Death and Fallibility in the Psychoanalytic Encounter : Mortal Gifts book cover
1st Edition

Death and Fallibility in the Psychoanalytic Encounter
Mortal Gifts

ISBN 9781138928695
Published May 10, 2017 by Routledge
134 Pages

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Book Description

Death and Fallibility in the Psychoanalytic Encounter considers psychoanalysis from a fresh perspective: the therapist’s mortality—in at least two senses of the word. That the therapist can die, and is also fallible, can be seen as necessary or even defining components of the therapeutic process.  At every moment, the analyst's vulnerability and human limitations underlie the work, something rarely openly acknowledged.

Freud’s central insights continue to guide the range of all talking therapies, but they do so somewhat in the manner of a smudged ancestral map. That blur, or degree of confusion, invites new ways of reading. Ellen Pinsky reexamines fundamental principles underlying by-now-dusty terms such as "neutrality," "abstinence," "working through," and the peculiar expression "termination." Pinsky reconsiders—in some measure, hopes to restore—the most essential, humane, and useful components of the original psychoanalytic perspective, guided by the most productive threads in the discipline's still-evolving theory. Freud's most important contribution was arguably to discover (or invent) the psychoanalytic situation itself. This book reflects on central questions pertaining to that extraordinary discovery: What is the psychoanalytic situation? How does it work (and fail to work)? Why does it work? 

This book aims to articulate what is fundamental and what we can't do without—the psychoanalytic essence—while neither idealizing Freud nor devaluing his achievement. Historically, Freud has been misread, distorted, maligned or, at times, even dismissed. Pinsky reappraises his significance with respect to psychoanalytic writers who have extended, and amended, his thinking. Of particular interest are those psychoanalytic thinkers who, like Freud, are not only original thinkers but also great writers—including D. W. Winnicott and Hans Loewald. 

Covering a broad range of psychoanalytic paradigms, Death and Fallibility in the Psychoanalytic Encounter will bring a fresh understanding of the nature, benefits and pitfalls of psychoanalysis. It will appeal to psychoanalysts and psychoanalytic psychotherapists and provide superb background and inspiration for anyone working across the entire range of talking therapies.

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Ellen Pinsky's articles and reviews have appeared in The Psychoanalytic Quarterly, Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, American Imago, Salmagundi, and The Threepenny Review. She is on the faculty of the Boston Psychoanalytic Society and Institute, where she was awarded the Deutsch Prize for writing.


"Mortal Gifts is a necessary book—necessary for analysts and necessary for the analyses they conduct. In it Ellen Pinsky addresses a long-neglected issue in the practice of psychoanalysis: the analyst’s failure to include in the very fiber of the analysis the fact of his or her mortality. This omission is not a minor matter. It arises from deep-seated fears in the analyst that prevent him or her from being fully present in the analysis—facing one’s mortality is an integral part of being emotionally present. The book is intelligent, honest, beautifully written, and emotionally moving. What it has to teach is an essential part of the process of becoming an analyst."-Thomas Ogden, author of Reclaiming Unlived Life and This Art of Psychoanalysis.

"Pinsky’s eloquent, absorbing and provocative book challenges our comfortable assumptions about what the analyst means to the patient. She corners that elusive experience by scrutinizing – sometimes quite severely – certain limiting situations, such as intermittency of sessions, boundary violations, and the analyst’s death in treatment. Pinsky’s rich literary references further enlarge our sense of what’s at stake, and the awful responsibility of the transference as it touches on issues of life and loss and the nature of human reality. Her bold and unsettling inquiry goes to the heart of psychoanalysis."-Lawrence Friedman, M.D., Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, Weill Cornell Medical School.

"In an arresting prose style, Ellen Pinsky provides evocative reconsiderations on the fundamental principles of psychoanalysis. She draws our attention to the analyst’s vulnerability and its effect on the psychoanalytic process. Her perspective is both humane and respectful as she poses ethical dilemmas inherent in psychoanalysis due to the analyst’s mortality and human limitations. Reading these linked essays will lead clinicians to a deeper and renewed appreciation of the role of the analyst and the nature of psychoanalytic situation."-Judy Kantrowitz, training and supervising analyst, Boston Psychoanalytic Society and Institute and author of The Patient's Impact on the Analyst: Writing about Patients: responsibilities, risks, and ramifications and Myths of Termination: what patients can teach analyst about endings. 

"In these accessible, poignantly evocative, and stunningly incisive essays, Ellen Pinsky explores the mortal gifts of love and death as they shape each clinical psychoanalytic engagement. She shows technique to be the face of what is most human in humanism, the psychoanalytic situation as a structured invitation that awakens the mobility of desires of falling in love and falling in hate, exposing the immense ethical burden of analyzing. Pulling the reader into a conversation with the analytic masters, this work is an admirable complement to Freud’s classical papers on psychoanalytic technique."-Warren S. Poland, M.D., author of Melting the Darkness. 

"Ellen Pinsky’s gorgeously written Mortal Gifts creates wonder and despair. Pinsky describes the fundamental humanness of psychoanalysis through incisive, wide-ranging, and playful literary and theoretical portrayals, always remembering the extraordinary self-knowledge, internal freedom, and sense of being that, perhaps, only analysis can provide. Yet she troubles the reader, asking whether together with this promise there has been, since Freud, something foundationally unethical in the psychoanalytic attitude. Along with human fallibility and mortality, have lack of empathy and the analyst’s narcissism historically pervaded analytic work?"-Nancy J. Chodorow, author, The Reproduction of Mothering, The Power of Feelings, and other writings. 

"Inspiring. Ellen Pinsky’s essays remind me of why I am interested in psychoanalysis. Loss is the perennial theme, but Pinsky’s writing, with its unusually evocative clarity, has something remarkable to add: that there might be something enlivening or intriguing about the inevitable losses in a life is much more than a new note."-Adam Phillips