Panel: Jungian Dream Theory, Self-Regulation and Contemporary Psychoanalysis

Massimo Giannoni
Roma, Italy
Centro Italiano di Psicologia Analitica

Introductory Remarks

First of all in this paper I will propose some considerations about cultural changes that have occurred in the last century. Then I will outline some developments of “contemporary psychoanalysis” and the opportunity for dialogue between the Jungian school and current psychoanalytical research. In fact, the spirit of our time encourages traditional Jungian openness because Freudian psychoanalysis underwent such substantial changes that points of intersection between the two schools are easier and more natural than before. That is why we were stimulated to create a specific Jungian study group, Dialoghi di Psicologia Analitica.

The Crisis of Modernity – Freud and Jung

At the beginning of the twentieth century many artists, intellectuals, and philosophers began to become aware of the first signs of the cultural and scientific crisis in which we still live today. They began to contemplate and to debate what has been named “the crisis of modernity”. They criticised faith in logical-instrumental reason, which had previously given birth to the age of science and technology and had torn the sacred from the world, which, as a result, had become an “iron cage”, according to the celebrated definition given by Max Weber. Reason, Science and Technology had condemned “human beings to live in a world without God and prophets”. (Weber, 1919, p. 38) Accompanying the prevailing sense of decadence, a crisis of traditional religions and the refusal of positivist reason generated a need for new ideas that could somehow limit the supremacy of quantification and restore meaning to the world. In this climate, the French philosopher Bergson posits lived time as a value opposed to quantifiable time. The German philosopher Husserl wrote The Crisis of European Science as an appeal for the rediscovery of direct experience of real things – real things, that is, as opposed to scientific concepts. In this book, Husserl exhorts the reader to rediscover an authentic experience of the world, a direct access to the lebenswelt (the world of life). He suggests that this world is something altogether different from the ordered world of theoretical mathematics and modern science as founded by Galileo. In early twentieth century literature, an overwhelming interest in the interior world replaces the romantic spirit and its exhortation of nature as a source of supreme truth. Literature embarks on an exploration of the inner world and begins to perceive the non-unity, the non-singularity, but fundamental multiplicity of the self. Art does not try to capture human emotion as it is, but becomes a truly creative impulse, as well as an exploration of subjectivity and even dissolution of the self. Art becomes an exploration of the ambiguity of being. As an example it is possible to see [on the slide] two paintings about the same theme and the difference between the modern style and post-modern one. Francis Bacon so much admired Velasquez’s painting (Pope Innocenzo X) that he wanted to paint the same subject, but he was a post-modern painter and this is the result.

At the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth, Psychoanalysis is born and begins to develop. But Freud is not among the intellectual avant-garde of his time; he still belongs to modernity. He firmly believes that science is capable of capturing absolute truths, and he is convinced that the discoveries of psychoanalytical science can both cure neurosis and improve society. As a man belonging to “modernity”, he believes in the integrity and authority of knowledge: those colleagues who disagree with his scientific truth (Adler, Jung, Ferenczi) are brutally expelled.

Jung represents something quite different. He no longer believes in modernity and is already among those who criticise it. He maintains that scientific truth may well be multiple and conditioned by historical circumstances (Jung, 1921). He lucidly observes the hyper-rationalistic illness of his era. Besides, he grasps the various religious crises and the malaise that the absence of meaning has created in modern man. Jung establishes a psychological science, but he does not limit himself to being a scientist, in fact, he even speaks as a wise man to afflicted humanity. As a therapist who tries to treat the illness of modern society Jung gives precepts which seem to go in the direction of an “enchantment” of our world as it had been in the past so that symbols and meanings are reanimated. It will be the symbol and the unconscious, says Jung, that will restore meaning to the reality in which we live. Jung was a harsh critic of modernity and perhaps it is for this reason (and for the therapy that he suggested) that he was misunderstood and opposed so stridently.

Psychoanalysis and Analytical Psychology Today

Many years have passed since the foundation of Freudian psychoanalysis and the first breaches that gave birth to alternative schools of psychoanalysis (Jung, Adler). Today, Freudian psychoanalysis is no longer the homogenous corpus it once was. Indeed, there are now so many different psychoanalytical persuasions that the layperson may be surprised, perhaps even disconcerted, in the face of such diversity. There have been numerous creative psychoanalysts who have radically reformulated theoretical principles while remaining within the psychoanalytical movement. The most notable examples of this process in England have been provided by those authors grouped under the name “object-relational psychoanalysis”. In The United States there has been Ego psychology founded by Hartmann; the hermeneutic revisionism of Merton Gill and Roy Shafer; and the interpersonal contribution of Sullivan filtered by psychoanalysts such as Clara Thompson, Frieda Fromm-Reichman and Erich Fromm. Recently, there has been Heinz Kohut’s Self Psychology and Stephen Mitchell’s Relational Psychoanalysis.

All these psychoanalytical persuasions have continued to co-exist without any of them achieving its supremacy over the others. By now there are so many psychoanalytical truths that Freud would have viewed such phenomena as an unforgivable confusion and a lack of scientific rigour and authority.

All this multiplicity is possible today because the current cultural climate is considerably different from that in which Freud was born. Modernity, by now, has become aware of its crises to the extent that some philosophers (Lyotard, 1979) now speak of a post-modernism. The epoch in which we live replaces universal necessity with possibility, singular and absolute truth with multiple truths; in our time we are taught by hermeneutic philosophy (Gadamer, 1960) that every kind of knowledge is based on subjective premises (or “bias” as Gadamer would say). Even the natural sciences, the opus magnum of modernity, has exhausted its own absolute certainties and has been thrown off balance by the epistemological reflections of Kuhn, Lakatos, and Feyerabend. The spectre of relativism has conquered the city of science and has provoked a heated debate which has not been settled even today. In short, theoretical multiplicity in the area of psychoanalysis is not the only case of “scientific illness”. The same “illness” has spread through every sphere of knowledge. Psychoanalytical multiplicity is nothing more than the result of the zeitgeist (spirit of the time).

Coming to us: what about Jungians? What has happened to the Jungian movement? How does it relate to what is happening in Freudian psychoanalysis?

Firstly, being a critic of modernity and already having certain fal sifiable and relativistic concepts regarding scientific truth, Jung never imagined a unified, compact school. Therefore the Jungian movement has developed along different lines, so much so that when Samuels (1985) attempted to organise Jungian authors into defined groups he encountered some difficulties. The Jungian movement is as multiple today as it was from the very beginning.

The crisis of modernity did not overwhelm the Jungian movement, since this crisis had already been dealt with in the thoughts of its founder.

Nonetheless, Jungian movement in this situation can participate in the psychoanalytical debate from which it had previously been excluded. Precisely because he was aware of the limits and the fallibility of theory, Jung is master and mentor to all of us when we come to consider how this debate should begin and how it should proceed. Jungian thought, from this point of view, searches for terms that are common to contemporary psychoanalytical thought, seeking to underline theoretical similarities in order to find that psychological truth which no single theory possesses. In addition, contemporary psychoanalytical thought is no longer founded on themes that in the past had been the cause of irreconcilable differences: for example, sex drive and reductivism. For this reason the dialogue that was not possible in the past is possible now.

Another field in which comparison and dialogue can be fruitful is that of empirical research (infant research, cognitive psychology, neuroscience, evolutionary biology, etc.) in order to update the biological underpinnings of Analytical Psychology. In fact, in constructing the Analytical Psychology, Jung obviously wanted to give it a biological basis and to do this he used results from the biological sciences of the time. I would like to remind you of the importance for Jungian thought of the evolutionary ideas of the biologist Haeckel, who sought to fuse evolutionary theory with vitalistic hypothesis, proposing a fundamental unity of spirit and matter.

The ideas of Haeckel which were dear to the hearts and minds of Goethe, Schiller, Fichte and Schelling, passed into several Jungian scientific theories such as archetype, collective unconscious, philogenetic unconscious, finalism, nature conceived as union of matter and spirit. Today Hackel’s ideas no longer have the same scientific credibility that they had in Jung’s time. Hence the necessity to compare Jungian hypothesis and concepts with new scientific ideas and results. Many Jungian colleagues have already worked in this field (some examples are Knox, Scars, Hogenson, Jacoby).

What I have said thus far can explain why we wanted to create a Jungian study group dedicated to the relationship between Jungian thought, contemporary psychoanalysis and empirical research.

Dream, Self-Regulation, and Interactive Regulation

At this panel, we would like to discuss Jungian dream theory and to compare it with several aspects of Contemporary Psychoanalysis, in particular with the concepts of self-regulation and interactive regulation. This is possible because Jung himself uses the concept of compensation which was synonymous with self-regulation. “I conceive it [compensation] as functional adjustment, in general an inherent self-regulation of the psychic apparatus …” (Jung, 1921, §694).

The themes of self-regulation and interactive regulation, while being present in current psychoanalytical debate, were formulated in non-clinical fields by researchers in the area of infant research.

Lou Sander has perhaps been the most influential psychiatrist and infant researcher in introducing theoretical concepts which belong to the theory of systems (by utilizing at the beginning Von Bertalanffy’s works and more recently Thelen and Smith’s works). According to Sander, the psyches of child and mother are “open systems” and, as such, tend to seek balance. This balance is sought by using both self- regulatory means and interactive regulatory ones (the mother-child relationship). The experiment dedicated to the study of differences between a group of babies who were fed by their mothers according to a pre-established regimen and another group that was fed according to the babies’ needs is by now well-known (Sander, et al., 1970). The group that was fed when the child wanted to eat was able to reach circadian sleep-wake patterns earlier than the other group. Sander maintains that this is true inasmuch as the babies were helped to find their own self-regulatory patterns by the interactive regulation that had been established with their mothers and that mother and child were able to find a balanced compromise. In the conceptualization proposed by Sander (and today also by Tronick, Beebe and Lachman), an organism searches for physiological and psychological balance.1 According to Sander (and also by Tronick, Beebe and Lachman) the individual adult is also able to regulate her self psychologically both by means of very elementary modalities like rhythm and manipulation of the body, and with more complex activities that need the development of the symbolic activity. The more complex self-regulatory mechanisms are: introspection, creative activity, play, dreaming and considering one’s own dreams.

1 Some aspects of physiological balance are: body temperature, sleep-wake patterns, hunger – satiety rhythms, etc. Some aspects of psychological balance may be: the feeling of cohesion and continuity, the feeling of self as an agent capable of initiative, regulation of the vital emotions (moods).

Often self-regulation is not enough to renew the state of balance, and an interactive, relational contribution is required. Anger, for example, is too strong to be self-regulated and we need someone significant who can calm us, contain us. The situation is similar for other emotions (fear, shame, etc.). In these cases relations with the “Other” works towards creating a new balance.1Such concepts, today much debated in infant research, are also applicable to psychoanalysis and psychotherapy, as Jung had already understood. In fact Jung was interested in systems, even if he focused especially on self-regulatory mechanism. He maintained that the psyche is a system equipped with self-regulatory apparatus (Jung, 1917-43, CW 7, §92) in which the unconscious is responsible for balancing the conscious mind. From this point of view, the dream as a manifestation of the unconscious has therefore an extremely important role in the psychological health of the dreamer. The consciousness of the dreamer acquires a new point of view via the dream that allows her to rediscover a state of balance. (Jung, 1921, CW 6, §694). While pointing out the importance of self regulatory-mechanism, Jung even affirms, much like a contemporary psychoanalyst, that the analyst as “mirror” has never existed; rather, the analyst is one half of a couple in which both parties are in analysis: “the doctor is as much ‘in the analysis’ as the patient”. (Jung, 1931, §166) “For two personalities to meet is like mixing two different chemical substances”. (Jung, 1931, §166) “A good half of every treatment that probes at all deeply consists in the doctor’s examining himself”. (Jung, 1951, §239) When an impasse occurs, according to Jung the analyst cannot attribute the impasse exclusively to the psychopathology of the patient, but must first attempt to become aware and to examine what doesn’t work in the her attitude towards the needs of the patient.

1 While at other times self-regulation makes us more available to relationships. In these cases, it is the relationship with another that is fostered by individual self- regulation.

Now let’s have a look at the following clinical vignette. Jung (1935) is treating a young patient and at a certain point the analytical relationship did not get on and Jung himself feels bored and even disdainful of the patient. At this point, Jung had a dream in which the young patient appeared to him as a princess, leaning from the balcony of a castle, and he was below. In the dream, Jung was obliged to look up at the patient. The dream, says Jung, compensated for the devaluating feelings that he felt for the patient. After the dream, Jung felt more comfortable in the relationship. He spoke with the patient about the dream, admitting that his attitude had been wrong: “That worked miracles, I can tell you! No trouble with the transference any more, because I simply got right with her and met her on the right level.” (Jung, 1935, p. 146)

Jung used this clinical vignette to point out the compensatory function of the dream (self-regulation), but we can use the vignette to illustrate also the relational stance of Jung and how the interactive- regulation works. In fact Jung was regulated (compensated) by his own dream, but later the patient was regulated by the relationship with Jung. Let’s read the vignette in this way.

The therapy of the young woman reached a therapeutic impasse, the patient’s regulation of self-esteem failed, the therapist was emotionally influenced by this and experienced feelings that led him to undervalue the patient. During his own self-investigation, Jung has a dream that concerns the analytical situation. The dream plays its role as psychic self-regulator (or compensation as Jung called it) and Jung is able to change his own conscious point of view. After the dream, Jung’s emotional tone changes and this allows him to speak openly with the patient about his own attitude and to define it as the result of a personal error (an example of self-disclosure). The therapeutic rapport performs the regulating function necessary for the disturbed self-esteem of the patient. The interactive regulation gives new balance to the patient so that, as Jung says, “No trouble with the transference any more, because I simply got right with her and met her on the right level.” (Jung, 1935, p. 146)

After these introductory notes we will listen to my colleagues who will discuss more deeply the themes I have presented here: self-regulation and interactive regulation, Jung’s dream theory and contemporary psychoanalysis.


  • Gadamer, G. (1960) Truth and method, (2nd edition) Weinsheimer & D. Marshall, New York: Crossroads (1991).
  • Jung, C.G. (1935) The Tavistock lectures, trans. R.F.C. Hull. Collected Works, Vol. 18. London: Routldge & Kegan Paul, 1977.
  • Jung, C.G. (1921) CW Vol. 6, Psychological Types, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1971.
  • Jung, C.G. (1931) “The Aims of Psychoterapy”, CW Vol. 16, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1971.
  • Jung, C.G. (1951) “Fundamental Questions in Psychotherapy”, CW Vol. 16, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1971.
  • Jung, C.G. (1951) Two essays on Analytical Psychology, CW Vol. 7, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1971.
  • Lyotard, J.-F. (1979) La condizione postmoderna, Milano, Feltrinelli, 1981.
  • Mitchell, Stephen A. (1993) Hope and Dread in Psychoanalysis, New York: Basic Books.
  • Samuels, A. (1985) Jung e i neojunghiani, tr. Ital., Roma: Borla, 1989.
  • Sander, L.W., Stechler, G., Burns, P., Julia, H. (1970) “Early mother-infant interaction and 240 patterns of activity and sleep”, Journal of the American Academy of Child Psychiatry 1970, No 1, pp. 103-123.
  • Weber, M. (1919) Il lavoro intellettuale come professione, Torino: Einaudi, 1980.

Self-regulation, Interactive Regulation and Contemporary Psychoanalysis

Marina Corradi
Florence, Italy
Centro Italiano di Psicologia Analitica

Fiorella Fera
Rome, Italy
Centro Italiano di Psicologia Analitica

Maria Landi
Florence, Italy
Centro Italiano di Psicologia Analitica

The purpose of this presentation is to discuss the themes of self- regulation and interactive regulation in the context of contemporary psychoanalysis. We have turned our attention to those authors in whose work echoes of these themes are most evident. We first refer to work coming under the name, Self Psychology, including its intersubjectivist developments. Further, we refer to those attempts to bridge empirical observations in the field of infant development and psychoanalytical practice. Among these latter, we refer specifically to the psychoanalytical conceptualisations of Peter Fonagy, who, following the Bowlbian tradition, attempts to marry psychoanalysis and attachment theory, and to the theoretical formulations of Lichtenberg, Stern, Beebe and Lachman.

Kohut: Self-regulatory structures

The reflections of Kohut, who first argued that the principle responsibility of the psyche was the necessary maintenance of cohesion and continuity of the self, are central to our argument. For Kohut, the regulation of self-state comes about through a particular type of relation with The Other: the Self/Selfobject relationship, in which an empathetic environment, necessary to the self, is available. In the Kohutian meaning, empathy or vicarious introspection, is both a method that delineates the limits of psychology, permitting the perception of complex psychological configurations, as well as a therapeutic instrument. Comprehension of The Other becomes the fundamental psychological act upon which a therapeutic connection is built. A brief anecdote cited by Kohut in How Does Psychoanalysis Cure? demonstrates how empathetic comprehension is a prerequisite to interactive regulation that results in a renewal of self-regulation. Here, we are in nineteenth-century Germany:

Otto von Bismarck’s severe and chronic insomnia, for example, was cured by Schweninger, a physician who, because of his unorthodox methods, was considered a quack by the German medical profession of his day. Schweninger, whose intuitive grasp of the nature of Bismarck’s sleep disturbance anticipated some of the essential insights of psychoanalytic self psychology, came to Bismarck’s house at bedtime one evening and sat next to the statesman’s bed until he had fallen asleep. When Bismarck awakened the next morning, after a full night’s sleep, Schweninger was still sitting at his bedside, welcoming him, as it were, into the new day. I believe it would be difficult to find a more striking clinical instance demonstrating how, via a transference enactment, the fulfillment of a patient’s need for an empathically responsive selfobject can restore the patient’s need to fall asleep. (To be completely accurate, I should say that with the aid of the responsive self-object the patient’s innate capacity to fall asleep is reestablished).

Yet, as Kohut observes, Bismarck could no longer distance himself from Dr. Schweninger without once more suffering from sleep disturbances: Bismarck’s self-regulation was therefore in that phase directly dependent on interactive regulation. Consequentially, Kohut emphasises the importance of self-regulation founded upon healthy interactive regulation. For Kohut, the term “structure” means nothing more than the firm ownership of a function that was previously external. We are not dealing, therefore, with the interiorisation of The Other’s image, as hypothesised by object-relation theoreticians. Rather we are dealing with the formation of a new structure through utilisation of The Other. The formation and consolidation of self- regulatory structures, together with the capacity to utilize effectively the possibilities of interactive regulation furnished by one’s own self- object, represent for Kohut the principle aims of psychoanalytical cure. Within his metaphor of Self, self-regulatory structures are divided into three categories: primary, compensatory and defensive. While the first two types represent possible, regulatory alternatives on the road to what Kohut defines as the program of the nuclear self, the defensive structures take inadequate, we might say dis-regulatory, routes on the road to the same objective. So as to protect the Self, they maintain it in a state of isolation, a price too high to be paid. Some analogies with the process of Jungian individuation are evident, but Kohut’s proposals emphasize interaction (self/self-object relationship) as the very origin of the psyche’s self-regulatory potential.

According to Kohut, just as there is no single healthy self, there is likewise no single analytical path to recovery. In the therapeutic process analytical paths are many since they emerge out of complex interactions with the environment, and they are as varied as possible analyst/patient combinations.

In Jung, on the other hand, there is greater insistence on the self- regulatory aspect. Psychopathological ailments bring with them, in varying degrees of stridence and persistence, conscious-unconscious polarisation. Any given symptom represents unconscious compensation for the unilateralism of the consciousness, and yet contains within it elements able to correct the imbalance. The analyst’s job is to work with the patient towards an understanding of psychic manifestations and to give them their proper value: the analyst does this by being utterly present in the course of treatment and bringing to bear all of his or her personal experience; being ready, that is, with his or her “instinctive disposition” to maintain contact with the unconscious. In this way compensation is assigned its proper therapeutic value and the derailed or failed evolutionary tendencies of the patient are reactivated.

Interaction at the Centre

Despite Kohut’s strong emphasis on the relational, successive developments in Self Psychology have criticised his concepts for having, among other reasons, exhibited what we might call an excessive bias in favour of the process of self-regulation (to remain within the context of our discussion). We refer to the American intersubjectivist current (Stoloroff, Atwood, Orange, Aron), according to which every regulatory movement is related to an interactive exchange. These authors critically revisit the concept of “structure” formation that is a stable function implying a certain degree of autonomy. Their notion of an intersubjective system puts in focus both the world of internal experience and its being immersed in a continual flux of reciprocal experience, in addition to other subjective worlds. From within that “relational paradigm” so well-described by Mitchell in his attempt to find common denominators in the complex world of contemporary psychoanalysis, the intersubjectivists’ radical stance completely decentralises the focus of the analytical path, placing it in the here and now of the clinical exchange. This stance would seem to dictate that among the two forms of regulation, “interactive regulation” will acquire particular pre-eminence. Indeed, the relational context itself will become the deciding factor in choosing one style of communication and self-regulation above another. For these authors, some types of self-regulatory experiences acquire a pathological arc because they render the experience of The Other less accessible. Many fantastical activities, for example, like the grandiose-exhibitionist fantasies of children, represent a defensive reaction to the lack of feedback provided by the environment. That vast spectrum of so-called “internal objects”, intended both positively and negatively, may also assume a pathological arc. The risk of this position could be, in our opinion, the branding of all psychic activities conducted in solitude as pathological. We might, for example, ask how we must consider the subtle movement of memory evoked in this brief passage from Coleridge:

And in Life’s noisiest hour
There whispers still the ceaseless love of thee,
The heart’s self solace, commune
and soliloquy

The distance between these authors and the Jungian model is clear. In the latter, compensation between consciousness and unconsciousness is a function of the innate psyche, automatic and non-contextual, independent of the relational happenings, and as such, in whatever form it presents itself, always serves to maintain mental equilibrium and promote the process of individuation.

A Further Developmental Perspective

The Fonagy perspective, well known for its attempt to marry psychoanalysis and attachment theory, is different again. Fonagy, like the authors cited above, insists that self-regulation develops out of a relationship of parental care. He focuses, however, on a particular form of regulation, giving it precedence over the others, that he defines as reflective function. The reflective function, or the ability to mentalise, a concept derived by a partly cognitive and partly psychoanalytical tradition, is defined as ability to conceive of one’s own and others’ mental states. It is seen from a developmental perspective and begins with elementary modes of social comprehension, and finally arriving to the comprehension of the intentions of others. Such an ability is born out of the interactions of the child with its caregiver, who in turn is able to exercise his or her own reflective function, necessary for self-regulation (indeed they the two functions partly correspond with one another), and no less important for interactive regulation. In the absence of reflective function, (interacting with The Other is not possible without confusing), oneself is confusing with the Other, because the other’s intentions and diversity remain unrecognised. At the same time, without reflective function it will be impossible to recognise one’s own emotional states and likewise monitor and modulate states of self. The dream, then, is seen by Fonagy in its self-regulative context, as a draft form of the reflective function, in which the dreamer unconsciously attempts to represent the structural constellations present in his or her mind.

Similarly to Kohut, Fonagy’s self-regulation is born from interactive regulation and develops into a relatively stable function, even if susceptible to sudden defaillances in specific, unfavourable conditions (the onset of various kinds of preoccupied-disorganized attachment). Unlike Kohut, Fonagy entrustes both to a higher-order function, the mentalisation that guarantees an adequate and reciprocal development of the process. The analyst exercises the same functions when regulating his or her own emotional states and those of the patient, who, from this interaction, will be rewarded with an increased ability to recognise his or her own mental states and the mental states of others. We might say that the patient enjoys an increased familiarity with the contents of the psyche. This particular emphasis, present in Fonagy’s research on psychic reality and on the symbolic game, perhaps brings us closer to Jungian thought and to the role that symbolization and amplification can have, for example through dreams, in regulating the states of Self. Jung assigns great importance to what he called “non-directional” thought, whose functioning is not at all secondary to “directional thought”, but rather performs the important role of interacting and modifying the conscious orientations. Fantasy and dream images are often the best possible forms with which to express recently drafted content that may not yet be graspable by consciousness. Fantasies and dreams can prompt progressive movement toward psychic life, either automatically or via reflection, thus maintaining a relationship of conscious-unconscious reciprocal regulation.

Turning our attention in another direction for a moment, we find those coalescing currents of Infant Research, primarily of North American origin, that reflect on the application of the results from abundant empirical observations of the mother-child couple to adult clinical work. (On the epistemological meaning of these operations, refer to Giannoni.)

In earlier presentations, reference has been made to the work of Beebe and Lachman and the ways in which development emerges as the maturation of models of experience that transform in time, via the relationship between self-regulation and interactive regulation. These principles are present from the beginning of life and share a relationship of reciprocal influence. According to this model, reciprocally regulated non-verbal exchanges are at the centre of the therapeutic action: they supply an interactive re-organisation of self-regulation, presenting themselves as new modalities that are thereby less unbalanced and more flexible compared to those already known by the patient. In forms of secure attachment, self-regulation and interactive regulation find equilibrium: preoccupied-avoidant children tend, for example, to seek escape from their dyad partner, and as a result develop an imbalance in favour of self-regulatory mechanisms. The caregiver, in this case, tends to become hyper-vigilant and intrusive. Like many others, this type of disturbed interaction can also be noted in the treatment of adults. Some “difficult” patients induce in the analyst a kind of self-regulatory activation and a compensatory vigilance that can be felt by the patient as invasive, limiting and suffocating.

The dynamic themes that constitute explicit and symbolic narration are afterwards integrated in the experiential course of the interaction, and participate in it. In this way, verbalisation modifies the implicit styles of regulation, creating a disturbance in the dyad. The therapeutic process will be, in this way, defined in terms of a complex system in which self-regulation (of the patient and the analyst) and interactive regulation (of the analytic couple) react simultaneously, both at the level of implicit (procedural, non-verbal) and explicit (verbal, symbolic) elaboration.

A certain change in the evaluation of therapeutic factors is clear in the work of the authors we have discussed in this presentation. Indeed, according to the theories of Infant Research, change is promoted by the possibility of experiencing new, and not necessarily symbolic, modalities of both self-regulation and interactive regulation. Attention, therefore, must fall on the relevance of both these modalities, intended as simultaneous principles that are complimentary and in a state of dynamic equilibrium.

While the authors we have examined until now assign a predominant role to interactive regulation, the contribution of Infant Research reclaims self-regulation as a structuring mechanism of psychic equilibrium. In this sense, we find it possible to connect these ideas with the Jungian concept of compensation, so central in his dream theory.


  1. B. Beebe, F.M. Lachmann, Infant Research and Adult Treatment, Analytic Press, 2002.
  2. S. T. Coleridge, “La ballata del vecchio marinaio e altre poesie”, Oscar Mondadori, 1987.
  3. P. Fonagy, “Thinking about Thinking. Some Clinical and Theoretical Considerations in the Treatment of a Borderline Patient” International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 72, 1991 (in: P. Fonagy, M. Target, Attaccamento e funzione riflessiva, Cortina, Milano, 2001, p. 33).
  4. M. Giannoni, “Psychoanalysis and Empirical research”, in: Journal of Analytical Psychology, Vol. 48, N. 5, 2003
  5. C.G. Jung, “Principles of Practical Psychotherapy”, CW Vol. 16, 1935.
  6. C.G. Jung, Aion, The Self, CW Vol. 9, 1951.
  7. C.G. Jung, Symbols of Transformation, , CW Vol. 5, 1912/1952.
  8. C.G. Jung, “On the Nature of Dreams”, CW Vol. 8, 1945.
  9. C.G. Jung, “The Transcendent Function”, CW Vol. 8, 1957 /1958.
  10. C.G. Jung, “The psychology of the Transference”, CW Vol. 16, 1946.
  11. C.G. Jung, “On the psychology of the Unconscious”, CW Vol. 7, 1917/1943.
  12. H. Kohut, How does psychoanalysis cure? University Press of Chicago, 1984.
  13. H. Kohut, The Kohut Seminars, Norton & Company, New York/London, 1989.
  14. R.D. Stoloroff, G.E. Atwood, Context of Being: The Intersubjective Foundation of Psychological Life, The Analytic Press, New Jersey, 1992.

The Dream as Mental Self-Regulatory Activity: Some Similarities between Jungian Thought and Contemporary Psychoanalysis

Roberto Zucchetti
Rome, Italy
Centro Italiano di Psicologia Analitica

Daniela Falone
Rome, Italy
Centro Italiano di Psicologia Analitica

Cecilia Codignola
Rome, Italy
Associazione Italiano perlo Studio della Psicologia Analitica

In his autobiography, Jung explains that his dissatisfaction with the Freudian psychoanalytical model was born, at least in part, from witnessing the manner in which the Viennese psychiatrist interpreted dreams. To illustrate his point, he mentions one of his dreams: “Two skulls found in the cellar.” He feels that Freud’s interpretation of this dream, in which the two skulls are referred to an unconscious desire for the death of Jung’s wife and his sister-in-law, is profoundly insufficient.

The Freudian conception of the dream as an instinctive discharge and fulfilment of desires seemed too narrow for Jung. He adopted a different point of view: he considered the dream a spontaneous, symbolically expressed self-representation of the unconscious current situation. (Jung 1916/1948) In addition, the dream filled the important role of re-equilibrator in one’s psychic life: we usually call this compensatory function. Also, the dream is the promoter of new situations that could lead to psychological developments, and in this case we talk of prospective function.

Within post-Freudian psychoanalytical schools, Freud’s conception of the dream remained more or less unchanged for years. When this conception moved from the constraints of a classical drive model it took a number of differing theoretical directions, giving precedence to self-development and relationships. Therefore, the conception of the dream changed profoundly.

In this presentation we will deal with the contributions to dream theory that emerged out of Self-psychology and we will refer to Kohut; referring to Fosshage’s model we will deal with relational psychoanalysis. Of course our third model is the Jungian theory of the dream. Our aim is to evaluate how much the thought of Kohut and Fosshage shares with Jungian dream theory, which assigns to dream activity a central role in the self-regulation and re-equilibration of psychic life.

As opposed to the rigid determinism of Freud, Jung elaborated a finalistic theory not only of the dream, but of all psychological functions. Quoting M. Giannoni, “such a finalistic conception is very close to the idea of ‘an end’ as used in biology for over a century, according to which living material pursues the objective of maintaining its equilibrium, despite environmental interferences.” (Giannoni, 1992).

On the basis of this model, psychic functioning becomes the designated channel through which a living organism can enact those mechanisms necessary to maintain stability and fulfill pre-established goals.

Dreams assume a fundamental importance within a psychic system that tends toward re-equilibrium and self-regulation. (Jung, 1935) When the attitude of consciousness is excessively unbalanced and precludes the real potential of the individual, an equilibrating movement is activated in the unconscious that tends to reorient consciousness. Such a movement utilises dream activity as its designated channel.

Jung affirms that the more the attitude of consciousness appears unilateral and the further away it is from the optimal line of vital properties, the more dreams are vivid and ripe. Dreams blossom as expressions of the self-governing mechanisms of the individual. (Jung, 1916/1948)

The aim of the dream is not limited, however, to this extremely important compensatory-like activity: the unconscious and the dreams in some cases have a prospective function, furnishing conscious activities with new and improved directions.

It is as if the unconscious psyche was able to perceive certain modalities of development that are still obscure for the conscious mind. The unconscious can sometimes sense not rationalised, dangerous situations and communicate them to consciousness via the metaphoric modality of dream representation.

According to Jung, the majority of crises or dangerous situations have a long period of incubation that the conscious psyche doesn’t perceive. It is instead the unconscious psyche that retains traces of them and expresses them through dreams. (Jung, 1961)

Jung believes that the perspective functions of dreams assume particular relevance at the beginning of the analytical process: the analysed patient frequently recounts a dream that clearly reveals the entire programme of the unconscious and can be considered as a prognosis for the treatment.

H. Kohut and Self-State Dreams

H. Kohut attributed great importance to the analysis of dreams as a therapeutic instrument during treatment. In his writings, 116 dreams appear and are related to his clinical work. Yet Kohut has never elaborated a complete theory of dream activity, limiting himself to proposing some theoretical formulations regarding the dreams denominated “self-state dreams”. Thus he avoids putting the Freudian theoretical scaffolding in clear crisis.

In “The Restoration of the Self”, (1977) Kohut refers to two dream typologies: the first includes those frequent dreams that can be interpreted on the basis of the theory of repressed infantile desires and of the drive-defence model, as expressed by Freud. The second one includes less common dreams that have a different meaning and should be considered in the light of a new theoretical model defined by Kohut Self-psychology. He called these dreams “Self-state dreams”, occurring when the stability of the dreamer’s psychological structure is threatened. Such a threat can occur in different pathological states, ranging from hyper-stimulation – as in a maniacal state – to a reduction in tension in proximity of a state of depression, to the risk of a serious fragmentation of the psychic structure.

According to Kohut, (1977) “The very act of portraying these vicissitudes in the dream constitutes an attempt to deal with the psychological danger by covering frightening nameless processes with namable visual imagery.

Through the mechanism of symbolic concretisation Stolorow successively explained (1989) that dream images allow the encapsulation of a threat to the self and incorporate a concrete attempt to repair. The function of the dream is then to protect the psychological organisation through the reparative use of concretisation, which assigns a definite form to the frightening experience of self-dissolution.

Kohut hasn’t left a dream theory, he already had several central intuitions that J. Fosshage organised in his work.

Kohut maintains that the human psyche possesses the capacity for self-regulation which is structured through significant relationships with others. Through dream images this type of self-regulatory activity tends to play a protective role for the psyche when its integrity is threatened.

Although Kohut initially restricted the “self-state dreams” to a small number of dreams, he gradually enlarged this category, including in it those dreams in which a positive experience of changing occurred with the sensation of a strong, harmonic self that was passing through a new dimension. The dream expresses symbolically this change and puts it in a “concrete” form. (Kohut, 1979-a)

The Function of the Dream According to J. Fosshage

J. Fosshage has reached the conclusion that the dream performs complex functions of integration and synthesis. He compares and analyses different sources: neurophysiological research on R.E.M. sleep, cognitive studies, and psychoanalytic theories different from the classical model. Always referring also to his clinical experience, Fosshage maintains that the most important functions of dreaming are the development, the maintenance and the reintegration of the psychological organisation.

For Fosshage, “development” (or developmental function) means the possibility of consolidating several processes of change via the ability to represent them symbolically: through images the dream gives form and foresees development processes that are still obscure to the conscious mind. New psychological configurations that organise the psychic life of the dreamer and new relational modalities can emerge.

To illustrate these concepts, Fosshage recounts the dream events of a woman around fifty years of age: she was intelligent and professionally successful, but was at the same time emotionally repressed and had a very restricted life-style. After several months of psycho- therapeutic treatment, this woman dreamed she was driving a fire-red Porsche. The image of the sports car alluded to the vital and “emotive” side of her personality that, thanks to the analytical relationship, had started to re-emerge and to develop, although not yet in the patient’s conscious life.

Other important functions of the dream consist of the “maintenance” and “reintegration” of the psychological organisation. These are two correlated functions: the term “reintegration” refers to extremely serious clinical situations in which one fears the risk of the disintegration of the mind. In this we can note a deep analogy with the ideas of Kohut, who theorised the emergence of “self-state dreams” when one feared a danger for the integrity of the psyche. On the other hand, the word “maintenance” refers to the need to maintain firm and structured principles that organise our psychological experience in order to guarantee a sense of internal cohesion.

The dream can assume the responsibility for re-equilibrating the psychic structure via effective regulation of emotions. For example, it can allow the expression of hostile feelings that have been held within during waking states, thus redirecting the sense of emotional discomfort and renewing one’s self-esteem.

In some cases, these “maintenance” and “reintegration” functions can counter the developmental functions: for example, when important changes produce anxiety the dream may re-affirm a former image of the self, perhaps regressive but certainly more familiar and more comforting than the prospective change.

According to the theoretical contribution of Fosshage, dream activity also has other aims: it can pursue the resolution of conflicts in which the psyche is engaged during waking hours and thereby performs a problem-solving function; it can facilitate understanding or learning and serve to consolidate the memory.


In conclusion, Jung affirms that through the dream the patient gives to himself and to the analyst a representation of his mind that is different from what he can actually perceive in the conscious life. This appears consistent with Kohut’s ideas about the function of Self-state dreams.

J. Fosshage openly admits the analogies with Jungian theories and proposes also some parallelisms: the first is between the compensatory function and his definition of “self-righting”, which is the autonomous rediscovery of equilibrium. The second is between his developmental function and the prospective function as expressed by Jung.1

In addition, Jung sensed that some dreams can produce important changes in the analytical relationship – see the dream of the Princess cited by M. Giannoni in his presentation. (Giannoni, 2004) Indeed, the evocation of a particularly significant dream image can profoundly modify the internal world of one member of the dyad. This has important consequences for the analytical couple: borrowing a concept as expressed by Beebe and Lachmann in their experimental research we can affirm that the interactive regulation between analyst and patient is modified and this means the possibility of a change.

1 Some Jungian colleagues (Giannoni 2003) have already pointed out the analogies between Fossage’s ideas about dream and Jungian thought.

In conclusion, we maintain that it is fitting to note the extraordinary aptness of Jung’s theorisation on dreams. Likewise, it is important to highlight the fact that the Kohut and Fosshage models represent a significant tract of common ground in our efforts to grant dream activity a central role in healthy self-regulation of the mind leading to re-equilibration of psychic activity and to psychological development.


  1. Beebe, B., Lachmann, F. (2002) Infant Research and Adult Treatment: Co-constructing Interactions. The Analytic Press, Inc. 2002
  2. Corradi, M., Fera, F. (2004) “Self-regulation, Interactive Regulation and Contempo rary Psychoanalysis”, XVIth Congress of the International Association for Analytical Psychology, Barcelona, 2004.
  3. Fosshage, J.L. (1983) “The Psychological Function of Dreams”, Psychoanalysis and Contemporary Thought, 6, pp. 641-669.
  4. Fosshage, J.L. (1987) “New vistas on dream interpretation”, in Dreams in New Perspective: The Royal Road Revisited, M. Glucksman, NewYork, Uman Sciences Press.
  5. Fosshage, J.L. (1988) “Dream Interpretation Revisited”, in Goldberg, A., Dimensions of self experience. Progress in Self Psychology, vol. 3, Hillsdale, New York, The Analytic Press, pp. 161-175.
  6. Fosshage, J.L. (1997) “The Organizing Functions of Dreaming Mentation”, Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 33, (3), pp. 429-458.
  7. Fosshage, J.L. (2001) “Forme di relazionalità ed intimità analitica: il caso di Samantha.” Relazione presentata alla giornata di studio organizzata dall’ISIPSé e Dialoghi di Psicologia Analitica del 17/02/2001.
  8. Giannoni, M. (1992) “Sogno e compensazione”, in La Pratica Analitica”, Vol. 6, Nov. 1992, Moretti e Vitali.
  9. Giannoni, M. (2003) “Jung’s theory of Dreams and Relational Debate”, Psychoanalytical Dialogues 13, (4), 2003, pp. 607-623.
  10. Giannoni, M. (2004) “Jung’s Dream Theory, Self-regulation and Contemporary Psychoanalysis”, XVIth Congress of the International Association for Analytical Psychology, Barcelona 2004.
  11. Jung, C.G. (1909/1973) “The Analysis of Dreams”, CW Vol. 4.
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  14. Jung, C.G. (1934) “The Pratical Use of Dream-Analysis”, CW Vol. 16.
  15. Jung, C.G. (1935) “On the Theory and Practice of Analytical Psychology”.
  16. Jung, C.G. (1961) “Symbols and Interpretation of Dreams”, CW Vol. 18.
  17. Kohut H. (1977) The Restoration of the Self. International Universities Press, New York, 1977.
  18. Kohut H (1979) “Four basic concepts in Self Psychology”; in Ornstein, P. H., Selected Writings of H.
  19. Kohut, 1978-1981, Vol. 4, Madison, Connecticut, International Universities Press, Inc., 1991.
  20. Kohut, H.(1979) “The two Analyses of Mr. Z.”, Int. J. Psychoanalysis, 63, 395, 1979 1982.
  21. Kohut, H. (1984) How does the Analysis Cure? University of Chicago Press, 1984.
  22. Paparo, F., Pancheri, L. (2000) “I sogni self-state e la concezione del sogno nella psicologia psicoanalitica del Sè di H. Kohut”, in Bolognini (a cura di) Il sogno cento anni dopo, Torino, Boringhieri, 2000.
  23. Stolorow, (1989) “The Dream in Context”, in Goldberg, A., Dimensions of Self Psychology, in Progress in Self Psychology, Vol. 5, Hillsdale, New York, The Analytic Press.

The Dream’s Regulatory (Compensatory) Function within the Analytic Relationship: A Clinical Example

Nadia Fina
Milano, Italy
Centro Italiano di Psicologia Analitica

Ursula Prameshuber
Roma, Italy
Centro Italiano di Psicologia Analitica

We would like to give a clinical example in order to underline what our colleagues have already spoken about: the regulatory (compensatory) function of the dream within the analytical relationship.

In our paper we wish to focus on some passages taken from the first year of therapy of a patient presenting a significant narcissistic personality disorder. As we will try to show, a certain number of particularly meaningful dreams helped the therapist to modulate distance and closeness with her patient, enhancing her empathetic capacity for listening and the timing of interpretation. This happened thanks to the quality of self- and hetero-regulation present within the dream material itself. In our view, we consider it important to present this case study without any background material on the patient. Just as in analysis, we have kept close to the story, following the way it developed as the relationship unfolded. In particular, we have remained faithful to counter-transference configurations, which also need rearrangement and self-regulation on the part of the therapist.

About the first interview with Luca – a 35 year old man – the therapist remembers in particular that once the first session was over, she could not recall what Luca had just told her about himself.

Very clear, however, was the feeling that the therapist had been left with after the session: a sensation of physical fatigue, understood as a consequence of the tense atmosphere which had persisted throughout the session. So from the very beginning, the mental work of the therapist had been completely focused on understanding the nature and origin of that emotional state, which resulted in a deep alteration of her own capability to listen. At first, the therapist believed the patient wanted to keep her at a distance in a defensive manner, by disturbing her through projective identification, with the aim of inhibiting a deeper, associative and caring kind of listening.

In addition, the therapist was surprised that her feeling of “no memory” was associated, by contrast, with the feeling of a sticky mixture that kept together something felt as undifferentiated and encumbering at the same time.

Finally, the therapist considered that such peculiar emotional experiences may be apparent in patients with a deep disorder of the Self. In addition, the “perceptive-somatic” countertransferential responses are significant diagnostic indicators, and also for the analytic relationship.

While keeping in mind these considerations, the therapist remembered as a further relevant element the patient had also mentioned a problem of ejaculatio praecox and an irreversible crisis in his relationship to Elena, a woman with whom he had lived for a few years. Luca described this situation by referring the fairy tale of Puss in Boots as comparison: he felt as if he had often worn those boots in order to cover the distances necessary for living with no difficulties. “In fact, however,” he said, the experience is never really lived”.

Regarding this assertion, the therapist simply made a comment about how exhausting it must have been to act as Puss in Boots. After a brief pause, where Luca seemed to reflect in silence, he added: “You are looking at things from a different perspective. I had never considered this possibility”.

Luca’s comment was accompanied by surprise and fear, but the therapist had intended to show him comprehension and participation.

In the second session Luca reported a dream he had had the night before:

I am in a cave. I cannot tell how I got there. I am struck by the stalagmites that have formed within the cave and by a natural light that comes from the bottom of the cave: a soft light that emphasizes these phenomena. In the distance, I notice a figure that seems to me to be a spelaeologist from the way he is dressed. The spelaeologist has a chisel in his hands, with which he is about to detach the stalagmites. I am very worried because he might do something very damaging and I scream: “you are an assassin …”

First of all, Luca declares his surprise at having had a dream, as he remembers having had only few dreams during his lifetime. Luca adds: “It is also a strange dream, so far from my real life”, and then pauses as though waiting. In turn, the therapist is struck by the fact that she perceives the dream as something “alive”, something real, not simply a “story”. The feeling of anxiety is not only part of the dream realm. Rather, it is actually there, a tangible sensation between them, concretely re-experienced in the session.

On his behalf, the patient repeats that he cannot say anything about his dream. No associations. … However, he can say that he feels uncomfortable and restless because the dream scares him.“If I am afraid, I get scared of my own fear”, adds Luca.

As the patient is not able to further investigate the feeling of fear, the therapist looks at the dream material as a whole, reflecting above all on the fear and anxiety that had permeated the telling of the dream.

These intense states of mind mostly show and describe an extreme vulnerability of the Self. The self keeps a defensive position thanks to a rigid organization of the personality, in order to prevent the flexibility which would be necessary to face emotional changes. The origin of these defences is not clear, but the stalagmites in the dream did not simply symbolize elements stratified over time, as one might think. Rather, they constituted an important representation of the Self, rigid in shape but extremely fragile in essence. Within the dream, the light that came from the bottom of the cave underlined this vulnerability.

Undoubtedly one notices a degree of aesthetic pleasure in the dreamer, which is apparent in the valorisation of the stalagmites, a valorisation represented by the light itself. It seems legitimate to relate this aesthetic metaphor to the representation of an idealized defensive armour – a false Self, within which vital elements have remained enclosed and which therefore must be approached with extreme caution.

The therapist kept these reflections in her mind, considering that such an interpretation might have been too precocious. She decided, instead, to focus on the dream’s self-descriptive quality. She invited Luca to think about how both the dream’s images and the emotional intensity which accompanied it, could clearly communicate what should not be underestimated, or worse, devalued: in other words, the feeling of fear. Fear needed to find space for expression and comprehension. But the therapist also added: “Sometimes guardians are necessary, though …”

At the end of the session, the therapist had a fantasy: a concert is about to begin and the first instrument in the orchestra sets the tune for all the other instruments. In the same way, Luca had “set the tune” for the modulation necessary to the “ouverture” of the analytic relationship.

In the following months, Luca’s history became clearer.

Passionate musician, he had studied at the Conservatory as a violinist. The nature and function of such passion became clearer as the therapy went on. It was an early passion, initially stimulated by his father, but to which he had dedicated himself with great effort. For him, music had played, and kept on playing, one prevalent function: to give life to a parallel world, in which he could feel free. In this world he allowed himself to live, without fear, several emotions and multiple shades of these emotions. Here he could interpret and emphasize these emotions, but always “sure” that they could be deactivated any time he wanted.

Thanks to music, and especially thanks to the conviction that he was the only agent of feelings and emotions, expressed by music, he had learned to enter an “enchanted” world since his early childhood.

Within that enchantment, Luca felt charmed by emotions, knowing that he could perceive them without any consequences. He knew that in real life, out of his enchantment, people meet, fight, suffer, rejoice and face real experiences. Within the enchantment, Luca had developed a sort of virtuosism, in some way the power to choose what plot to represent, which characters to love, which music to use as emotional commentary to the plot.

In contrast with this idealized harmony that was continuously underlined by Luca, the therapist frequently felt dulled by the patient’s intonation and tone of voice. Both were monochord, characterized by a somewhat metallic sound. While Luca talked, she initially felt captured by the sound of his voice and later rejected by the emotional content of his words. During the first months of therapy, the therapist often felt very tired after the sessions.

In general she understood her difficulties as the result of countertransferential reaction. She at times experienced dimness; at times she realized she became “technical” in her comments and interpretations. The patient looked of course quite comfortable when the therapist’s communications were based on her so-called “virtuosity”.

On the contrary, Luca showed clear defensive attitudes when the therapist managed to keep a better emotional contact with his communications. On these occasions Luca reacted using “technical” lapidary expressions, such as: “And so … practically?”, or, “What should I do, then?”

In another session, the therapist had drawn Luca’s attention to the fact that exactly those kinds of questions had to do with fear and anger. Fear and anger could no longer be ignored as they now became part of the “real” analytical relationship. After this comment the patient had the following dream:

Not knowing how, I find myself within an avant-garde submarine. I know I have some sort of function as a commander. Furthermore, I have to check that the watertight rooms hold well. I start checking the rooms and, through a peephole which I can open, I see that each room is watertight. Except for one. The last one at the end of the submarine is flooded. I go in to free the room from the water that has invaded it and realize that it is not water but sewage. I am disgusted because the smell is unbearable. I manage, however, to clean everything up and repair the damage. I think that I will have to call someone to safeguard the place. I wake up.

“I could not have produced all that shit on my own. Possibly someone before me was not careful with the functioning of the drain,” was Luca’s first comment to the dream. On his face and in the intonation of his voice were astonishment, pain and shame. He looked like someone who had been caught off guard by something (or someone) that had shown up all of a sudden and unexpectedly. This time fear had melted shame. In addition, his own comment had left him disoriented: the onset of shame helped the emotional content of the dream to be re-experienced in the “here and now” of the session.

Shame made it clear that the Self – in certain emotional circumstances – was devoid of an adequate protective filter between internal and external world. This filter furthermore works to organize and maintain the experience of the self. When this condition is lacking, the experience of “relating to” is continuously impaired through a reactive mechanism of avoidance.

In order to decrease Luca’s narcissistic isolation, it was necessary to remain close to that intense emotional state which linked together pain and astonishment with his still unconscious – but nonetheless active – perception of vulnerability. This had to happen before and beyond any sort of interpretation. The technical choice, therefore, was to first and foremost show capability to comprehend those painful emotions, consequently conveying that his “shit” was not disgusting to the therapist.

In the following session, Luca looked quite restless. In particular he felt anxious about the following dream:

I’m with my brother. We are both small children and, although I don’t know why, we are both in a bag made of jute. We might be sleeping. Or maybe we are pretending to sleep. I am very scared because there is an animated presence in the room. I scream: “Mom!!! …” I wake up soaked in sweat and I have a hard time breathing. My mother really enters the room.

After some weeks, Luca decided to move back to his parents’ house after the end of the relationship with his girl friend. Here he lived in the room he had as a boy, which increased some of his regressive feelings. Regression became apparent within the analytic relationship through tough opposition, at times devaluation, up to frank and overt hostility. These attitudes were aimed at paralysing the therapist who, in her turn, felt incapable of finding the words that could “touch” the patient without stimulating his hypersensitivity.

Regarding the dream, Luca associated some memories of his relationship as a child with his three-year-old brother. At that time they used to sleep in the same room … in “that” room. Luca also remembered that when he was a very small child, he at times slipped into his brother’s bed. In fact, very often they would end up sleeping together because they were scared. “We always tried to fall asleep together, so that neither of us would feel abandoned by the other”, says Luca.

As the story unfolded, the situation emerged as quite alarming. Luca talked about punishments inflicted by the mother to both children because she would repeatedly find them asleep in the same bed. In order to avoid those punishments, the two brothers had developed the extraordinary capacity to control the duration of their sleep: they had learned how to wake up just before their mother entered their room. So, each one went back to his own bed and, pretending to sleep, would wait for the mother to wake them up.

The therapist suggested that Luca had to consider how emotionally difficult that strategic ability must have been. The solution the two brothers had developed presupposed a mental work that was not ordinary, especially considering their age and their goal: namely, to protect themselves from a conflict with the mother, a conflict that would be too harsh to tolerate at that time.

The patient, surprised by this consideration, stated that he had never thought of those episodes in terms of ability. Rather, he remembered the anxiety caused by the mother’s predictable reaction.

Following this session, Luca’s father called the therapist on the phone, asking for an appointment and telling her he wants her to keep it secret. The therapist said Luca would have to know about (and agree upon) the meeting. She advised the father to talk with the son about his need.

In the following session, the patient is silent, quite detached. He does not mention his father’s phone call. Once the therapist talks about the phone call, Luca remains vague, closed, suspicious if not clearly hostile. Finally, he adds: “You should not have told me about my father’s phone call. And you should have accepted his proposal to meet you.”

“All without your knowing it?” asks the analyst. The patient does not answer and, after a brief silence, he tells the therapist that he will not make it to the next session because the orchestra’s rehearsal will take longer than usual.

Luca had drawn back from the relationship, keeping himself inaccessible and unavailable, thus breaking the difficult empathetic and relational equilibrium.

The more the therapist tried to reach a good understanding through interpretations and investigations, the more Luca’s opposing responses highlighted the absence of actual elements that could provide coherence and explanation to his rigid position.

Quite unexpectedly, and surprisingly, Luca called the therapist to ask for the appointment he had previously cancelled, asserting he had to talk to her urgently. The session began with the following dream:

I’m in a pretty tiny room, with two small beds. In one of them there is a child sleeping. I get closer to check if everything is all right. At first, the child looks actually sleeping and I get closer. But then I realize that the outlines of his face are bleary, as though they were melting. Similarly to what happens to waxworks. I am very scared and I want to rescue him, in order to help him. I take him in my arms and only then do I notice that there are dark stripes on his body. They are horizontal stripes and I don’t immediately understand their nature. I jump back when I realize that, in fact, they are wounds, like those left after being whipped. They are skinless … nonetheless the child does not cry. I wake up because the jumping back in the dream corresponds to the fact that – in reality – I have fallen off of my bed.

Luca remained quiet, his head low, tired out by an intense pain that was very tangible at that point, and that deeply moved the therapist as well.

“The images in this dream tell about things that cannot be said with words because access to them is still denied”, said the therapist. She adds that it must be a huge pain hidden within a terrible fear which that child really needs to talk about.

“Yes, fear, but shame as well. Lots of shame”, asserts Luca

Passionately, the patient keeps describing how the father used to punish him as a child: when the father found that Luca’s violin practices (which he supervised) did not fulfill his expectations, he would hit Luca with the violin’s bow. The punishments would come unexpectedly, hours after the practices had taken place, or during the night. In fact, especially at night. The father would enter his children’s room and punish them physically depending on how insufficient the practices had been, according to his own arbitrary judgment. The father’s obsession was progress and results. Perfection was the goal to pursue. “Music is harmony, and harmony is pure perfection,” he asserted. “Perfection is born out of rigor and absolute severity”.

After these “incursions”, the two brothers would fall asleep together to comfort each other and keep fear away. Everything happened in silence and the mother did not seem aware of what was happening in her children’s room.

As a comment, Luca added: “… my mother would not have been able to confront my father, she was dominated by him. If she had known, she would have felt guilty for her own incapability. Then my brother and I would have felt guilty towards her …”

Working through pain and anger was very painful for Luca, as well as it was painful to have to cope once again with the feeling of shame. He was ashamed of his experience of feeling annihilated by his father’s physical strength, from which he could not defend himself. In addition, he had idealised that strength as a sort of “potency” that might inspire him.

His experience of helplessness had overlapped with a similarly invalidating experience of humiliation linked with the father’s foolish reaction, which Luca thought to be responsible for, of not fulfilling his expectations.

It was during this delicate phase of his therapy that Luca started to bring his violin case with him when he came to the sessions.

The sessions took place vis à vis, and he used to put the violin case in the space between his armchair and therapist’s. She underlined this behaviour and asked him if he wished to show her the violin. The patient then handed it to the therapist with great care, just as one would hand a newborn baby. That interaction was loaded with deep metaphoric and transformational meaning for the analytic relationship. It was as though memories, fantasies, and emotional experiences which had always remained clustered and condensed in an undifferentiated, rigid and pervasive mental and emotional block, could eventually spring out. Massive defences – as we said – had been previously set up in order to maintain the survival of a fragile organization of the Self.

These kinds of memories are defined as “nodal memories” of the subjective experience, memories which must be “undone” in a relational context that can be experienced as “safe”.

If this process is not given the possibility to become active, memories remain encapsulated and held in an area that is permanently split from consciousness, thus preventing new configurations of the Self in relation to the Other from unfolding. This is a fundamental step to the “reassembling” of new forms necessary for the configuration of a new perspective from which to look at oneself and one’s past.

(Bollas, 1993; Stern, 1983; Holmes, 2004)

Self-regulation, Interactive Regulation and Infant Research

Marina Corradi
Rome, Italy
Centro Italiano di Psicologia Analitica

Giovanni Caputo
Rome, Italy
Centro Italiano di Psicologia Analitica

Antonio Firetto
Rome, Italy

As we know, Jungian thought bears within itself the idea of compensation. It is, indeed, one of the cornerstones of psychic functioning in general and of dream theory in particular. In certain phases, Jung uses the concepts of compensation and self-regulation as synonyms: “I conceive it as functional adjustment in general, an inherent self-regulation of the psychic apparatus. In this sense, I regard the activity of the unconscious as a balancing of the one-sidedness of the general attitude produced by the function of consciousness”. (Jung, 1921, CW 6, §694) The very concept of self-regulation is central in the description of the psyche’s workings: “A psychological theory, if it is to be more than a technical makeshift, must base itself on the principle of opposition; for without this it could only re-establish a neurotically unbalanced psyche. There is no balance, no system of self-regulation, without opposition. The psyche is just such a self-regulating system.” (Jung, 1917-43, CW 7, §92)

Beyond Jungian thought, however, self-regulation has been the subject of study principally in the field of Infant Research, where it has been related to interactive regulation.

The term “Infant Research” indicates a vast area of research concerned with the study of the mother-child couple through experimental methods. One branch of Infant Research, particularly in its most recent developments (though the studies of Bowlby and also Winnicot must not be forgotten), attempts to marry these experimental observations with retrograde reconstructions of the infant experience – a technique that psychoanalysis, particularly Freudian psychoanalysis, has always proposed. Between the two evolving perspectives – the psychoanalytical one that outlines the so-called “clinical child”, and the experimental one that attempts to get close to the “observed child” (so defined by Stern) – there are convergences, but also con siderable divergences. One example among many, upon which it is not necessary to dwell, is the revision of the concept of autism and primary symbiosis; no longer considered as necessary evolutionary steps, but as pathological defence mechanisms (Stern/Mahler debate). Among the various authors who attempt to propose a connection between the psychoanalytical world and empirical results, Daniel Stern and Joseph Lichtenberg have suggested a re-reading of the infant experience beginning with the concepts of Self and of interaction. The various senses of the Self described by Stern, but also the motivational systems of Lichtenberg, can only develop through relationship with another.

The system of Self and interactions are concepts belonging to psychoanalysis, however used in the observation of infants. Self- regulation and interactive regulation, on the other hand, derive from empirical work, but have recently been applied to the clinical setting.

By regulation we mean different aspects of the psycho-physical experience; research into physiological equilibrium (sleep-wake patterns, body temperature, nutrition, etc.) modulations in the self states (cohesion, unity, efficiency, identity) and feelings (vital sentiments, emotions). Self-regulation and interactive regulation are related to one another. Self-regulatory modalities, from the simple to the complex, are driven by, interact with, and accompany interactive regulatory modalities, in which a meaningful relationship with The Other is used to regulate the various states of Self. Some expressions of emotions (for example, aggression and sexuality, and in general all discreet emotions) are clearly embedded in the context of interactivity, while others are silently self-regulated (mood, vital emotions) as long as random misfortunes do not interfere.

With few exceptions (including Sander and Tronick, Emde), independent empirical studies have placed emphasis either on one or the other form of regulation (self or interactive). These concepts have slowly but surely become more precise and more clearly defined.

Following upon the nineteenth-century principle of an insular and insulated maintenance of homeostasis (recall Claude Bernard, followed by Cannon at the beginning of the twentieth century), self-regulation becomes a modality by which a “biological system” recognises an external stimulus and responds by modifying itself through development of the various senses of Self or through the integration of the so-called motivational systems, as conceived by Lichtenberg.

L. Sander is among the first authors in this area to propose a determining role for Self-regulation and Interactive-regulation. (Sander, 1970) He described the mother-child dyad as a system whose goal is to reach and produce well-being for both mother and child. The child, according to Sander, has union/separation needs that contrast to those of the mother. A period of union determines a successive period of autonomous self-regulation that can be translated into explorative experiences. As soon as a new state of disequilibrium is felt (hunger, tiredness, etc.) the child searches for union with its mother once more. (Sander, 1977)

D. Stern insists on the importance of emotional syntonization between mother and child in the child’s pre-verbal phase. This, Stern maintains, is necessary for the consolidation of the child’s internal experiences and emotional development. (Stern, 1985) In this way he emphasises interactive regulation.

In the recent contributions of Beebe and Lachmann, which we have chosen to discuss at greater length, the concepts of self-regulation and interactive regulation become central in the description of the reciprocal mother-child exchanges and, by analogy, in the complex verbal and non-verbal dynamics that exist between patient and therapist.

Beginning with a systemic model, these authors propose an attempt to integrate self-regulation and interactive regulation. On the basis of numerous empirical results, they affirm that from the first months of life the child and the mother are both continuously interacting “open systems”. Mother and child together represent a system in which “… self- and interactive regulation are simultaneous, complementary, and optimally in dynamic balance”. (Beebe and Lachmann, 2003, p. 213) These authors provide a definition of self-regulation correlated to the level of activity and vigilance: the child is awake, attentive and vigilant, when disturbed, the child can become hyper-vigilant and/or hyper-active, but also detached, drowsy, or lost in his or her own fantasies. In optimal self-regulation, however, the ability to activate a request to the other member of the dyad – request for food, care, assistance – that brings the levels of self-regulation to a more satisfying state is implicit. The opposing pole of the dyad is expressed by the other member’s response to this request; interactive regulation. However, the two members of the couple function in a completely bidirectional manner, both as self-regulating systems, but also as uninterrupted fonts of reciprocal exchange, in which the contribution of each has equal value (as true in the mother-child couple as it is in the patient-therapist couple). But how do the exchanges between two members of a couple come about? And what is the nature of the move to and from processes of self-regulation and interactive regulation? To explain the ways in which these two systems influence one another the authors return to the principle of Weiss’ “correspondence of specificity”, according to which two systems synchronise with one another on the basis of corresponding properties. That is to say, the two systems “recognise one another”. This recognition comes about via various biological functions (recognition of sounds, neural tissue, etc.). If we refer to the mother-child dyad, this correspondence can be described as “moments of meeting” that favour reorganisation and a sense of identity: as if reciprocal recognition (interactive regulation) influenced the capacity to act in first person on one’s own self-regulation.

As we have already mentioned, Beebe and Lachmann maintain that it is possible to utilize their systemic model in the realm of patient-therapist relationships. The patient-therapist relationship is configured as an endless co-construction incorporating processes of self-regulation and interactive regulation. Obviously, one must remember that in an adult the capacity for symbolisation, abstraction and unconscious elaboration of one’s own experiences produces specific effects on the interaction.

The co-construction between analyst and patient is done via a series of relational events, isolated in expected and predictable moments or consisting of successive ruptures and repairs, which represent the implicit and non-verbal plait of the relationship. To this, we add a continuum of intense emotional moments, which have an organising effect on the experience. The verbal and/or symbolic expression of this relational experience represents another and specific relational event that enters and takes its role in the process of continuous exchange. In the weave of these diverse relational possibilities, the style of self-regulation and the expectations of both patient and analyst are modified.

The interests of therapeutic change, therefore, are not helped so much by the verbal content but by the emotional structure of the dialogue between analyst and patient, constructed according to reciprocal expectations, disconfirmations, and moments of particularly intense emotional proximity. Beebe and Lachmann highlight how continuously transforming, non-verbal modalities of communications (we might say unconscious) are present within the therapeutic relationship and influence reciprocally both patient and therapist. From this point of view the mechanisms of therapeutic self-regulation implicit in the relationship end up “regulating” aspects of the patient’s emotional life such that the psyche of the patient cannot regulate itself autonomously: a patient’s deficient self-regulatory capacity is compensated for by more vigilant self-regulation by the therapist. Translated into Jungian terms, when the mechanisms of psychic compensation of the patient’s unconscious are non activated (for example, via a dream) the therapeutic relationship performs a vital role – interactive regulation – and the unconscious mind of the therapist compensates his or her own consciousness, engaged with the relationship. Given this, the therapist’s dream activity becomes extremely important. At other times, it is a patient’s dream that regulates the therapeutic relationship.


  1. Beebe, B., Lachmann, F.M., (2002) Infant Research and Adult Treatment: Co-Constructing Interactions, The Analytic Press, p. 213.
  2. Jung, C.G., (1921), Psychological Types, Collected works, Vol. 6, §694.
  3. Jung, C.G., (1917-1943) Two essays on analytical psychology, Collected works, Vol. 7, §92.
  4. Sander, L.W., Stechler, G., Burns, P, Julia H., (1970), “Early mother-infant interaction and 240 patterns of activity and sleep”, Journal of the American Academy of Child Psychiatry, No, 1, pp. 103-123.
  5. Sander, L.W., (1977) “The regulation of exchange in the infant-caretaker system and some aspects of the contest-content relationship”, in Lewis, M., Rosemblum, L., Interaction, Conversation, and the Development of Language, Wiley, New York, pp. 133-156.
  6. Stern, D.N., (1985) The Interpersonal World of the Infant, Basic Books, New York.