Category Archives: Intersubjective

>Trauma and the human existence – Intersubjectivity and attunement

>In this book Robert Stolorow examines trauma in relation to the contextuality of human life and the particular experience of trauma. Although he concentrates mainly on ’emotional trauma’ the discussion also focuses on the impact of a traumatic event has on an individual. In particular he speaks of the impact of his wife’s Dede’s death had on him and his son. As Stolorow draws upon the psychoanalytical tradition, he also uses the term analyst and patient which I will substitute for counsellor and client.

Stolorow draws upon the intersubjective work of himself, George Atwood and Donna Orange. He argues that the Cartesian “myth of the isolated mind” (Stolorow and Atwood 1992) describes a subjective world divided into inner and outer regions. In the intersubjective system theory the shift is towards a phenomenological contextualism (Orange, Atwood & Stolorow 1997) and a focus on the intersubjective field (Stolorow 1997). It is a relational system where psychological conflict stems from unintegrated affect states which threaten psychological stability and relational ties. Developmental trauma stems from childhood malatunement from caregivers result in disruption of affect integration. This results in disorganised and unbrearable state in the child due to the loss of affect integration capacity. Defenses develop such as a idealised self which is a purified ideal necessary for self-esteem and maintaining ties to others.Emotional experiencing also narrows to exclude unacceptable feelings.

Therapeutic impact is not only made through analytical interpertations but in the attunement of the counsellor towards the client. Qualities in the counsellor that might be met with transference expectations in the client that his feeling states will be met negatively. The emotional bond between client and counsellor is not a separate entity but is a crucial part of the relational process. The bond has to withstand the extreme affect states that accompany the cycles of re-organisation and destabilisation in the therapeutic relationship.Misattunement by the counsellor can result in retraumatization as trauma is formed in an intersubjective context as the painful emotions cannot find a “relational home ” (p.10)

What I find interesting is that although Stolorow agrees with Krystal (1978) that trauma is the experience of unbearable affect, he emphasizes that the intolerance of affect state does not depend in the scale of the painful feelings evoked. It is the failure of attunement and responsiveness to the affect states that makes them endurable resulting in these states becoming a source for trauma and psychopathology. Additionally, Stolorow  believes this is true for one-off traumatic events and cumulative traumas (Khan, 1963).

With regards to VT, cumulative effect of the traumatic material on the therapist is one of the factors elading to VT. I am not sure yet where this thread is going but I hope to follow it up soon.