regarding the paths not taken.  That sense of sacrifice is amplified by an acknowledgment that those paths not taken are extensively unspecified and indeterminant.

One of the adolescents, knowing that I had originally come from a deeply antebellum part of the South, asked me whether I was happy that I stayed in Chicago after completing my training as a clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst.  I responded that I was extremely pleased that I had stayed.

But, if you could go back and make that decision again,” I was asked, “where else would you have most greatly enjoyed living and doing your clinical work?”  Emphasizing that this was, of course, within the realm of wishful thinking (as emotions about Thomas Wolfe’s “Look Homeward, Angel” surfaced in the background), I said that I probably would have chosen to settle into the French Quarter, describing some of the many imagined enjoyable experiences of living quietly in a tiny courtyard apartment there. They all laughed in a cordial way and observed, “But you have so many things, even here in your office, it’s so cluttered, though in a warm and pleasant kind of way!”  “And you can just imagine what it’s like at home—clutter, clutter everywhere,” I answered, “but it manages to provide an atmosphere in which I actually can work in very creative ways.”

For me, the most important point to be taken from the overall commentary presented here is how the initial lack of any conscious sense of understanding about how or why my focus upon finding a satisfying image of a “tiny, tiny house” shifted to a thought of The French Quarter.  And, of course, the reference to a “tiny” courtyard apartment in The French Quarter during the reported group conversation of last week enabled me to unravel some of the previous ambiguity about the how the seemingly unassociated flow of ideas did contain a meaningful connection.

Perhaps all of this might strike some readers as an overly-long account of a seemingly minor event, but from a different perspective it might be understood as one particular example of the many, diverse ways that we all create in our attempts to organize the “clutter” with which we are continually confronted during the experiences of our everyday lives.

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