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International Conference: 'Narratives of The Therapeutic Encounter : Psychoanalysis, Talking Therapies and Creative Practice’

The conference aims to focus on the therapeutic encounter, depicted via the patient's experience, expressed through the creative act, and as counter-weight to the practitioner's 'case study'.

This interdisciplinary project seeks to explore the role that the creative arts (literature, film, media, art) have played in offering representations and explorations of minds, and relationships, therapies and mental health, and more pressingly, ill-health.

Conference programme and registration details/links will be available soon from the conference page:

Narratives of The Therapeutic Encounter

Conference overview

The aim of the conference is to explore the ways in which talking therapies have been depicted in 20th century and contemporary creative outputs in French, and other languages (in life-writings, fiction, film, TV series, art installations). What can these narratives tell us about the therapeutic endeavour which finds its roots in Freud in the late-19th century, and has seen a flourishing of interventions and treatment modes over the last century, and which continues to provoke interest and debate into the 21st century ? What do different depictions tell us about the particular culture and history in which they are written, and the controversies and debates they have engendered ? Might such artistic endeavours enable us to trace the history of mental health treatment, via depictions of psychological, psychoanalytical and psychiatric practices ? Furthermore, following on from Lacan’s view (via Duras), do we find in literature and the arts the foundations of the theories yet to be expressed ?

If Freud argued that literature would help the practitioner of therapy as much, if not more than, the medical textbook, what are we to take from autobiographical and fictional depictions of the therapeutic encounter? Indeed, his own practice bore witness to his use of myth and literature to illustrate psychological processe. What can we learn from the patient’s experience as depicted in autobiographical and fictional writings? Freud described the practitioner’s case study as a ‘theory fiction’ ; we would now like to shift the focus to the patient’s words and experience, following up a suggestion by French author Serge Doubrovsky, who wrote in an article on autobiography and psychoanalysis  in 1993, that this could be a worthwhile investigation: ‘[… the narration of analysis, detailed log-book, or posthumous reconstitution by the patient has become almost a literary genre, which, incidentally, it would be interesting to study in parallel with the clinical narratives that originate from the other side of the couch’ (‘Autobiography/Truth/Psychoanalysis’, Genre (Spring, 1993), 27-42 (p. 33). The peculiarly French genre of ‘autofiction’ has seen implict and explicit engagement with all kinds of considerations and depictions of mental health/ill-health.

Submissions may cover but are not limited to the questions and topics below

  • Explorations of the concept of ‘theory fictions’
  • Explorations of the relationship between therapy, the imagination and creative practice
  • The healing potential of the intersubjective encounter
  • The place/role of language in the therapeutic setting
  • Depictions/problematisations of madness
  • Self-discovery, and states of ‘not knowing’
  • Creative expression as scriptotherapy
  • Bibliotherapy  
  • Views on/depictions of creativity in relation to containment, sublimation and/or reparation.
  • Boundaries; frames; beginnings, middles and endings; structure, form and formlessness
  • Creativity and play
  • Drama; myth; conflict
  • Listening as ethical act/the listener as witness
  • Monologue and dialogue
  • Privacy and exposure
  • Bearing pain: the patient as sufferer (‘patio’)
  • Depictions of psychoanalysis, and psychiatry, as ideological battlegrounds, as explored and depicted in creative practice.
  • Usage of diagnostic terminology; cultural shifts and blindspots in presentations of altered and disturbed states of mind.

Authors/artists/film-makers in French exploring the therapeutic encounter are diverse, and include: Chantal Akerman, Christine Angot, Henri Bauchau, Simone de Beauvoir, Louise Bourgeois, Sophie Calle, Marie Cardinal, Hélène Cixous, Chloe Delaume, Serge Doubrovsky, Michel Houellebecq, Julia Kristeva, Camille Laurens, Linda Lê, Michel Leiris, Nicole Malinconi, Gisèle Pineau, Emma Santos, Liliane Schraûwen, François Weyergans.

Author/analysts/psychiatrists working in French, past and present include: Henri Bauchau, Marie Darrieussecq, Lydia Flem, Philippe Grimbert, Jacqueline Harpman, Julia Kristeva, and Lydie Salvayre.

Lacan’s work has played a significant role in dialogue with creative output in French, and Malcolm Bowie’s writings on Lacan have brought a particular strand of French psychoanalysis to wider audiences within Humanities research. J-F Chiantaretto and J-B Pontalis have also played an important role in bridging the fields of psychoanalysis and literature in France. Didier Anzieu, André Green and Elisabeth Roudinesco’s writings have also broadened out more multidisciplinary perspectives, and are increasingly cited in humanities research on literature, desire, trauma, and creativity. Studies on the Beckett/Bion relationship also bear witness to the powerful impact on both artist and clinician of the therapeutic encounter.

English-language depictions of the therapeutic encounter include works by Jenny Diski, Jonathan Franzen, Hanif Kureishi, Ali Smith, and Philip Roth, to name a few. Analysts who have written fictional accounts of the therapeutic encounter include: Marie Adams, Thomas Ogden, Salley Vickers, and Irvin Yalom, Recent U.S. TV Series to include depictions of the therapeutic encounter include: The Sopranos, Mad men, and In Treatment. Recent publications such as Gregorio Kohon’s Reflections on the Aesthetic Experience: Psychoanalysis and the uncanny (2015) bear witness to an ongoing fascination with, and questioning of, artistic endeavour in relation to psychoanalysis. Within the British psychoanalytic tradition, analysts such as Melanie Klein, Hanna Segal, Marion Milner, Juliet Miller, and Donald Winnicott, amongst others, have written about the relationship between talking therapies and the creative process.