Publication details [#9876]

Seligman, Stephen. 2007. Mentalization and metaphor, acknowledgment and grief: Forms of transformation in the reflective space. Synthèse 17 (3) : 321–344. 24 pp. URL


This paper illustrates the clinical application of current theorizing about mentalization and reflective functioning and shows how it can synergize with established analytic concepts. The paper presents a single case, that of a middle-aged woman patient with a moderate but significant history of trauma and presenting with narcissistic/borderline and masochistic dynamics. Unlike some applications of the new concepts, however, this paper does not focus the case presentation around them but instead shows how a number of processes contribute to the development of mentalization. These include corrective engagement in enacted repetitions of the patient's past mistreatment, the development of a central metaphor that allows for proto-reflection and playing with painful affects, and a mourning process precipitated by the death of a family member to whom she is ambivalently attached. In the course of the presentation, then, a variety of psychoanalytic concepts are applied, such that the paper works as a synthesis of mentalization theory with them. Specifically, transference-countertransference dynamics are tracked, projective identifications and containment processes are described, interactions and interpretations lead to progressive change, and fantasies, conflicts, and internal object relations are observed and analyzed. Such direct and detailed clinical application of the concept also makes it more vivid, lucid, and experience near. (Stephen Seligman)