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Visit of Dr. Axel Hoffer at Prague
From 22-25th October the Czech Psychoanalytic Society had an outstanding
opportunity to welcome to Prague Dr. Axel Hoffer, the Training and
Supervising Analyst at the Boston Psychoanalytic Society and Institute (BPSI)
and the Honorary Member of the Czech Psychoanalytic Society.
On Thursday 22nd Dr.Hoffer met the board members of the Society and led the
seminar with members and candidates. In the seminar under the title Freud
and the Buddha: The Couch and the Cushion Dr.Hoffer opened a discussion
with a focus on the commonality between the psychoanalyst’s neutrality as he
listens to his freely associating patient, and the Buddhist monk’s nonjudgmental attention to his mind. Dr.Hoffer stressed a power of non-verbal
communication for communicating feelings in analytic work. In his opinion, the
role of words, thinking and even “understanding” has tended to be overemphasized in psychoanalysis and psychotherapy, making the communication
of deeply felt emotions all the more difficult, the result being that the analyst
misses vital information for truly understanding the patient’s experience..
(point elaborated in Dr. Hoffer’s book: Freud and the Buddha: the Couch and
the Cushion, Karnac 2015) A discussion was rich and stimulating and Dr.Hoffer
was able to create a working and accepting atmosphere at the same time. In a
general discussion candidates and members had also an opportunity to discuss
an article of Dr.Hoffer´s about psychoanalytic neutrality that was distributed
beforehand (Hoffer, A.: Passionate neutrality).
During the second part of his visit from Friday 23rd untill Sunday 25th Dr. Hoffer
participated on the 1st Prague conference dedicated to Otto Fenichel (an
outstanding figure of world psychoanalysis, who played an important role in
establishing the Prague psychoanalytic group). The main theme of the
conference “Otto Fenichel and his legacy” was Fear of Strangeness: AntiSemitism, Xenophobia and Uncanny Experience.
At the first day of the Conference Dr. Hoffer presented his paper:
"Helplessness and our War against Feeling “ (the panel “Helplessness,
uncanny). In his view at the root of fear of strangeness is the anticipation of
helplessness, which is for him the most unbearable feeling that human beings
can feel (hopelessness is a close second to helplessness, but he suggested that
behind hopelessness is the feeling that there is no one to help). Helplessness is
so a primal, often intolerable feeling that underlies and intensifies other
feelings that are also hard to bear. In psychoanalysis, both analysts and
patients face helplessness, and both resort to defences, often intensely, in
order to avoid it. The intensity of this battle can merit calling it a war. The
analyst’s internal war is conducted using distancing, anger, blaming and
disparaging as well as by intellectualizing the patient’s struggles. Patients then
find themselves abandoned and helplessly alone. Dr. Hoffer stressed that
analysts, of course, want not to fall into the trap of war, and try to free
themselves from waging it. A major way we accomplish this is through
continuously working, often with the help of analysis and self-analysis, to
increase our capacity to maintain our emotional stability in the face of these
intensities. Thus we could learn to find new forms of awareness, beyond words
and ideas. Dr.Hoffer brought a case study, which helped an audience to
understand this, quite often painful to both sides, process.
On a closing panel on Sunday 25th Dr.Hoffer emphasized that it is the
anticipation of feeling helpless that underlies fear of strangeness, as well as
anti-semitism and uncanny experience.
The Conference was attended by more than 140 people and Dr.Hoffer helped
substantially to its success. His presentation will be published in Czech.