James Rose asks: can we be objective about subjectivity?

Mapping Psychic Reality: Triangulation, Communication, and Insight


This book arose out of the convergence in my mind of two strands of thought. The first concerned the abiding problem of a scientific psychology, which is how to be objective about subjectivity. The second arose from my experience as a psychoanalyst in which I had observed repeatedly someone “become a subject” and had participated in the process through which they arrived at this achievement. The confluence of these meant that it was incumbent upon me to respond to those who regard psycho-analysis as impossibly unscientific to the point that it is not worth taking seriously.

There is a paradox in the scientific study of psychology in that the techniques and models we currently have available to study individual experience seem to have the property of losing the very thing they set out to study. The evanescent quality of individual experience constantly seems to elude satisfactory description. It seems to me that each student of psychology is faced with a decision between different traditions of scientific psychological study. Will they concentrate on behaviour which enables operationalization and measurement or on description of experience which seems to reach deeper into the subjectivity of the individual but which seems to defy the possibility of generalization? How they individually respond to this conundrum will come to define how they work as a psychologist and what they find professionally satisfying. This book is an attempt to address this problem.

kak-uteplit-balkonnye-dveri1My response to this question began when I first read Marcia Cavell who proposed that we come to know our own mind through discourse with another mind about something external to both of us. When a small child points to something that has caught their attention and says “there” to us, we see the beginning of this process. Cavell’s proposal, which leads us to the idea of triangulation of psychic reality, to my mind offers a way out of our conundrum because the psychoanalytic technique places this discourse in a setting that remains as constant as possible over a period of time. In itself, triangulation is not a new idea and has been with us since humans first began to draw maps with the assistance of Pythagoras’ theorem.

Its application to mapping psychic reality is technically more problematic. However, if we propose that every time we begin a psychoanalytic process, we are creating a learning system that comprises a discourse between an analysand and a psychoanalyst in a setting that varies as little as possible, we can begin to address this problem. The constancy of the setting provides the basis for being able to observe over a period of time the characteristic patterns of experience that come to be seen as governing an individual’s psychic life. By this means, the individual can objectively experience their experience. The constancy of the setting over time provides the opportunity for the analysand to observe their use of the setting and their use of the relationship that they have with their psychoanalyst. Very few other situations provide the same opportunity because of the requirement of time and constancy.

In thinking about mapping psychic reality, I realized that it was important to approach the issue both from a conceptual basis and from the point of view of the day-to-day experience of the psychoanalyst. Consequently, this book is divided into three parts – one might say inevitably. The first considers triangulation from the conceptual point of view and may seem a long way from the consulting room. But I think the reader will see the prospect and promise of day-to-day application of these ideas. The second considers the use of the ideas of triangulation to propose the idea that the psychoanalytic process creates an iterative learning system capable of observing the analysand’s patterns of experience and behaviour. Further, by looking at the problem of assessing the effectiveness of the learning process, I have included a chapter on the uses of standardized questionnaires in the course of treatment. It will be seen that this involves obtaining information from the patient, someone who knows them well (a significant other) and the treating psychotherapist. This process is repeated over time and by this means a triangulated and objective basis is created to observe the changes a patient makes, or does not make, over a period of time.

The third part of the book is concerned with clinical practice in the consulting room. It seeks to show how very subjective and disturbing experiences can be elucidated over period of time given the constancy of the psychoanalytic setting. These features include symbolization; the characteristic sense of time within which an individual may live; the sense of absence with which an individual may live and the analysis of experience that cannot be readily represented.

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I hope that this book will be of interest to all those who are fascinated by subjectivity be they professionally qualified psychotherapists or not. I myself have been a practicing psychoanalyst for nearly 25 years both with adults and adolescents. With adults, this was in private practice; but with adolescents, it has been in the setting created by a community-based service open to all young people aged between 12-21. This is very different in many ways from the private consulting room but in many ways it essentially remains comparable. It was my own way out of the paradox I described and one with which I have been very satisfied.

Nevertheless, as time has gone on, I have become aware that if the psychoanalytic approach is to gain credence in the broader discipline of psychological science, we may need to think about what we do, using a language to which psychotherapists are not accustomed in thinking about their practice. Some may be horrified by its use because it seems to destroy the very phenomenon they seek to understand. However, as Paul Whittle states in the opening chapter of this book, to make progress in thinking about subjectivity we all need to find a way of embracing those approaches that emphasize the possibility of generalization and those that seek to describe experience. Further, it seems to me that a better understanding of how the setting is characteristically used by any one individual is crucial for understanding why the psychoanalytic process succeeds in capturing the reality of subjective experience. This book is the author’s effort towards that end.

James Rose

James Rose, editor of Mapping Psychic Reality: Triangulation, Communication, and Insight (Karnac Books) and Symbolization: Representation and Communication (Karnac Books)

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