Alumni Group Round Table Discussion Series

December 04, 2020 11:30 am to 1:00 pm

Online - Presentation

Uncanny Experience in the Clinical Process

Anne Strain, LCSW

In the seminal paper, “The ‘Uncanny’” (1919), Freud described uncanny experience as a strange feeling brought about by the return of something repressed and/or by primitive omnipotent thoughts that seem plausible. Uncanny experience seems both strange and familiar at the same time, invoking doubt about what is real and what is fantasy. Examples include déjà vu, repetitive coincidences, and experiences of seeing ghosts or one’s “double.” For years, most publications focused on uncanny phenomena in history, literature, and films, but not in clinical settings. There were a few notable exceptions, including Terr’s 1985 article about supernatural experiences reported by child and adult patients who had suffered massive psychic trauma. In 2007, psychoanalyst Elizabeth Lloyd Mayer published a book, Extraordinary Knowing, after a dowser (someone who uses a divining rod to find things) helped her to locate an expensive carved harp that had been stolen from her daughter. Since then, several articles have appeared in psychoanalytic journals about uncanny experiences in the clinical setting. For example, Mahon (2012) described a case in which a patient dreamt about an author and later learned that the author had really existed. The patient’s associations led to the uncovering of some pertinent childhood memories. In another article, de Peyer (2016) presented clinical examples of seemingly anomalous transmissions between patient and clinician. She discussed their reactions to the uncanny moments, augmented by information from other disciplines, including neuroscience and parapsychology.

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