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Br J Med Psychol. 1996 Dec;69 ( Pt 4):281-97.

Containers, mental space and psychodynamics.

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  • 1Psychiatric University Hospital in Aarhus, Department of Psychotherapy, Risskov, Denmark.


The concept of the container has a place within cognitive science as well as within psychodynamic theories. Cognitive semantics has shown that many metaphors giving meaning to daily life-events use the container as a basic reference point. Psychoanalytic theory, most notably, Freud's psychosexual developmental model, illustrates how the container of the body results in meaning. Object relations theory in psychoanalysis has shown how patients with borderline personality disorder behave according to the dynamics of container and containment. Both the cognitive and the psychodynamic conceptions of containers are clinically relevant. The fundamental notion of the container leads to an exploration of 'container dynamics' both in cognitive semantics and in psychodynamic work. A model of the cusp may be of help in the description of the dynamics at the border of the container. Furthermore, the descriptions of the patient's communication of emotion and thoughts may involve three interacting dimensions: an effective-perceptual dimension, a phantasy dimension and a socio-interactive dimension. The interaction between these dimensions has implications for dealing with container dynamics and the process of containment.

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