Biographical truths and their clinical consequences: understanding 'embodied memories' in a third psychoanalysis with a traumatized patient recovered from severe poliomyelitis

Marianne Leuzinger-Bohleber
International Journal of Psycho-analysis 2008, 89 (6): 1165-87
The relationship between 'narrative' and 'historical-biographical truth' in psychoanalytic treatment has become the subject of many controversial debates in recent years. Findings of contemporary memory research have lead to great scepticism as to whether therapists are able objectively and reliably to reconstruct biographical events on the basis of their observations in the therapeutic situation. Some authors even claim that psychoanalysts should concentrate exclusively on observing the here and now of the patient's behaviour within the transference relationship to the analyst. In this paper it will be discussed whether the baby has been thrown out with the bathwater in this debate. Centred around the insights from a third psychoanalysis with a patient who suffered from a severe case of childhood polio, the hypothesis will be discussed that working through the traumatic experience in the transference with the analyst, as well as the reconstruction of the biographical-historical reality of the trauma suffered, prove to be indispensable for a lasting structural change. Integration of the trauma into one's own personal history and identity is and remains one of the main aims of a psychoanalytic treatment with severely traumatized patients. The reconstruction of the original trauma is indispensable in helping the patient to understand the 'language of the body' and to connect it with visualizations, images and verbalizations. The irreversable wounds and vulnerability of his body as the 'signs of his specific traumatic history' have to be recognized, emotionally accepted and understood in order to live with them and not deny them any longer. Another important aspect in psychoanalysis is to develop the capability to mentalize, in other words, to understand the intentions of central (primary) objects related to the trauma. The concept of 'embodied memory' might be helpful in understanding precisely in what way 'early trauma is remembered by the body'. Observing in detail the sensory-motor coordinations in the analytic relationship enables one to decode the inappropriate intensity of affects and fantasies which match the original traumatic interaction and are revealed as inappropriate reactions in the present, new relationship to the analyst.

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