The Silent Past and the Invisible Present : Memory, Trauma, and Representation in Psychotherapy book cover
1st Edition

The Silent Past and the Invisible Present
Memory, Trauma, and Representation in Psychotherapy

ISBN 9780415898591
Published January 20, 2012 by Routledge
256 Pages

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Book Description

Drawing on research in the fields of cognitive and developmental psychology, attachment, trauma, and neuroscience, as well as 20 years in forensic and private practice, Paul Renn deftly illustrates the ways in which this research may be used to inform an integrated empirical/hermeneutic model of clinical practice. He suggests that silent, invisible processes derived from the past maintain non-optimal ways of experiencing and relating in the present, and that a neuroscience understanding of the dynamic nature of memories, and of the way in which the implicit and explicit memory systems operate and interact, is salient to a concomitant understanding of trauma, personality development, and therapeutic action. Specifically, Renn argues that an intersubjective psychodynamic model can use the power of an emotionally meaningful therapeutic relationship to gradually facilitate both relational and neurological changes in patients with trauma histories. Taken as a whole, these themes reflect a paradigmatic shift in psychoanalytic thinking about clinical work and the process of change.

Table of Contents

Memory and Freudian Psychoanalysis. The Two Main Memory Systems: A Neuroscience Perspective. Contemporary Perspectives on Psychological Trauma and Affect Regulation. Memory, Trauma, and Dissociation: The Re-emergence of Trauma-related Childhood Memories. Psychoanalysis and the Internal World: How Different Theories Understand the Concept of Mind. Attachment and Intersubjectivity: Developmental Perspectives on the Internal World. A Contemporary Relational Model: Integrating Attachment, Trauma, and Neuroscience Research. Intersubjectivity, Attachment, and Implicit Memory: The Development of Representational Models. Attachment, Trauma, and Intimate Violence. Brief, Time-limited Psychodynamic Psychotherapy: A Case of Intimate Violence from a Forensic Setting. The Role of Explicit and Implicit Memory in Therapeutic Action.

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Paul Renn is a UKCP accredited psychoanalytic psychotherapist in private practice in London and a lecturer on the Kids Company training course. He trained at the Centre for Attachment-based Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy. He has a background in the National Probation Service in London, developing a particular interest in working with violent men and couples from an attachment theory and research perspective. He has presented papers at international conferences, devised and facilitated workshops on attachment and trauma and violent attachments, and had articles published in professional journals and books in the UK and abroad. He is on the editorial board of Psychoanalytic Inquiry.


"It turns out that Paul Renn not only knows the intellectual sweep of the psychoanalytic world... but he is also a wonderful writer and a seasoned, sensitive clinician...Whether writing about the subjects of memory, trauma, concept of mind, attachment, or developmental processes, Renn first presents relevant research findings, then pertinent psychoanalytic theoretical models from many discourses, and, lastly, graceful clinical examples. Patients and friends frequently ask me for "something to read" that will illuminate for them what contemporary psychoanalysis is all about. I usually suggest something from Mitchell or Beebe and Lachmann. Now with Renn’s The Silent Past and the Invisible Present I have the perfect book to recommend to the sophisticated layperson and professional. It’s an important contribution to psychoanalysis and a knockout!" - Joye Weisel-Barth, International Journal of Psychoanalytic Self Psychology

"In The Silent Past and the Invisible Present, Paul Renn guides the field of psychoanalysis back to the future. Through his elegant presentation of a contemporary perspective on memory, especially the building blocks inherent in implicit memory, Renn makes the silent past speak, the present visible, and, via his clinical applications, our patients' futures brighter. Through his respectful presentation of a current perspective on past psychoanalytic theorizing, he even-handedly illuminates old obscurities, offers an integrated vision of present conceptions, and foreshadows a route to our field's future." - Joseph D. Lichtenberg, co-author of Psychoanalysis and Motivational Systems: A New Look

"Welcome to an exciting new voice in relational psychoanalysis. At once modest and authoritative, Renn integrates attachment theory and research, contemporary neuroscience, and developmental psychopathology into a clear, coherent, and compelling psychoanalytic narrative. With humor and sensitivity, the plight of conduct-disordered males with developmental trauma is poignantly illuminated. Students and experienced practitioners will find themselves reading this compelling volume in one sitting. As they return to their consulting rooms, they will notice that their therapeutic style, and grasp of its scientific underpinnings, will have been irreversibly transformed." - Professor Jeremy Holmes, University of Exeter, and author of Exploring in Security: Towards an Attachment Informed Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy

"This book delivers far more than it promises. In the early chapters, Paul Renn explains and masterfully interweaves attachment research, neuroscience findings, traumatic memory systems, and contemporary relational psychoanalytic thinking into an elegant tapestry. But don't stop reading. The later chapters show him as a wise and compassionate clinician putting all this scholarship to work in the criminal justice system. Those who hope and believe that mental health services pertain to everyone should read this book. Once read, The Silent Past and the Invisible Present belongs on your shelf next to Neil Altman's The Analyst in the Inner City." - Donna M. Orange,  author of The Suffering Stranger: Hermeneutics for Everyday Clinical Practice

"Paul Renn is a magnificently integrative scholar who also appears to be a born clinician. Drawing on a superabundance of theory and research from attachment, neuroscience, infant-parent studies, contemporary psychoanalysis, and traumatology, he gives us a nuanced relational model of treatment evocatively illustrated with examples of his own very human and humane work with patients. His book is a deeply thoughtful, thoroughly researched, and lucid meditation on the question: How does therapy heal? The Silent Past and the Invisible Present is a major contribution that will be of use to seasoned and novice clinicians alike." - David J. Wallin, author of Attachment in Psychotherapy

"In The Silent Past and the Invisible Present Paul Renn... seeks to integrate the disparate languages of psychoanalysis with those of neuroscience, cognitive psychology, attachment theory, trauma studies, and developmental psychology. ... Renn’s book does not provide a unified field theory, or create a single language. However what it does do is present another rich perspective, one that joins the author’s far reaching curiosity and gentle lucidity with his goal of understanding all that’s involved in the process of change in psychotherapy. Here is an author whose interest is both wide and deep. He seeks the connections between things, making links and fashioning understandings that cross psychoanalytic schools and scientific domains. ... the book likely has great value both for graduate students and candidates new to these ideas, as well as for seasoned analysts who have not followed these developments that have come to represent such a large part of the current psychoanalytic conversation, especially around issues of treating trauma." - Bruce Reis, The Psychoanalytic Quarterly, April 2013

"In this book Renn deftly draws together past and present developments in psychoanalysis, attachment theory and neuroscience to explain the crucial role of early relational experiences in human development... The book is clearly written, well researched, scrupulously referenced and illustrated with helpful case studies from the author’s therapeutic practice. Paul Renn has the ability to make complicated material seem straightforward and easy to understand. I thoroughly enjoyed it and heartily recommend it to any practitioner, irrespective of experience, who is interested in working relationally." - Els van Ooijen, Therapy Today, July 2012


"Paul Renn’s The Silent Past and the Invisible Present has already garnered glowing reviews. Rightly so for it is a fascinating and thought-provoking book. Renn takes the reader into the fields of attachment theory, cognitive science, neuroscience, traumatology, and developmental psychology and links key ideas and research findings into a model of relational psychoanalysis . . . The theory is leavened by case examples studded throughout the book, mostly from Renn’s own practice but occasionally from that of other therapists. As is often the case, the clinical material illuminates the theory, making it spring to life on the page. I wanted more such cases . . . I hope that Renn can be persuaded to write a more clinical book as he clearly has the ability to write lucidly and sensitively about individual cases. In that regard he reminds me of Patrick Casement and it is a huge compliment to say that he holds his own in such a comparison. I can certainly recommend the book to clinicians and trainees. And I would add that anyone interested in memory, trauma, attachment and representational models will also find it hugely stimulating. Renn has written a truly valuable book, one that stretches the boundaries of psychoanalysis and takes the reader into developmental psychology, cognitive science and neuroscience. It is also a book steeped in psychoanalytic theory. The casework Renn cites shows how he has sought to put these ideas into practice. It is a very impressive achievement . . . I look forward to reading more from Paul Renn on both the theory and the practice of relational psychodynamic psychotherapy." - John Marzillier, author of The Trauma Therapies

"I have known and been hugely impressed with Paul Renn's writing for some years. In this, his first book, he draws on his lengthy clinical experience and academic knowledge to show how past experiences, especially trauma, can help to explain what is going on in the current life of a patient. The book is rigorously researched, clearly written and brought to life by illustrative case studies from the author's own therapeutic practice. I recommend it wholeheartedly to students, clinicians and related professionals." - Professor Gwyneth Boswell, University of East Anglia, Norwich

"A really thorough exploration of the links between therapeutic practice and both attachment theory and neuroscience, from a clinician prepared to examine their own practice and to take risks in the interests of their clients. This will be a very helpful book for anyone wanting to explore the interface between developmental science and psychoanalytic psychotherapy and who is interested in learning more about their applications in a relationally oriented therapy. Both a solid book, well researched, and a radical challenge to much therapeutic practice". Graham Music, author of Nurturing Natures.

"This is an exciting and well-written book which both overviews and integrates modern perspectives on the subject matter of psychoanalysis. It is not a difficult read. The author gives an in depth description of the latest evolution of theory and practice and does this by drawing together insights from trauma research, attachment and neuroscience. It is relevant to any practitioner wanting to expand and consolidate their understanding of how everyday development can be knocked off path by extremes of trauma and neglect. As someone who works in the field of infant mental health I could find much to interest me here, and this was thinking about both the risks some children are exposed to and the tragic background of those few parents who pass on their own traumatic past to the next generation. Understanding enables thought and prevents becoming judgemental, this book is an important resource for all practitioners who want to be able to think about their clients. Much recommended." - Robin Balbernie, Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist

"I found this book to be an exceptionally well researched, comprehensive synthesis of psychoanalytic, attachment, trauma and relational theory, with illuminating clinical illustrations integrating theory and practice. Most importantly, it is clearly and beautifully written. The author has the ability to convey complex theories in understandable, digestible form, and his unique and personal approach to psychotherapy is both informative and a pleasure to read. I think any clinician or student would benefit from reading this book." - Debbie Zimmerman, The Bowlby Centre

"The title of this book reflects the author’s interest in the role of implicit or procedural memory as the matrix in which infant-caretaker interactions become encoded as the attachment patterns that effect subsequent personality, emotional and cognitive development. Deeply influenced by the work of Bowlby, Main, Stern, Target, and Fonagy, Renn presents a strongly reasoned argument that severe attachment disorders, operating out of consciousness and in the nonverbal sphere of psychic functioning, lead to a wide range of adverse developmental consequences, including a vulnerability to the development of posttraumatic stress disorder, the tendency to use dissociation as a way of coping with traumatic stress, impaired social and interpersonal relatedness, impaired executive functioning, impaired cognitive functioning, impaired capacity for "metallization," and increased risk for the development of chronic medical illnesses, substance abuse, and criminal behavior.

Renn has organized the book into chapters that discuss memory systems, attachment theory and other important clinical and research domains, including trauma studies, relational psychoanalytic theory, cognitive development, and the effects of social learning on neurobiological and neuropsychological systems. As a result, the book will also be of interest to readers seeking an articulate and intelligently written survey of data from many of the scientific disciplines that enrich our understanding of normal and abnormal psychic development. Readers seeking more a more in-depth knowledge of any of these complex and ever-expanding disciplines will need to look elsewhere.

The author is a skilled writer with a flair for clear, direct exposition, an excellent ability to summarize complicated ideas, and an interest in showing how these ideas can be integrated into a working model of the mind and of psychotherapeutic treatment. He builds this model in a logical, thoughtful manner respectful of divergent opinion and realistic about the limits of therapeutic action."- John J. Stine, M.D., Psychodynamic Psychiatry (2015) vol 43 157-160