Containing states of mind : exploring Bion’s ’container by Bion, Wilfred Ruprecht; Cartwright, Duncan; Bion, Wilfred

By Bion, Wilfred Ruprecht; Cartwright, Duncan; Bion, Wilfred Ruprecht

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Developing Melanie Klein’s (1946) ideas about projective identification, Bion thought that projective identifications, split-off parts of the self that are located in other objects, required containment in another mind if they were to be modified in some way. His thinking introduces a particular dynamic that he based on the prototype of a sexual union denoted by ♀♂ (container-contained). Bion’s container model can be applied in various ways at different levels of abstraction. In the clinical setting it translates into a model whereby the analytic pair (predominantly the analyst) attempt to make unbearable mental states more bearable, in turn, enriching the scope of the experiential field.

This appears to represent a distinguishing feature of Bion’s model of change contributing particular qualities to the dialectical relationship between container and contained. Above all Bion’s emphasis is on the relationship between container and contained as core to understanding all analytic objects of study: The breast [container] and the mouth [contained] are only important in so far as they serve to define the bridge between the two. When the ‘anchors’ usurp the importance which belongs to the qualities which they should be imparting to the bridge growth is impaired.

Ogden’s (1992) and Grotstein’s (2000) ideas about how multiple tracks or levels of generating psychic experience work in a synchronous fashion offer views of psychic development that cannot be understood in a linear fashion. Further, Matte-Blanco’s (1988) courageous attempts at exploring the psyche using mathematical principles draws on ideas that the symmetrical and asymmetrical modes gives rise to emergent properties in the psyche. The principle of self-similarity is also evident in Bion’s (1963) theory, particularly when he considers how the psychic process of disintegration-integration (Ps↔D) often mimics the container-contained where disparate thoughts (disintegration) take on the form of the container and vice versa.

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