Trauma and Representation

by Lawrence J. Brown, PhD


This paper explores the impact of trauma on the capacity for representation. Profound trauma hobble the mind’s ability to represent (give meaning to) emotional experience, which results in a diminished capacity for thinking, the breakdown of symbol formation and the emergence of concrete modes of cognition. The author begins with Freud’s (1920) views on the nature of trauma, in particular his notion of a protective shield (Reizschutz) that envelops the psyche, and moves on to current theories that address the object relational aspects of this ‘shield,’ with a specific focus on the importance of an internal parental couple (Brown, 2011; Herzog, 2005) as a vital component of that protective shield. In addition, a theory of trauma from a Bionian perspective is offered that builds on two previous papers of the author (Brown, 2005, 2006) which are augmented by contributions from the French Psychosomatic School. Lastly, an extensive clinical vignette from the analysis of an adolescent male is offered to illustrate the near total collapse of his psychic functioning and a compensatory regression to a psychosomatic world.

Link to Online Publication [fulltext can also be requested from the library]

The International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 100:6, 1154-1170, January 2020.

About the Author

Lawrence J. Brown, PhD, trained in adult and child psychoanalysis and is a faculty member and supervising child analyst at the Boston Psychoanalytic Society and Institute. He is also a supervising and personal analyst at the Massachusetts Institute for Psychoanalysis. Brown has lectured internationally and published papers on a variety of topics, including the Oedipal situation, Bion, intersubjectivity, field theory and autistic phenomena. He is the author of Transformational Processes in Clinical Psychoanalysis: Dreaming, Emotions and the Present Moment (2019) and Intersubjective Processes and the Unconscious: An Integration of Freudian, Kleinian and Bionian Perspectives (2013) and one of the editors of On Freud’s ”Formulations on the Two Principles of Mental Functioning” (2018) and Growth and Turbulence in the Container/contained: Bion’s Continuing Legacy (2013).

Previous Posts:

Penelope Moore, LICSW (2020). Incest from a Young Age … Lasting a Lifetime. Psychodynamic Psychiatry, 48(1), 41-54.

Judith L. Kantrowitz, PhD (2020). A Psychoanalytic Memoir: The Analyst Enabled and Disabled by What is Personal. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 68(1), 83–100.

Cuneyt Iscan, MD (2020). Learning Along the Way: Further Reflections on Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy by Patrick Casement, Routledge, Abingdon and New York, 2019, 156pp. American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 80:2, 235-239.

Anna Ornstein, MD (2020). The Relativity of Morality in the Contemporary World. Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 40:4, 223-233.

Sarah Ackerman, PhD (2020). Impossible Ethics. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association. 2020;68(4):561-582.

Cordelia Schmidt-Hellerau, PhD (2020). How Demagogy Works: Reflections on Aggression in Politically Fraught Times. Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 40:4, 234-242

Judy Yanof, MD (2020). A Separation: Breaking Up Is Hard to Do. The Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 73:1, 172-181.

Elsa Ronningstam et al. (2020). Psychotherapeutic Treatment of Depressive Symptoms in Patients with Narcissistic Disturbances: A Review. Journal of Contemporary Psychotherapy50, 21–28.

John C. Foehl (2020). Lived Depth: A Phenomenology of Psychoanalytic Process and Identity. Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 40(2), 131-146.

Click here to see a full archive of featured papers. All articles can be requested from the library.