HE.S.T.A.F.T.A. - Scientific Society of Mental Health Professionals

BOOK PRESENTATION: MARY JOAN-GERSON THE EMBEDDED SELF

    A Greek translation of this book is to be published shortly.

    Dr Mary Joan Gerson is Adjunct Clinical Professor, Consultant in Psychoanalysis and Director of the Advanced Specialization in Couple and Family Therapy at the New York University Postdoctoral Program in Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis.

    As she explains in her prologue, this book was written in order to help psychoanalysts who have an urge to work with couples and families, by familiarizing them with the systemic approach to couples and family therapy. This is consistent with Dr Gerson’s own evolution in psychotherapy, as after she became a psychoanalyst with specialization in Interpersonal Analysis she worked for two years with Salvador Minuchin at his Family Studies Institute in New York.

    Giving an idea of how her personal evolution influenced her professional life, she writes:

    “…(as a child) I found myself seeing things from  all  perspectives.”

    “A very late-born child, I had the vision of someone who does not fall neatly into place… Aspects of my family life convinced me of the impact of external circumstances (or context…). I grew up in ... the Lower East Side of Manhattan, a neighborhood in which every five blocks was staked out by a different European immigrant group… it (was) impossible for me to ignore the different cultures around me”…

    … “However, as compelling as psychoanalytic theory was for me, I retained an interest in working with and within natural systems… No matter how subjectively focused I became or how interested I was in symbolic process and interiority, I think I always maintained the wide-angle perspective along with a zoom lens psychoanalytic focus.”

    This book is the second edition, published in the U.S.A. in 2010. I discovered it as I was searching for literature on the integration and/or comparison between the systemic approach in psychotherapy and psychoanalysis. I was driven by my personal concern about the possibility of combining these two approaches into clinical practice and also from a need for further clarification of each domain. I was instantly fascinated by the sense of cooperativeness and synthesis that this book exudes as well as by the balanced and realistic way of presenting the two approaches. The writer traces back the fundamental aspects of the two perspectives, focusing more on those of the systemic approach in couples and family therapy, while simultaneously presenting the latest progress in its psychotherapeutic field. Through a multiplicity of clinical presentations she states, compares and/or integrates therapeutic stances, attitudes and opinions. She always has in mind that she is primarily referring to psychoanalysts and wants to sensitize and motivate them for a further “immersion” into the systemic approach.

    She also elucidates aspects of contemporary Western cultural context such as the evolution of the concept of “self” in this particular context, designating as a central concept —as the title of the book suggests— the embeddedness between “self” and “context”. According to Mary Joan Gerson, we can only conceive of the  self  as embedded to  relations  and relations only as embedded to  context.  I think that this is the novelty that she suggests when looking in the direction of classic psychoanalysis. These are not new concepts for psychoanalysts, but what is new is the way in which systemic approach defines and employs them. On the other hand, M. J. Gerson suggests that a systemic therapist might very well profit from a personal psychoanalysis. In systemic couples and family therapy, transference and countertransference may be performing in a ‘backstage’ mode because the focus is on what is happening now among the family members, but it would be very helpful for the therapist to keep in the back of his/her mind the individual dynamics as well as the processes of transference and countertransference. She writes:

    “...being efficient and parsimonious can cover a multitude of unconscious therapeutic actions that are potentially all the more colonizing because they exist out of awareness.”

    Despite any reservations or objections a reader may have, I believe that it is a book that makes you think and reconsider, shaking you out of the complacency of either fully accepting or fully rejecting any particular approach.

    At the end of the day, this is what helps you form a personal therapeutic language and hence your own attitude and perspective. Then again, this cannot be something inflexible and eternal because  change  is embedded in the process of living.

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