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  • Mind Works: Technique and Creativity in Psychoanalysis
  • Sara Boffito
    Translated by Andrew Ellis
Antonino Ferro. Mind Works: Technique and Creativity in Psychoanalysis. Trans. Philip Slotkin. London: Routledge, 2009. xiii + 225 pp. $39.95 (pb).

The title of this book1 by Antonino Ferro, the fifth to be translated into English and published by Routledge, seems to me to encapsulate neatly the essence of what the author believes is going on in the analyst's consulting room: the working of the mind, or the mind at work.

The mind in question, in this model, is first of all that of the analyst, engaged (if we are lucky, or rather, if the patient is lucky) in an ongoing baseline activity of reverie through which he grasps, metabolizes, and transforms the verbal, paraverbal, or nonverbal contents conveyed by the patient. This activity, that is, the capacity to exercise the imagination and tap into images thanks to the "narrative derivatives" of waking dream-thought, is the cornerstone of the patient's mental life2 as well, with which he responds to each of the analyst's more or less interpretative prompts. According to Ferro, mental health and mental illness or suffering pivot on the function/dysfunction of this activity of reverie.

The mental model Ferro is here proposing, one which he has already described in previous writings (Ferro 1992, 1996, 1999, 2002) and to which he now gives greater creative thrust, elaborates on the thinking of Wilfred Bion, among whose legacies to psychoanalysis is the crucial idea that dreams are not only the "royal road" (via regia) to the unconscious, but also a mode of waking thought. Alongside Thomas Ogden and James S. Grotstein, Ferro is among the contemporary authors who have fostered the most creative reformulations of Bion's thinking.

It is this method of functioning by means of a constant activity of reverie that enables Ferro to introduce alongside the classically Bionian oscillations of ♂↔♀, PS↔D, NC↔SF (negative capability↔selected fact), another one within which [End Page 121] the analyst's mind ought to feel at ease, namely, the oscillation between creativity and technique (C↔T), which, in Ferro's model, are in each other's service. Effectively, in his communication with the patient, the analyst must be able to oscillate along the entire arc from the widest, most narrative and unsaturated interpretations to progressively more saturated transference interpretations or interpretations focused on the content.

In this sense, to use the well-known kitchen metaphor introduced by the author, the analyst has to be a bit like those cooks who, even though they are very familiar with a recipe, do not follow it to the letter, but keep tasting and "adjusting" their concoction as it is cooking, creating an "analytic recipe" specific to each patient. In interpretative terms these cook-analysts must also be able to tell when the patient's stomach can only cope with plain boiled rice, or conversely when his emotional digestive system—that is, his α function—is ready for a spicy caponata.3

The goal of analysis thus becomes the introjection of a function of "weaving stories," of narrating emotions, an "internal narrator" (Ferro 1996, 2006) born of the analyst's capacity for reverie, which enables the transformation of the here and now into a space/time where the analytic couple can think the unthinkable together and the lacerated fabric can be rewoven. The characters of the narrative are all the events, people, memories, and associations brought by the patient, whose task it also is to provide most of the "narrative skeins" (or ingredients), while the analyst collaborates on the script by introducing other characters, or by modulating those brought by the patient, which often syncretize clumps of stifled and painful emotions.

One of the main qualities of Ferro's Mind Works is the author's generous supply of clinical examples (some cases of his own, others in which he only supervised), which allow the reader to enter almost concretely into his working methods, sample his creativity, and reflect on the potential that thinking through images brings to the clinical practice. An example is the case of Martino, the son of a very successful man...


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pp. 121-126
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