Roy Schafer and his psychoanalytic concept of narrative[edit | edit source]

When telling a lifestory it is always possible to develop and communicate meaning in more than one way. The psychoanalyst and the analysand each have their own role in telling and retelling the lifestory of the analysand. An important purpose of the analytic process is that the analysand regains agency of her own story and of her own life. The analyst helps the analysand to acquire this by elevating subjectivity.

Biography[edit | edit source]

Roy Schafer is a psychologist-psychoanalyst born in the Bronx in 1922, New York USA. He was trained at the Menninger Foundation and Austen Riggs Center, and he was a staff psychologist for Yale’s health service (1961 – 1976) and professor of Psychiatry at Cornell University, Medical College (1976 – 1979). In 1979 he established a private practice in New York City. His early work focused on psychological testing and later he wrote on psychoanalysis and psychotherapy, in works including Aspects of Internalization (1968), A NewLanguage for Psychoanalysis (1976), The Analytic Attitude (1983), Retelling a Life (1992) and Bad Feelings (2003).

Vision on a life story[edit | edit source]

Schafer began to present traditional psychoanalytical concepts not as scientific principles but as interpretative storylines. In this view there is no singular correct interpretation of a life story; rather, like other narrative constructions, such as poems or novels, it lends itself to various understandings. For Schafer the value of an interpretation lies not in its objectivity or correctness, but in its potential for opening up new forms of experience and allowing the analysand to claim a deeper and broader sense of its own activity. [1]

Narrational process[edit | edit source]

A narrational process in psychoanalysis consists of two people: the psychoanalyst and the analysand. Roy Schafer prefers the use of the word analysand in stead of patient to avoid the implication of disease. Schafer describes psychoanalysts as ‘retellers of narrations’, but he states that more descriptions of psychoanalysts are possible. [2] The analyst’s retelling influences the ‘what and how’ of the stories told by the analysand. The analyst establishes new questions that amount to narrative possibilities. [3]

Schafer divides the narration of the analysand in two parts:

a) The analysand him- or herself. In the psychoanalytic situation, the psychoanalyst gives an account for the meaning an analysand gives to certain (life)events. In psychoanalytic narration people are often presented as thinking that they are responsible for misfortunes and accidents in their lives. In terms of Schafer’s narrational approach, this is called claiming of action. The opposite of claiming of action, is disclaiming of action. In the analytical situation one needs to deal with excessive claiming or disclaiming. [2] b) Narration. Following literary theorists, who examined the role of telling and showing in narration, Roy Schafer makes a distinction between telling and showing in the psychoanalytical situation. Telling happens when the analysand tells in words about events; about the past. Showing happens when the analysand conveys ideas, feelings, fantasies or reactions, verbal or non-verbal and freely associates these in an unselective way and without rehearsal. The analysand seems to be operating in the present; even when talking about the past. [2]

Agency[edit | edit source]

In Schafers account the basic transformation in the analytic process is the analysand’s gradual assumption of agency with respect to previously disclaimed actions. Initially the analysand considers her beliefs about herself and her world to simply be true. She has been crushed, the world is dangerous. These are taken as givens, objective facts. In analysis the analysand comes to see that these facts have actually been created by her. She is the agent of her world, the designer, the interpreter. As the analysand comes to understand and experience herself as the agent of her internal and external world it becomes possible for her to imagine herself making other choices, acting in the world and organizing her experience in a more open more constructive fashion. [1]

Subjectivity[edit | edit source]

Another important aspect of Schafer concerning the use of narratives in the analytical situation is subjectivity. Subjectivity means that multiple interpretations are possible for one story. According to Schafer, psychopathology is the result of a lack of subjectivity, so the goal in the analytical situation is to elevate subjectivity. The analyst does this by prescribing which parts of the whole story a patient tells are selected, in such a way that it can be transformed into a different story. One selects the details from the story whereby one constructs a new story which is relevant at that moment for the process in the psychoanalytic situation. A story changes at the moment new goals are formed. New questions are discussed and new points of view are created on the past. In this way, the analytical viewpoint on the past is a reconstruction of what happened in the past. The subject of the story is reconsidered, the story is told in a different way, the story gets a different context and a different interpretation. Hereby the reconstruction of childhood and past are interdependent. What seems to be a truth about the past at one moment, can become untrue or nuanced by new insights, which causes a new or more differentiated truth. In this way, the view on the past and the present are not separated, but interrelated. So, the analyst helps the analysand to view his story in a different light and this elevates the subjectivity of the story. [4]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 Mitchell, S.A., & Black, M.J. (1995). Freud and Beyond. New York: Basic Books
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Schafer, R. (1980a). Action and Narration in Psychoanalysis, New Literary History, 12, p.61-85
  3. Schafer, R. (1980b). Narration in the psychoanalytic dialogue. Critical Inquiry, 7, p. 29-53.
  4. Schafer, R. (1982). The relevance of the ‘here and now’ transference interpretation to the reconstruction of early development. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 63, 77-82.
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