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Thinking Inside the Box: Objects of Mental Space in the Psychoanalytic Consulting Room

Julie Leavitt


In his enigmatic appeal to psychoanalysts to work without memory or desire, Wilfred Bion (1970) warned against saturating the mental field of the analytic dyad with past and future elements. Doing so, he said, risks impinging on present sense impressions and infusing the patient’s emerging associations with specific meaning, relegating them to occurrences of knowing rather than experiences of becoming. With an eye to becoming, Bion broadened the clinical uses of projection and projective identification to conceive of a model he called “container/contained” in which the analyst’s mind (container) becomes a real-time, designated space for transforming patients’ projected sense impressions and memory traces (contained) into elements that may be consciously thought and felt. In this article, I extend Bion’s model to include physical and spatial aspects of the psychoanalytic environment. Drawing from clinical material I illustrate how patients associatively link memory fragments and projections to my office; from its concrete boundaries to the objects, sounds, and other sensory phenomena it houses. I argue that patients may thus experience my office as part of my mind, which “remembers” facets of their lived experiences. Based on these findings I will demonstrate how, in the present clinical moment, the materiality of my office becomes an extension of the transference field. Here the patients’ sense impressions and memory traces become cast as contained memories, more accessible for conscious understanding in the therapeutic encounter.