IPA Inter-Regional Encyclopedic Dictionary of Psychoanalysis

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ENACTMENT Tri-Regional Entry Inter-Regional Consultants: Rosemary Balsam (North America), Roosevelt Cassorla (Latin America), and Antonio Pérez-Sánchez (Europe) Coordinating Co-Chair: Eva D. Papiasvili (North America)


The concept of enactment does not have a stable place in psychoanalytic theory. Uses of the term vary widely from confinement to the analytic situation to a broad range of interactions and behaviors in life. Following the first use of the term in a title of a paper by Theodore Jacobs (1986), enactment has often been thought of as a North American concept. However, in contemporary North American psychoanalytic literature, there is no single concept of enactment. Rather, there is a group of such concepts, more or less closely related to one another but also quite different from one another. The following sample of the uses absorbs, combines and expands on, the North American definitions of the concept by Akhtar (2009) and Auchincloss and Samberg (2012): • Transference/Countertransference enactments (e.g., Jacobs 1986, Hirsch, 1998), where analyst and/or analysand express transference or countertransference wishes in action, rather than reflecting on and interpreting them. This use of the term was further expanded by McLaughlin (1991) to include 'evocative-coercive transferences of both patient and analyst’ and yet further developed by Chused (1991, 2003) as 'symbolic interactions' with unconscious meaning for both participants, potentially extending beyond the analytic situation. This phenomenon could be viewed as a version of ‘acting out’ or ‘acting in’ (Zeligs, 1957), extended to both participants. • The analysand’s unconscious induction of the analyst to live out the analysand’s unconscious fantasies. This idea is akin to 'projective identification' and/or 'role responsiveness'. • ‘An embedded series of often subtle, unconscious, interactive, mutually constructed dramas that are lived out’ (Levine and Friedman, 2000, p.73; Loewald, 1975). Here, ‘enactment’ is being used to name a kind of intersubjectivity since the analyst is seen as a co-creator of what happens between the two parties. • Any dramatic expression of transferential/countertransferential rupture of a fluid analytic containing exchange (Ellman, 2007), potentially extending beyond the psychoanalytic


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