How Do We Reach the Pre-symbolic and Place of Hidden Trauma: Penny de Haas Curnow

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Date(s) - 26/11/2016
10:00 am - 12:30 pm

Cambridge - Friends Meeting House


How Do We Reach the Pre-symbolic and Place of Hidden Trauma

Penny de Haas Curnow

‘Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown’ (Minnie Louise Haskins, 1875 – 1951)

Many of our patients experience difficulty in thinking, with an impaired symbolising function, unable to give personal meaning to experience and failing to fulfil its life-giving potential. They may be thought difficult, hard to reach or untreatable. The treatment may be stuck, resignation reached, no further action prescribed.

Increasingly, analytic preoccupations are with the ‘pre-symbolic’ or ‘deep’ psychic content of the embodied mind, involving immersion in immediate experience at the foundation of our being: arguably where change happens.

                For Bion every effective interpretation is a ‘transformation of emotional experience’ (1974, p. 130). Without the ‘sight’ of lived experience interpretation can be static, creativity negated. Reaching and communicating with subliminal depth is challenging – what can we do? How do we enter the domain that not only the patient but the practitioner also is terrified of. Bion considers the artist, whose witness of unendurable traumatic events is told anew aesthetically, its transformation giving it the ‘life’ that enlightens and is growth-promoting. His model of ‘Transformation in Hallucinosis’ has been seen as ‘the deepest probe for exploring inter-psychic unconscious emotional reality’ (G Civitarese, 2014). A process initiated through Negative Capability, it is synonymous with what he terms ‘acts of faith’ (1970, pp. 35-6).

Working at this level and precipitating the function of Negative Capability – which  allows ‘seeing in the dark’ – is the encounter and use of the therapist’s own pre-symbolic states of consciousness, and, inevitably, wounds and trauma. The implication being that their creative containment is a necessary tool in communicating and for effective transformation and resolution.

Further exploration not only reveals the challenges but its satisfaction, beauty and truth-creating aspects. It allows comparisons with the ‘stillness’ and ‘compassion’ and deepest intimacy with parts of the self, others and nature, and indicates the commitment and seriousness that therapeutic transformation at depth require.

I will share clinical examples of the struggle for truth and working through trauma in these areas.

Penny de Haas Curnow studied fine art, art education, art psycho-therapy before training first as an analytical psychotherapist and then a Jungian analyst at the SAP, where she is currently a training analyst. She worked in mental health, therapeutic communities and social services and was founder-director of Ealing Psychotherapy Centre for low-cost intensive therapy. She developed a model, ‘Activating the Artist for Analysts’, a hybrid of fine art and in-depth analytic thinking allowing the practitioner to ‘become an artist’ concretely and clinically. Her research, workshops, and papers for the last 20 years have been especially in the aesthetic level of analysis, and the processes that enable psychic transformations of this level to occur, especially reconnection. Penny has currently an intensive private practice with a particular interest in deeply-embedded trauma.

Chair: Wendy Bratherton


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