Matter, Image, Reflection

Franco Castellana
Rome, Italy
Associazione Italiano per lo Studio della Psicologia Analitica

Antonietta Donfrancesco
Rome, Italy
Associazione Italiano per lo Studio della Psicologia Analitica

Jung defined the patient-therapist relationship as a dialectical process. 1 Thus it is possible to think both of the therapist as participating in the individual development of the patient and of their two worlds as being jointly involved in this process, not as if one were superimposed on the other, but as if they were related and contiguous. Because of such contiguity the same anxiety and pain may be observed by both participants in the relationship.

The communication occurring in the shared space that has as its subject the “We” of the patient-therapist relationship is rich in stimuli. It has its own mental and rational order but it also has meanings going beyond that. At first it will be the therapist alone who listens and observes; when both parties listen and observe together (ascolto integrato) several functions of consciousness are activated at the same time and thus involuntary stimuli may be captured. Gradually a setting is constructed where the object of suffering is shared. Its form intact, it is silenced because divorced from feeling. While this is happening, the therapist will form a mental image enriched by his somatosensitive response, and this complex mental image will provide meanings linked to those feelings the patient is unable to express. Because of the nature of feelings, about which I shall say more subsequently, the analyst may have feelings which are not directly his, but which he can recognize as related to the form expressed in the here and now of the relationship and the sharing. Thus on the one hand full capacity to symbolise is activated, springing forth from experiencing the union between body and mind, and on the other a deficiency in the ability to symbolise is revealed. If attention is blocked from going beyond what is immediately perceptible because matter and psyche are kept separate, an object remains bound only to its concreteness and is mute and inactive, only feebly communicative, on the metaphorical level.

The psychological point of view entails seeing “within” and “beyond” form, “within” and beyond” matter, rendering it alive and vital, animated by feeling and emotion being lived in the moment.2

The object in itself, in its materiality and concreteness, is necessary in that it provides an opportunity for the imagination to attune to the intellect. Matter attracts, and through sensation makes possible the existence of a form on which intellect, the principle of order, can act. Form is the rule outlined where matter is present, making possible the connection between thought and fantasy, a fantasy contained by shared rules.3 Thus something at first so subjective as to be inexpressible becomes communicable.

Psychologically speaking, we can conceive of matter as that fundamental part of visible form which can be grasped by the senses. We can imagine it as a sort of container holding the innermost meaning and making sense of it. Following the idea of matter as a container, we can allow ourselves the liberty of extending the idea of matter beyond the physicality of objects, to that type of mental representation of facts, events and even dreams which is exclusively restricted to the perception of form. We can in fact consider as matter and material everything which may stimulate sensations and the consequent perceptive processing. I refer to a concreteness which needs to contain the vitality of feelings if it is to be expressive and communicative. Subjectivity needs form if it is to be shared, but form needs subjectivity to be alive and expressive. Art is the best example of the richness created by the union of form and content, achieving the sharing of a subjective meaning encapsulated in a form which is shaped by means of matter.


A young woman of 28, whom I shall call Maria, rang at the door of my study one afternoon thirteen years ago. During the first session, M told me she had an Arts degree and was working as a secretary. She lived with her parents and had a brother five years her junior with whom she shared a bedroom in her parents’ house.

She felt unable to take any decision, blocked and incapable of facing the anxiety thus caused.

I listened to her account of a childhood which was untroubled, but almost without memories.

There was a particular thing about M’s house: none of the locks had keys and the doors remained constantly open. Thus everyone knew what was going on in everybody else’s room and all the drawers could be opened. All M’s clothes were in the wardrobe in her parents’ room and her father watched her dressing every morning, not without her feeling a certain gratification at his comments.

She told me she felt embarrassed. She was amazed at how alike I was to the supervisor of her degree thesis, who had confessed to a strong physical attraction for her.

M left me with a complex impression. She was undeniably sensitive and intelligent, but I noted that everything had been “recounted” to me, as if she were talking of somebody else, showing a strong tendency to rationalise. She seemed unconsciously to entrust much of what she was communicating to her body. She had entered the study resolutely; when the session was over she stood up and put back on the jacket she had taken off turning away from me, with slow, deliberate gestures, almost as if I were not there and she were looking at herself in a mirror. The only moment I felt to be real came when she told me she was embarrassed by my gaze. When calling attention to deep anxieties connected to a “penetrating” gaze, the allusion was to her body, the object of attraction for her University supervisor, whom the analyst was supposed to resemble.

Essentially, all that M had insistently said, verbally and non verbally, was “look at me”. So that I had to avoid looking, feeling, thinking something else … but what?

In the second session she told me that before coming to me she had had a dream. She had discovered that on the landing outside the front door of the flat where she lived with her parents, was a home all for her – she did not at that time possess a flat of her own. She went in and discovered that all the rooms were empty and she had to furnish them.

A few days later, she dreamt of being on a bicycle. In front of her was a flight of steps. To climb them meant she had to get off the bicycle and carry it up. The ground was covered with shards of broken glass, while she had on light summer shoes and would inevitably cut herself. Her father was watching, leaning against a wall. He said nothing and showed not the slightest sign of helping her.

When I thought about the dream, it occurred to me that perhaps M needed to be carried to be able to move on.

But then wouldn’t it be me who would cut my feet?

My castration anxiety, as a countertransference response to the material M had provided, played a part in delineating the problematic beginning of the analysis. It soon became possible to define M’s personality disorder as a border-line pathology, with great difficulty in symbolising and with a mind-body split as a defence against affectivity perceived as dangerous and destructuring.

During the course of analysis my liking for M grew rapidly. Her “physicality” filled the analytical space. It was a physicality which led the way to genitality and desire. I began to feel something of a voyeur. Troubled, I hazily wondered if I were not acting like her father who looked at her while she dressed in front of the bedroom mirror. Constant attempts to rationalise, with the constant use of “why”, soon rendered ineffectual my every attempt to capture the dynamics in the analysis. That, together with her increasingly present physicality, drew me into a head-game-which made-my-head-spin.

I perceived in myself a strong sense of frustration, active at various levels. Predominantly, a perilous frustration grew from my desire for M which I knew to be induced by the peculiar nature of the relationship with her, but which became stronger and stronger. That stirred a sense of guilt in me and caused countertransference, leaving me with an increasing impression of disorientation when it came to distinguishing between what was mine and what was activated by M.


Experience with a patient who mentalizes only partially brings with it the impression that the dimension of the psyche does not exist for such a patient. In such a case, the practical problems of daily life in all their concreteness are dominant, requiring responses so urgently as to destroy even the therapist’s ability to symbolize. The situation is one of deep distress for the psychologist as well, for in order to keep the dialogue open, he agrees to venture on to the rough ground proposed by the patient. Despite the difficulties of the case, one has to keep open one’s own mental space to allow the possibility of symbolic interaction.

Verbal communication belongs to the realm of the mental, but words also have an aura of emotion which makes them come alive. It is this very importance of meaning which justifies the therapist’s paying attention to his gut reaction and muscle tension. In fact, in borderline situations where symbolization is lacking, body consciousness helps grounding. Breathing and posture, through the involuntary nervous system, suggest an imaginative and symbolic response to the situation. Elements of knowledge are only partially entrusted to audible words and reasoning and immediately comprehensible meaning. The patient often leads the mind along tortuous pathways, where everything and its opposite is true, where the concreteness of what is communicated brooks neither interpretation nor metaphor. Here the analyst may resort to his own body as intelligent and conscious. It is the body as a conscious ego which acts on different levels through its means of perception, empathically opening to the other. Often the person suffering needs to be acknowledged for him or her self, beyond what is being uttered, finally acquiring consistency and substance in the mind of the interlocutor. The distance between two separate worlds cannot satisfy this need; rather, the two worlds need to approach one another, so that the borderline becomes the point of contact and possible comparison between the two. For this to happen the psychologist must on each occasion foergo mental knowledge and follow the information provided by the reactions of his or her own body. This wealth of information often condenses into significant images which help the therapist to be grounded in the meaning of the relationship. The unease aroused by the patient in such cases causes the psychologist to reflect relentlessly on his own actions and attitudes of transference and countertransference, in constant uncertainty.

The situation demands that the psychologist actualises in himself a continuous, unbroken link between body and psyche, such continuity alone allowing consistent contiguity with the patient’s world.


At the beginning of the second year of analysis, something important and new occurred.

As part of my training, I learnt of sandplay. This experience affected me profoundly, and I decided to change setting, and add the sand tray to the usual face-to-face setting.

Sandplay allows an initial visual perception of contents that cannot yet be represented otherwise. Because it involves holding, touching, placing, it “trains” a previously repressed ability to perceive, as well as forming an intermediate field for relationship, of particular importance in a case such as this.

Thus, after the summer break, M found the sand tray. Her reaction was one of curiosity: she got up and arranged a scene. Close to her was a man, carrying a child and walking near to a lamp post. In the far left corner, she put the base of a crystal lampshade, which she called “the crystal pyramid”, and which she placed upside down, almost allowing it to drop from her hand.

The simplicity of the scene in itself conveyed an intense and palpable affectivity, leaving me moved and almost breathless. It was as if for the first time I managed to see and perceive M as a wholeness of psyche and body.

When I asked M to comment on what she had done, she focussed almost entirely on the glass pyramid. She stroked it with her fingers and said “outside it is all angular … it won’t allow the love I have for my father to be felt … it frightens me … like something elusive I cannot grasp.” Then she told me that as a child she sometimes saw a vortex she couldn’t stop from spinning, and that reminded her of the upturned pyramid.

I judge this sand construction, and the introduction of the sand tray in general, to be a highly significant turning point in the analytical relationship with M.

My initial impression of a problem with progressing, proceeding, was confirmed. There was a need to be carried, which sprang to mind when I listened to her dream of the bicycle. Here she showed explicitly that this difference came from a profound inner experience of feeling as if she were falling, not being held firmly, just as her hand had loosened its grasp a few centimetres above the sand tray and had almost dropped the glass pyramid.

Through her contact with the material of sand there emerged a possibility of representing and “seeing” a psychological dimension which “fails to hold,” “drops,” and vertiginously generates a sense of disorientation and confusion. This was in the same way that my interpretations in the dynamics of transference and countertransference seemed to be dropped, not to be held.

M returned to the sand tray two weeks later. She poured on water until all the sand was wet and then uncovered the bottom of the box. Finally she positioned three terracotta figures: a squatting woman, a man bent over in pain and a small child, apart from the two. The impact of this on me is still very strong. With my mind’s eye I saw the child slide towards the sea and drown, without the parents doing anything to save it. I was struck by a strong sense of impotence. That sea seemed to me like an empty belly just as I suddenly had the perception of an emptiness in my own belly.

At the next session, M said to me: “I dreamt of a very small baby, suffering at being outside the womb. You could see he was dying and in the end I put him back inside myself.”

Through what I would define as an initial “visual perceptive awareness” of the sandplay, M managed to have a dream representing the death anxiety she felt at being outside her mother’s womb and her defensive need to return to it.

Three months later, M used the sand again to show a woman lying down asleep, her head on a stone with a Buddha and a crucifix at its sides. The woman was surrounded by a chain which seemed to be protecting her from her surroundings. A Pietà with the dead Christ, the crystal pyramid, was now upright and almost dominated the scene. M commented that she could not manage to feel spontaneity. She felt she was deceiving herself and others: “I feel false, that I am not me, that I am my mother … not real. The real me is as if asleep and I don’t know how to wake up.”

A few sessions later, she retailed a dream in which she was on the ramparts of a castle. She met Luca, her current boyfriend, and they smiled at one another. Immediately after, though, she found herself alone in an arena. A chorus scolded her “Mamma-Madonna”. Piqued, she replied “Mamma-Jesus Christ.”

There was therefore an inner space dominated by the mother, a “fragile but highly destructive” woman who chained her daughter to her womb in a symbiotic relationship which prevented M from being able to symbolize a womb of her own, her own identity as a woman.

Two other sand constructions followed shortly later.

In the first (the fourth of the series), she uncovered part of the bottom of the tray where she put a black ship. At the other side she placed a Russian bell-tower, a well, a fountain, a bundle of wood and a wash tub. In the middle, almost linking the two areas, was a box of fish.

She told me that there was a man in the sailing ship, but she didn’t know whether he was arriving or leaving. Laughing, she added that the bell tower was so “phallic.” She added “I want it all for me, for my own pleasure.”

For my part, I noted that the box of fish seemed to slide towards the sea, just as the baby in the second sand game had seemed to be slipping and falling in.

In the other (the fifth of the series), M placed in the centre a globe of the world, a little Chinese house, special in that it was enclosed in a glass sphere, and the Russian bell tower. On one side of the tray she put an aeroplane, and on the other, a carriage with a horse in front (though the horse was not harnessed and so could not draw the carriage).

M commented, “I feel transparent, a casing, and I am afraid that others will feel my sexuality and my sexual desires, which are there, but which I reject. I think that I let them out in my behaviour in some way, even if I don’ t know how. But perhaps there isn’t anything and I am just empty inside.” Then she went up to the box and twirled the globe round and round with her finger. Her movement made me feel that my head was literally empty and then I noticed I was slightly dizzy.

As with the crystal pyramid of the first sand construction, M twisted and spun dizzily to obscure a dramatic sense of transparency, behind which was the agonizing fantasy of an empty part of herself. An empty, fragile, transparent casing which could not be held and fall, shattering into a thousand pieces. A thousand shards of glass which cut your feet and make it impossible for you to go on. As long as she spun round, M succeeded in protecting herself from her anguish. She turned what was being said, turned heads, turned the analyst’s head. This whirling created a distance between her and others, between her and the void she felt inside herself. As soon as feelings and emotions burst through, the movement slowed down and stopped, the crystal became transparent, then fell and shattered.

M was aware that despite everything, her desire came out through her behaviour and her gestures. She felt transparent and had to turn men’s heads, implementing a strategy conveyed through seductive play based entirely on her own body, so that she could capture the other’s desire, control it and preserve her fragile interiority. As if asleep in the inner space ordered by the mother, it thus survived.

It was so in analysis: stimulating desire and genitality in the analyst, diverting it to her physicality, she succeeded in maintaining the status quo. She wound her way into the empty head of the analyst and ensured all remained as it was.


The therapeutic attitude which sees a borderline as a fertile metaphor takes its inspiration from the two metaphorical “gods,” Hermes and Dionysus, associated with border lines. Although quite different one from another, they show us necessary attitudes which can be complementary. Hermes is never still, he heeds neither difference nor distance, his task is to bring together, to stimulate useful exchange. Dionysus holds together, joins opposites, through him matter and spirit are united. The fact that he is androgynous reminds us of the possibility of holding together the male and the female.4 Metaphorically Dionysus reminds the psyche of the need to be united to the body, because in that wholeness is hidden a strength charged with meaning.5 Hermes, on the other hand, urges a constant search for relation and dialogue with all the aspects of the psyche, without neglecting what is actually there, reminding us all the time of the riches of complexity.

While taking into account the mercurial, mobile aspects of the psyche, I wish however to explore the aspects more closely linked to Dionysus. It is difficult to look at these, because of their very nature they hold together conflicting opposites, in a borderline situation. That is why, in other words, Dionysiac attitudes are “borderline.” Dionysus, as a god of theatre, suggests a view which immediately projects us into the “staging” of the actor who through his art expresses sentiments divorced from his own life and inner experience. The actor ensouls a character, with his powers of expression he creates feelings which arouse emotions and strike chords in his audience. He masterfully makes use of his own feeling function, to express feelings which are not his own.6 His art is to make use of the subjective, expressed by feelings, transforming it into an object, a form which can be moulded. This transformation is an effective use of the extrovert function of feeling, toiling at length to model attitudes and communications which are visible, exploiting the fact that feeling may be separated from what is specifically experienced. The deliberate and conscious representation of expressions and behaviours allow the highly expressive and communicative moment lived by the actor on the stage.

Because feeling possesses the characteristic of being something that can be separated from inner experience, it allows the conscious and deliberate reproduction of what is volatile and elusive, often fleeing awareness of itself. Through our feelings we experience ourselves not only as existing, but as individuals made in a particular way. Thus are our personal characteristics made known to us. With an actor we see the use of something peculiar to the feeling function: the capability of splitting from the root of what is inwardly experienced and therefore from the cause which has generated it. Thanks to this peculiarity, feeling can be reproduced, and a distance established which allows knowledge. This knowledge is precious also because of the closeness which feeling, by virtue of its nature, has to its emotional territory. That territory is an integral part of life lived in its continuity and of complexes, from which it cannot be sundered. The actor’s art makes use of his body and voice to communicate with the feelings and emotions of those watching him. He uses his own body as ductile matter, as form expressing something which otherwise could not be known and transmitted. Art in general uses matter (Lyottard) as a transferential object.7 The laws of matter have to be observed; in its containing it expresses something different from itself, something connected to the soul, something which needs matter to be revealed to consciousness. Matter becomes a visible and tangible language which bears in itself something other that itself.

The therapist can be like the actor and use the feeling function as a means to open to communication with what is other than the self. In his case, though, he activates an introverted feeling function, unlike the more extrovert actor. This introverted feeling is able to render perceptible the images that the compressed or denied feeling of the other transmits through the objects and forms it proposes. The introverted feeling of the psychologist shapes an internal staging, one that is symbolical, that springs from the stimulations of the external objects proposed. With the help of somasensitive sensation linked with feelings, a complex response of mental images is formed, rich in meaning for the relationship. This use of feeling cannot be categorised and is not fixed; it requires from the therapist a profound inner recognition and acceptance of his or her own limits. We can think of a tension in dialogue with what is beyond those limits, be it related to the therapist’s own consciousness or the evident extraneousness of the other’s.

The space opened by the psychological point of view, which comes from holding together body and spirit at the same moment, is also the place where there arises that symbolical dimension which allows the patient to be recognised in his otherness and completeness. The therapist often has to hold within himself, to safeguard, what his own feelings have led him to perceive in the space of the relationship. He also has to hold all of this as he listens to the patient, for that is exactly what the patient is seeking. Those used to defending themselves must be given the opportunity of absorbing knowledge of themselves gradually over time, as they improve and fine-tune their ability to communicate and to symbolize.

With deep, searing suffering consciousness protects itself by using the separation that can be created between feeling and emotions, mind and body. Thus feeling’s negative capability of splitting is activated. Emotions are as if frozen, feelings are coldly manipulated, treated like inanimate objects, silenced. As we have seen, this can occur by means of the natural separation exploited by the actor, but when the psyche has to be protected the process becomes one of pathological denial. Thus the perception of identity and the union of psyche and body are torn apart. When this happens, feeling, separated from its complex components, forces the individual to remain destructively one-sided and shut off, prevented from freely experiencing the basic emotional situations he himself creates in the continuity of his inner experience. Without the vitality and complexity inherent in feeling, the process of symbolizing stalls; communication of the self is rightly perceived as inadequate and inappropriate. Words conveying unease and pain, since they are often divorced from what they are expressing, seem like a familiar façade, required because of a consolidated need for self-defence. They become soulless objects, shared, but with their complex wholeness remaining incomprehensible.


A further development occurred in the transference-countertransference relationship in session when I decided to indulge the sexual fantasy about M which I had until then constantly tried to repress. I resolved to use my active imagination, not, though, in the presence of the patient, using the material she had placed in the sandtray. Thus emerged a tale which I was never to recount to the patient and which I shall now outline.

A little girl is being held by her father. It is dark, and only a small light sheds a feeble glow. Suddenly something twirling round and round bursts upon the scene … the crystal pyramid M placed in the first sand construction.

I encounter this movement of something spinning around itself in the globe of the fifth sand construction. A journey is also involved: a plane landing … there must have been a journey to a foreign country.

The stasis M evidenced several times in session is visible in the third sand construction. The Pietà, the dead Christ, a woman lying down asleep, surrounded by a sort of defence. In the second sand construction, it is the squatting woman, the man doubled up in pain and the baby seeming to slip into the water which come to mind. The sailing ship in the fourth sand construction is the last element. It was to be the setting for a sexual encounter between the protagonist of the story and a sailor – a merging, an incestuous union. During this encounter the sailor realizes how destructive the woman is, as she turns into a voracious shark and he consequently decides to abandon her on a desert island surrounded by a coral reef, so that she cannot hurt anyone.

That is the gist of the story generated by my active imagination.

Applying my active imagination to the sandplay both provided a sounding box and gave me the means of discovering a series of points of reference which had remained buried within the transference/countertransference dynamics of the relationship.

I thus discovered that my fantasies about M were marked by a violence normally alien to me. In the same way, I realized that I could not bring myself to kiss her. Imagining my lips nearing hers dampened all my desire. Attractive though M seemed in session, all my attempts to carry my active imagination further gave me a sense of repulsion. Visualising sex with M was impossible for me. The only image I managed to hold was of us masturbating to act out our mutual attraction. Therefore, an interior (my study) where both masturbate, as brother and sister masturbate at night in the mother’s house/womb.

In this way I was brought to perceive precisely both the incestuous dimension at work in the analytical relationship and to come into contact with a particularly intensive destructiveness of a psychotic nature which I had failed to discern adequately.

Managing to give rein without guilt to my fantasies and being able to place them in a context strictly connected to the analysis relationship changed my approach and created a different climate, enabling M to represent her inner world. My decision to stress “how” rather than “why” helped to create a dimension where perceiving, describing, telling about oneself were enhanced: essentially, the first attempts to “feel oneself.” All this seemed to reassure M, who in her turn was able to live her desires more freely and begin to feel a little less empty inside.

The fact that my active imagination had a marked effect on the analytical relationship seemed to me to be of significance.

M started to tell me about physical discomfort associated with menstruation, and then to suffer from PMS for a long time.

Over the following months M returned to the sand tray on numerous occasions and it was striking to see that her sand constructions not only changed profoundly, but involved many features from the play of my active imagination, which I had never revealed to her. I will present only a few of the most telling episodes here.

In the sixth sand construction M represented what she called “a little island.” On the shore and close to the shore she placed an empty boat with two oars inside and other little boats carrying food, then lots of small characters all busy about the black sailing ship. A carriage pulled by two horses followed a path drawn in white.

The next one (the seventh) was even more striking. M, who knew nothing of my active imagination, formed a tropical island surrounded by a coral reef. I think it is important to emphasize that the baby, who was slipping towards the sea in the fourth sand construction, was in a cradle in this one, next to a man and a woman. In the middle of the sea was a raft carrying several people, and which a brawny man from the island was holding with a rope – almost representing the effort deployed by the partners in analysis in trying to maintain a contact which would otherwise be difficult to “hold.”

In the next (eighth) which could be compared to the fourth, the black sailing boat had turned into a yellow submarine and a woman was trying to board it and make her way home. The path was not easy … spiders, crabs … a bit of everything. Leaning on a box were a gnome and a little girl, a representation of the therapist and patient but also an impressive attempt to dream again the first dream that M had recounted to me years before: the bicycle, the broken glass on the ground and the father leaning on the wall. Here, after the work of “immersion” (the submarine) M seemed to have more resources to continue on her way.

The ninth sand construction was one of the last two at the end of the analysis. Within a Mandela structure, the circular movement of the glass pyramid and the globe of the first and fifth sand trays had become a spiral which was constructed with nearly all the objects M had used in her sequence of sand constructions. The glass pyramid, the man carrying the baby, the lamp stand (which then had bulbs and shed light) and inside the plastic block of fish which M identified as sharks. In the centre were the two lovers, finally making love and not masturbating, moving on from a “partial object” (genitalization, which had predominantly sustained the erotic transference-countertransference) to being able to symbolize a “whole object” and leave the incestuous union.

M’s last (tenth) sand construction was directly linked to the first dream she recounted in analysis. The empty house was now furnished and each piece of furniture was firmly set on a stone. The black vessel had become a fishing smack and a woman who was carrying a jar on her back moved towards the part of the sand tray where M had placed the furniture. In the sea were a piano and a man with his arms crossed, dressed for martial arts. Talking of the piano, M was to speak of the instrument from the film “The Piano,” which sinks in the final scene, taking the main character with it. Forced to chose between life and death, she chooses life. Amongst possible interpretations, the man seemed to be a reference to an analyst prepared to tackle all the problems which had been revealed in the analysis and who could thenceforth be left to manage alone.

Towards the end a new element had emerged: an unknown young man who helped her. In the first dream of the series she was on a beach where a stormy sea threatened to sweep her away. The youth carefully helped her to make her way up the beach. In another dream he assisted her to leave a room and took her outside to “give birth in the sun,” in the end running towards her to embrace her.M had actually purchased a flat and almost finished furnishing it.

Only then did I realize that Theseus’ galley had black sails and that after killing the Minotaur he captured Ariadne and later abandoned her on an island when she was asleep. Dionysus, as Bacchus, rescued her.

In conclusion, within the mythical structure dominating every analysis, my role was transformed once I decided to allow myself to be guided by Dionysus – in other words, by my body’s perceptions. Then I was able to construct that inner scene which allowed me to symbolize M’s request and keep it alive in my mental space until she could make it hers. The analytical space with “Us” as subject therefore allowed the partners in the process to continue along the path of analysis.


Jung speaks of reflection as thought, 8 whereby we halt, call something to mind, form an image and relate to it, coming to terms with what we have seen.

Reflection, therefore, is thought which is intended neither to convince nor to find truth; rather, it discovers connections and inter actions with the inner affinities and resonances of the form attracting it, then continues beyond that, shaping another form. This is an aspect of thought which is in harmony with psychological understanding, and which uses material provided by the images of the psyche. Matter, though, is always the point of departure, with the object attracting attention through its form, triggering resonances, revealing possible connections and meanings.

Casting about in my mind for what I meant by integrated listening and reflection, I remembered a patient’s highly symbolical dream. I shall use it as a trasferential object, alluding to the psychological point of view and the thought form arising from it.

Seven pearls are scattered about, each as big as a fist. They are all identical, with a very beautiful sheen. The dreamer watches in admiration, becoming silently aware that the pearls represent his life. Each pearl may be opened very easily, each holds something important within itself. Each has to do with a different phase of his life and contains a secret relating to the moment. Each pearl may be opened once when its time comes, neither before nor after, otherwise the secret will be unimportant and life will lose its meaning. There is nothing providing a clue. The dreamer is gripped by anxiety, then slowly understands what he has to do. Everything takes place in complete silence.

I should like to reflect on this image and receive what it offers. The atmosphere is created by silence, everything familiar has stopped. The dreamer, attracted by the beauty before him, opens up to admiration. Thanks to this, from knowing nothing at the start of the dream, he comes to understand things of significance. Awareness comes gradually, as if he were a piece of blotting paper on which a drop falls, then gently extends and eventually soaks the whole sheet. At the beginning he has to accept that he knows nothing so that a space is created. This space allows beauty to enter, bringing with it something which holds the attention of the dreamer, attracting him. What he can see provides no further information, but it is the stillness which allows a listening not of the senses, but of fantasy, feeling and emotions. This is the sort of listening which guides beyond the visible surface, and interaction with the object creates a space where a hidden secret is revealed. It is also a pathway indicating that the same listening attitude should be repeated every time the secret “calls”, because it wants to be discovered. The risk, as it were the other side of the coin, is of losing something of value for one’s own life. It is therefore of vital importance to discover not only “what” is to be done (in the dream the pearls have to be opened), but essentially “how” to do it. For example, it is not enough to discover that the pearls must be opened, but the dreamer has to find out how to chose the one containing the secret for that particular moment. The pathos of the proposed image shows us the importance of the kind of attention we are talking about. The difference between “what to do” and “how to do it” and their complementarity are what is crucial.

The therapist is like the dreamer facing the enigma of the pearls. Confronted with each new suffering brought before him, whatever form it may take, he is empty of knowing. From this emptiness emerges a demand for understanding, which attracts to itself the other’s secret, even if it is buried deeply. Such complex listening allows access to an intimacy which is perceived but not lived and is like a magnet for the psyche, imprisoned in silence by the fear of pain.

Reflection, such as we have described it here, is also the completion of the ability to symbolize and therefore indicates that psychological knowledge may come into existence.


  • 1 C.G. Jung, 1935, ed. it., Vol. XVI, Torino, 1981.
  • 2 James Hilman, “Anima”1985, ed. it Milano1989.
  • 3 Jean Francois Lyotard, “Sensu Communis,” in Le Cahier du Collège International 3, 1987 ed., It Parma, 1995.
  • 4 Walter Otto, Dionysos: Myth and Cult, 1965, ed. It. Genova, 1990.
  • 5 Rafael Lopez-Pedraza, Dioniso in esilio, 2000, Bergamo, Moretti e Vitali Editori.
  • 6 Edith Stein, Zum Problem der Einfuhlung’, 1917, ed. it. Roma, 1985.
  • 7 J.F. Lyotard, ibid.
  • 8 C.G. Jung, 1937, ed. It. Vol. VIII Torino 1976.