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Faith, incredulity and trust

In Munich, two years before Freud presented his “Observations on Transference-Love,” Ferenczi wrote a pivotal text on what we shall call “transference trust,” which he named “capacity for transference.” As he continued to prepare the ground for his future analysis, this concept suggested the quality that would give his future work its force and singularity.

On the eve of his second work session with Lou Andreas-Salome, Ferenczi presented “On the Psychology of Conviction,” a lecture later published under the title “Belief, Disbelief and Conviction.” In this paper, Ferenczi investigates the conditions needed to arrive at psychological conviction. Without ever invoking the overly psychologising notion of conscientisation, Ferenczi examines how the analyst’s interventions are received by the patient, in light of the fact that their analytic effect is entirely dependent on the dynamics of the transference. For instance, how can one judge the reality of the patient’s subjective interpretation of events? Would it be enough to trust the emotional nature of his agreement with the analyst’s interpretative hypotheses, knowing that this agreement depends on the patient’s trust in the image he has of the person conducting the analysis? According to Ferenczi, this is where things become problematic; he points out that this essential trust is never pure, and that when it is secretly absent, it must be regained in the momentum of the analysis.

Is the analysand’s agreement with a particular intervention of his analyst the expression of clear and objective reality or of some nebulous subjective reality? What is the difference between transference trust and the excessive enthusiasm and faith often shown by hysterics at the start of an analysis? What must be done to prevent such blind trust from turning into “utmost intellectual resistance,” like the resistance of obsessional neurotics suffering from doubting mania? Agreeing with Freud, Ferenczi describes this mania as “characterised by the inhibition of the power of judgement: belief and disbelief come into play here simultaneously, or immediately after each other, with equal intensity [...]” Ferenczi speaks from experience: he recogtrises that these transference effects in his practice generate intellectual inhibition in him, of a very particular kind, since they affect only his divided relationship with the father of psychoanalysis.

Ferenczi goes on to speak of the difficulty of working with paranoid patients: “The paranoiac [...] does not scrutinize the attempted explanation put before him at all, but sticks to the question, what motive, what interest can the doctor have for making that statement, what purpose is he pursuing thereby [...]” In this state of mind, and given his delusional interpretation, the patient “will not go deeper with the analysis.” But even without “delusions of persecution,” no analysand can avoid moments of subjective unreason when he is gripped by doubt and distrust as to the secret desire of the one who is listening to him without revealing anything about the motives of his action. Ferenczi is definite in his confirmation of this phenomenon: “Moreover, there is hardly an analysis during the course of which the patient does not temporarily, or for a more prolonged period, identify the doctor who takes the father’s place with the devil himself.” The patient might ask himself whether there is a hidden intention behind the well-meaning neutrality of the analyst. Just as a disciple, like Jung, might ask.

It is clear that this representation of the analyst/analysand relation resembles the pupil/teacher relation. This is often the case, particularly when the patient “sees in the doctor alternately his, omniscient deity, whom one must blindly believe in all things, and his equally omnipotent but demoniacally malevolent destroyer, whom one may not believe even in apparently obvious matters.” Aside from shedding light on Ferenczi’s state of mind as his analysis drew near, this short text written in 1913 reveals a particular trait of his analytic research. Given their different temperaments and the different positions they occupy in the history of psychoanalysis, Freud and Ferenczi have divergent views on the clinical manifestations of transference. Oddly enough, this difference is particularly obvious in Ferenczi’s 1913 article about belief, disbelief and conviction, just as it is in another article on a related theme, written the same year.

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