IPA Inter-Regional Encyclopedic Dictionary of Psychoanalysis

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CONTAINMENT: CONTAINER-CONTAINED Tri-Regional Entry First Edition 2017: Inter-Regional Editorial Board: Louis Brunet (North America); Vera Regina Fonseca (Latin America); Dimitris-James Jackson (Europe) Inter-Regional Coordinating Co-Chair: Eva D. Papiasvili (North America) Second Edition 2022: Inter-Regional Editorial Board: Louis Brunet (North America); Vera Regina Fonseca (Latin America); Dimitris-James Jackson (Europe); Dwarakanath Rao (North America) Inter-Regional Coordinating Chair: Eva D. Papiasvili


Bion’s concept of Container-Contained has been brought to light in “Learning from Experience” (Bion 1962 a) where containment is conceptualized as a stage of the process of creating a new thought after an emotional experience. Later, the concept was meant to analogize the situation of the analytic couple in terms of the mother-infant nursing situation. Thus, it encompasses seminal theory of the origins of thought in the mother-infant prototypical situation and the accompanying internally interactive experience transforming the baby’s experience of distress from dread to knowing and thinking about it. This foundational experience is theorized as having developmental and clinical implications throughout the life cycle, particularly when the normative Container-Contained experiences are not able to be achieved. The concept designates the mother not only as the donor of soothing and fulfilling milk, but also as a receptive organ which receives the infant’s emotional pain and is able to sooth that pain for the infant and restore it to life-size management. In Bion’s terms, most generally, it represents the transformation of distress from O (in its meaning of nameless dread) to K (knowledge), as in “now I can think about the unthinkable!” From the evolution-of-theory point of view, the concept represents an extension of the theory of Projective Identification (see the separate entry), from a theory of primitive fantasy and defense, into a theory of a primitive form of communication necessary for the development of thinking. As a relational model of mental functioning, the Containment process extends a linear reciprocal interplay between the pair of Container-Contained, with the following steps: a mental state (‘content’) is communicated from a sender to a receiver; the receiver potentially


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