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Affect Regulation, Mentalization, and the Development of SelfReview - Affect Regulation, Mentalization, and the Development of Self
by Peter Fonagy, Gyorgy Gergely, Elliot Jurist, Mary Target
Other Press, 2002
Review by Petar Jevremovic
Jul 27th 2005 (Volume 9, Issue 30)

In this well written, original and highly specialized book authors are arguing for the importance of attachment and mentalization in the developing human consciousness and subjectivity. In other words, four well know analysts and theoreticians are exploring and rethinking the concepts of mentalization and affect regulation. This work could be located within the well-established tradition of interest within psychoanalysis in developmental theory and research found among classical giants like Anna Freud, Melanie Klein, Margaret Mahler, W. R. Bion, Daniel Stern...

At the beginning of this book there are these words: "Numerous paths come together in this book. Drawing from a wide range of sources, we ambitiously aim to address multiple audiences: research psychologists, clinical psychologists, and psychotherapists, but also developmentalists from across other disciplines. From the most general perspective, we wish to highlight the crucial importance of developmental work to psychology and psychopathology. We offer an account of psychotherapy that seeks to integrate our scientific knowledge of psychological development with our experience as clinicians, working with children and adults. We believe that interests of our patients are best served by a constant effort on the part both of individual therapists and of the profession collectively to bring about such integration."

From another perspective, however, this book is not limited only to psychoanalytic or to psychological ideas and concerns. "We apply a philosophy-of-mind approach in order to capture and specify the process by which infants fathom the minds of others and eventually their own minds. The notion that we fathom ourselves through others has its source in German Idealism and has been articulated further by analytic philosophers of mind. The use of philosophy of mind in this way is common in the field of social cognition. What differentiates our approach is the attention we give not just to cognition, but also to affects. In this regard, we rely on attachment theory, which provides empirical support for the notion that an infant's sense of self emerges from the affective quality of relationship with the primary caregiver."

And in reference to the attachment theory: "Indeed, our work does not just borrow from attachment theory, but offers a significant reformulation of it. We shall argue that attachment is not an end in itself: rather, it exists in order to produce a representational system that has evolved, we may presume, to aid human survival... Our main focus through is on the development of representations of psychological states in the minds of infants, children, adolescents and adults. Mentalization -- a concept that is familiar in developmental circles -- is the process by which we realize that having a mind mediates our experience of the world. Mentalization is inartistically linked to the development of the self, to its gradually elaborated inner organization, and to its participation in human society, a network of human relationships with other beings that share this unique function".

Developmental and philosophical studies of representation of intentional action have revealed that the representation of intentional mind states may have a rather complex internal structure. Conscious access to these structures may be at best partial and could be totally absent. It seems important that we can map the process by means of which the understanding of the self as a mental agent grows out of interpersonal experience, particularly primary-object relations. Mentalization involves both a self-reflective and an interpersonal component. In combination, these provide the child with a capacity to distinguish inner from outer reality, interpersonal mental and emotional processes from interpersonal communications. In this book we could find both clinical and empirical evidence in conjunction with developmental observations demonstrating that that the baby's experience of himself as an organism with a mind or a psychological self is not a genetic given. It is a structure that evolves from infancy through childhood, and its development critically depends upon interaction with more mature minds, who are both benign and reflective in turn.

Mentalization is not just a cognitive process, but it developmentally commences with the discovery affects through the primary-object relations. For this reason the authors focus their attention on the concept of affect regulation. Affect regulation, the capacity to modulate affect states, is closely related to mentalization in that it plays a fundamental role in the unfolding of a sense of self.† Affect regulation is a prelude to mentalization, once mentalization has occurred, the nature of affect regulation is transformed. Here we can distinguish between affect regulation as a kind of a adjustment of affect states and a more sophisticated variation, where affects are used to regulate the self. The concept of mentalized affectivity marks a mature capacity for the regulation of affect and denotes the capacity to discover the subjective meanings of one's own affect sates. Mentalized affectivity, we can conclude, lies at the core of the psychotherapeutic enterprise. It represents the experiential understanding of one's feelings in a way that extends beyond intellectual understanding. It is in this realm that we encounter resistances and defenses, not just against specific emotional experiences, but against entire modes of psychological functioning; not just distortions of mental representations standing in the way of therapeutic progress, but also some basic inhibitions and malformations of mental functioning.

I really believe that this book will become a classic. It could be of great use for psychologists, psychoanalysts and psychotherapists. It could also become standard work in a field of the developmental psychopathology.

 

 

© 2005 Petar Jevremovic

 

Petar Jevremovic: Clinical psychologist and practicing psychotherapist, author of two books (Psychoanalysis and Ontology, Lacan and Psychoanalysis), translator of Aristotle and Maximus the Confessor, editor of the Serbian editions of selected works of Heintz Kohut, Jacques Lacan and Melanie Klein, author of various texts that are concerned with psychoanalysis, philosophy, literature and theology. He lives in Belgrade, Yugoslavia.


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