The Buried Treasures of Fairbairn and Ferenczi: Their Relevance to Current Practice and Sociocultural Life

November 17, 2023

Abstract
Two early psychoanalysts, Sandor Ferenczi and Ronald Fairbairn, contributed some of the best formulations of complex trauma and dissociation that exist. No one has described more passionately than Ferenczi the traumatic induction of dissociative trance with its resulting fragmentation of the personality. No one has presented more precisely than Fairbairn a theory of the dissociative structure of the mind, emanating from attachment dilemmas. Both clinicians worked with abused children; both understood the relational nature of complex trauma; both brilliantly described cases of DID.
 
Ferenczi listened acutely to his severely traumatized patients and wrote eloquently about what he understood. His concept of Identification with the Aggressor describes how the traumatized child splits/dissociates the perpetrating aspects from the nurturing aspects of the aggressor and internalizes these in separate self-states. The traumatically overwhelmed child maintains a bond of tenderness with the aggressor but dissociates the self-states that were traumatized by the aggressor. As a result, one or more parts gravitates around the aggressor’s wishes and becomes a narcissistic extension of the aggressor, while other parts identify automatically by mimicry and by a dream-like introjection (rather than a purposeful) identification with the aggressor. Ferenczi understood and articulated the development and structure of what we now classify as dissociative identity disorder, and he formulated a relational treatment of trauma. Unfortunately, many of his ideas—adult confusions regarding the child's need for tenderness, the first formulation about the internalization of the aggressor, an understanding of child parts existing within the adult, explications of misunderstood adult manifestations of dissociation—were ahead of his time and threatening to many, Freud in particular.

Fairbairn wrote of the effects of trauma that derived from childhood neglect, abuse, overwhelming shame about unreciprocated attachment longings. He described  dissociative structure in his Endopsychic Model, which concerns internal multiplicity. Fairbairn believed that we are all schizoid (i.e., dissociative), and he provided an early, fully articulated theory of the dissociative mental structure—one that has many applications, including an explanation of splitting of the personality. Fairbairn introduced the dissociogenic power of shame. Expression of feelings to a person who is emotionally unresponsive, rejecting, critical, and/or emotionally absent can be intensely shaming. As a result, many children dissociate and/or learn to inhibit expressions of needful longings, anger, and hatred.

It is time for these clinicians to have a wider audience to rediscover their powerful descriptions and radical ideas about dissociation and their vital application to our clinical work.

Potential to Distress: No
 

Target Audience

Advanced

Learning Objectives

At the conclusion of this presentation, participants will be able to:

  • Explain Ferenczi’s ideas about the abused child’s dissociative trance and resultant personality fragmentation
  • List the basic elements of Fairbairn’s map of the schizoid (dissociative) mind   
  • Apply the concepts of these clinicians in the ways that they work with clients and apply them to current concepts in the literature on complex trauma and dissociation
  • Discuss why Fairbairn thought that we are all schizoid    
  • Explain Ferencz's concept of Identification with the Aggressor
Course summary
Available credit: 
  • 1.50 APA
    The International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation is approved by the American Psychological Association to sponsor continuing education for psychologists. The International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation maintains responsibility for this program and its content.
  • 1.50 ASWB ACE
    The International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation (ISSTD), #1744, is approved to offer social work continuing education by the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) Approved Continuing Education (ACE) program. Organizations, not individual courses, are approved as ACE providers. State and provincial regulatory boards have the final authority to determine whether an individual course may be accepted for continuing education credit. ISSTD maintains responsibility for this course. ACE provider approval period: 08/20/2021 – 08/20/2024. Social workers completing this course receive 1.50 continuing education credits.
  • 1.50 ISSTD Certificate Program
    This program is eligible for 1.50 credits in the ISSTD Certificate Program.
Course opens: 
09/01/2023
Course expires: 
12/31/2050
Event starts: 
11/17/2023 - 2:30pm EST
Event ends: 
11/17/2023 - 4:00pm EST
Rating: 
0

Presenter: Elizabeth F. Howell, PhD
Presenter Bio: Dr. Elizabeth Howell is faculty and supervisor at Manhattan Institute for Psychoanalysis; faculty of the NYU Postdoctoral Program in Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis; Honorary member of William Alanson White Psychoanalytic Society, past Co-Director and Faculty, International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation (ISSTD) Professional Training Program on Dissociative Disorders, and on the Editorial Board of the Journal of Trauma and Dissociation.

In addition to many professional articles, her books include: 

  • Trauma and Dissociation Informed Psychotherapy: Relational Healing and the Therapeutic Connection; The Dissociative Mind
  • Understanding and Treating Dissociative Identity Disorder: A Relational Approach
  • The Dissociative Mind in Psychoanalysis: Understanding and Working with Trauma, (Howell & Itzkowitz)
  • Psychoanalysts, Psychologists & Psychiatrists Discuss Psychopathy and Human Evil (Itzkowitz & Howell), and Women and Mental Health, (Howell & Bayes)

Dr. Howell is the recipient of the ISSTD Cornelia Wilber Award for outstanding clinical contributions in the field of dissociative disorders, Lifetime Achievement Award, and Print Media Award for two of her books. She is the recipient, with Dr. Sheldon Itzkowitz of the Author’s Recognition Award from the National Institute for the Psychotherapies (NIP), and is a Gradiva Award nominee for both The Dissociative Mind in Psychoanalysis and  Trauma and Dissociation Informed Psychotherapy: Relational Healing and the Therapeutic Connection She has lectured nationally and internationally.
She is in private practice in New York City, where she works with clients, does consultations, and runs consultation and study groups.
 

Available Credit

  • 1.50 APA
    The International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation is approved by the American Psychological Association to sponsor continuing education for psychologists. The International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation maintains responsibility for this program and its content.
  • 1.50 ASWB ACE
    The International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation (ISSTD), #1744, is approved to offer social work continuing education by the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) Approved Continuing Education (ACE) program. Organizations, not individual courses, are approved as ACE providers. State and provincial regulatory boards have the final authority to determine whether an individual course may be accepted for continuing education credit. ISSTD maintains responsibility for this course. ACE provider approval period: 08/20/2021 – 08/20/2024. Social workers completing this course receive 1.50 continuing education credits.
  • 1.50 ISSTD Certificate Program
    This program is eligible for 1.50 credits in the ISSTD Certificate Program.
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