The Psychoanalytic Method of George Atwood By Natalie Smolenski 2016
Abstract In what technê, and what habitus, must a psychoanalytic practitioner be skilled in order to facilitate the healing of patients? To answer this question, this paper takes as its case study the clinical practice of George Atwood, the phenomenological psychoanalyst whose book, The Abyss of Madness, describes his work with patients embroiled in struggles with the most serious psychological disorders. Atwood’s method is fundamentally emancipatory in that it seeks to help the patient liberate himself from psychological bondage to and enmeshment within the traumatic experiences and oppressive social bonds that have shaped his excruciating experiential world. The path toward this emancipation can only be based in truth, and as such, Atwood’s method is predicated on the continual exercise of courage in service of “the inner truth of a life." The dedication to practice such courage through the often-overwhelming encounter with the “blood” that, according to Atwood, characterizes every healing analysis is born of what can only be called deep love. In this context, love names a set of profound inner resources the therapist brings to his own comportment and conduct, and by extension and implication the overall trajectory of the patient’s life. This paper explores several specific analytic practices through which the love of the analyst meets and is co-translated into the subjective experience of the patient, enabling him through embodied presence, example, and guidance to re-structure the world of his experience in ways that are more open, more life-giving, and ultimately more loving to self and other.