The frame as a border in a variety of settings

Yolanda Gampel*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

2 Scopus citations


An analytic process confronts both patient and analyst with a heterogeneous range of sensations, perceptions, emotions, and fantasies emanating from within. A determination not to experience anything coexists with an inability to reject or ignore any stimulus, as well as with the limitations of our instruments - dreams, every human act - and the constraints imposed by every prediction. The diversity of images generated by death, which becomes disembedded from the body, emotions stirred by catastrophe, circumstances that return to the mind (scenes that were not evacuated), internal images, fear, the vicissitudes of relational life, all generate a tension that is inscribed in the body at every level. These elements scare us and prompt us to establish a kind of artificial order. For this reason, the creator of psychoanalysis developed a framework that establishes constants whose boundaries make it possible for the analytic process to unfold both in the analyst's and in the analysand's minds. Patients will thus find the unity of the self through the variety of images, sensations, and emotions that emerge in the sessions, and become their own witnesses through the presence of an other, the analyst. A contemplative movement develops that entails observing and listening in a process that shifts from instant to instant and surprises us. Freud (1912, 1913) established the importance of boundaries early in the development of the "talking cure." He understood the powerful forces unleashed within the intimacy of the therapy as well as the therapist's ability to rationalize the countertransference. He was aware of the fact that the relationship with the patient was both real and symbolic. Freud offered the components of the frame as recommendations, and they were established as constants. He did not use the word frame, even though psychoanalytic authors who discuss this term refer to it as "the traditional Freudian method." Generally speaking, the frame is the framework that promotes the development of the analysis. It serves as a support for patients' psychotic aspects (Bleger, 1967), their formal or affective signifiers (Anzieu, 1987), and the fears caused by their own psychic content, as well as psychoanalysts' own fears as to their ability to be receptive to patients' turmoil, to face their own, or to deal with their own blindness or deafness. The frame protects the two participants in their vulnerable positions, circumscribing a room where two people can listen to each other's thoughts and share feelings and the movements of the unconscious. When the unknown or unthinkable, the non-ego, phantoms (Bleger, 1967), or transmitted radioactive residues (Gampel, 2005, 2013) emerge, they revive traumatic experiences and break the frame and the continuity of the process. Such breakdowns open the possibility for the incorporation of what had been rendered inaccessible into patients' thoughts and feelings and hence for the restoration of the analytic frame. The "frame" of the psychoanalytic session is detached from ordinary life insofar as it embodies a unique contractual arrangement between the participants. Bleger describes the analytic frame as "a 'non process', in the sense that it is made up of constants within whose bounds the process of analysis takes place" (1967, p. 511). Winnicott (1955) had already expanded the role of this boundary from protecting the transference to providing a holding-facilitating environment without which the therapeutic process could not occur. Bleger (1967) further extends the concept of frame to include the meta-behavior that forms the backdrop for the contents of the therapy. It is a frame around the therapy. If it changes, the therapy becomes severely compromised. The frame is perceived only when it changes or breaks, and patients will repeatedly put it to the test in order to reenact neurotic childhood interactions.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationReconsidering the Moveable Frame in Psychoanalysis
Subtitle of host publicationIts Function and Structure in Contemporary Psychoanalytic Theory
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages20
ISBN (Electronic)9781317373155
ISBN (Print)9781138943438
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2017


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