Articles

By Dimitris Kokkalis

 

 

It was the 80s when I first came across the writings of Dr. Sotiris Manolopoulos, when I read, as a trainee, his basic handbook of Child Psychiatry. Since then, S.M’s writings accompany the professional course of lots of colleagues and specialists working with children and adolescents in general.

SM is a teacher, but the kind of teacher that is concurrently a student. This, I believe, is the essence of the educational procedure: to be able to combine the two roles with sincerity. I also see it as the key to working with adolescents, either educationally or psychotherapeutically. Adolescents need to feel that you want to learn something from them; to learn what they consider “new”, “different”, “anti-“ or “unworthy”, while not losing your role as a teacher or psychotherapist. A teacher is one who allows the other to express a genuine self without role confusion, and I think this is achieved when the teacher himself/herself is honest, authentic and within limits.

SM is authentic, and knows this stage or condition of life we call adolescence better than most. In the book in hand he brings together, recaps and renews much of what he has strove to teach us all these decades.

Adolescence is considered as the space of transition, of repetition, of regression, of integration and finally of the creation of a “new”, more coherent, meaningful and “adult-like” self. A great journey in rough seas! A journey without a permanent end, as part of the quests of this period accompanies us throughout our lives.  As if adolescence represented a critical stage of the human course through valleys of temporary stableness (homeostasis) and mountains of transitional crisis.

The chapters of this book could function as autonomous presentations. You could start reading it from any chapter without feeling that you have lost the thread. This may be why there are certain overlaps of meanings and ideas between chapters. Nevertheless, you never get the feeling of downright repetition because the richness of the language emerges through different sequences and connections. In certain chapters the density of the concepts calls for your willingness to study; to comprehend through separation and distinction. In other parts of the book the text flows effortlessly and the concepts succeed one another smoothly.

It certainly is a book that needs you to study it in order to release the satisfaction it embeds; the satisfaction of knowing and understanding, the satisfaction of active participation in the processes of insight and mentalization.

The author glorifies language as the carrier of symbolisms and the agent of psychological growth and integration. His language reflects a knowledge attained through great effort (in one sense of the Greek word for education: “παιδεια“). A language conquered with great care and devotion. Therein lies its ability to offer satisfaction to the reader.

We are talking about a psychoanalytic language: in my opinion, the kind of language that can speak most profoundly about psychological and emotional human development. The question is, therefore: will a systemic therapist find something familiar in this book?

It is especially interesting how often SM uses the words “narration”, “construction”, “co-construction”, “interaction”. A systemic therapist could learn a lot from the way these meanings are integrated into psychoanalytic sentences, compared to how the systemic language uses them, and reflect upon the conceptual affinities and differences of the two languages. On the other hand, SM always brings forth the interactions between adolescents and their parents. Ultimately, the usage of terms may change between languages but the field seems to remain the same. The crucial question is whether these languages ultimately reflect different worldviews.

SM provides psychoanalysts, psychotherapists or any other mental health specialist who works with adolescents with a way to enrich their thoughts and their reflections on the matter.

It is well known that standing before an adolescent with the ambition of being an agent of life-positive-functioning is a challenge—above all a challenge to yourself. SM’s psychoanalytic language inevitably refers to “ourselves”, challenging us to think about our adolescence and its traces in adulthood. So an initial resistance to studying won’t come as a surprise. But if you persevere you won’t be able to remain a detached reader.  You will become a student, and before you know it you will find yourself in the role of an adolescent or an adolescent’s parent! Because, as the author says in his introduction: “In writing about the core issue of adolescence, identity construction, I was writing about myself “.