My Understanding of the Psychoanalytic Wisdom, Thinking and Contributions of Portuguese Psychoanalytic Educator António Coimbra de Matos

by Farrell Silverberg

António Coimbra de Matos is a brilliant Portuguese psychoanalyst and thinker whose broad-minded, yet simply put and poetically stated, forward-thinking and very human ideas about psychoanalytic treatment, theory, and education are largely unknown to English-speaking audiences. This is because his multitude of writings and talks have been published in Portuguese psychoanalytic and psychosomatic journals as well as in books – but in his native Portuguese only and remained untranslated. For that reason, I am endeavoring to introduce the works of Coimbra de Matos in this short paper and share what I gleaned from translation.

To my eye, much of Coimbra de Matos’ contribution was summarized and expressed in a talk describing his views on psychoanalysis presented in Lisbon at the Luso-Brazilian Congress of Psychoanalysis, in May 2006. Much of the understanding, remarks, quotations and paraphrases to which I refer in the ensuing paragraphs are based on my understanding of that talk and portions of his papers.

Coimbra de Matos described his view (one that many contemporary psychoanalysts also share) that “curative psychoanalysis” is based on a new paradigm, a new relationship [nova relação] that is a real relationship taking place in the analytic pair rather than on the old paradigm of cure-through-the-transference-countertransference elements of this relationship. For him it is largely this new and real element that promotes the resumption of development.

In addition to this important distinction, Coimbra de Matos also noted that there are two distinct purposes of psychoanalysis – purposes that are sometimes melded into only one – and those are:

(1) the clinical purpose of psychoanalysis in treating neuroses, psychoses and trauma; and,
(2) the “didactic” nature of psychoanalysis, and in the non-pejorative and truly educational sense of the word — the use of psychoanalytic theory and method to deepen self-knowledge and to deepen one’s understanding of and knowledge of others.

This educational aspect of psychoanalysis is not only occurring in the interpersonal realm alone, but also occurs in a manner that, for Coimbra de Matos, foretold today’s psychoanalytic understandings of the intersubjective along with the intra-subjective. While relying on object relations theory, and using Fairbairn as a starting point, Coimbra de Matos brought to the idea of internal object relations, elements of a model that can be seen as relational at heart. This is expressed in his use of the term “intrinsic relational style” [estilo relacional intrínseco] wherein there is a shared implicit relationship, what he considers a “communion of identity” [comunhão identitária]. For this deep thinker, it all comes down to the simple knowledge that “relationship is friendship, and friendship is the important keyword.”

Coimbra de Matos believes that the very psychological act of creativity, or imagining something new, is born of relationship, “Creation is – always – a work by two; at least, a work from one to the other.” Even if an idea seems to come out of nowhere, that is an illusion, as there is no such thing as an “alleged anobjectal state” (wherein there is supposedly no relationship with an object and where there is the appearance of a divine emergence). Instead creativity itself arises from a kind of “we-ness” reminiscent of Balint’s idea, and the we-ness being a sine qua non of creativity. For Combra de Matos, according to his communion model, “only the experience and shared emotional life implies creation.”

Similarly, and even poetically I would say, Coimbra de Matos talks about the two faces, a Janus head of sorts when it comes to understanding crisis. For Coimbra de Matos in his relation-izing [if I may apply such a term] of object relations, the experience of traumatic rupture and threat of object loss eternally carries with it a hope of reunion or recapture. It all has to do with, as he says, how we face the unknown, and even creativity is born of the unknown space between rupture and recapture.

In bringing his idea of creation into the analytic context, for Coimbra de Matos, it is not simply that the analytic process recreates “what was but couldn’t become,” but instead, or in addition rather, it can also help create in the analysand “what was not but could have been” (expressed in his paraphrasing of the Brazilian poet Manuel Flag’s lines). Coimbra de Matos inspiringly points out that there is, in our analytic work, a creation, that is:

“…a new mental growth, a formerly barren acre of desert resulting from canceled and aborted growth. Here and now in the new relationship — the new analytic relationship between the analytic pair, and not the repetition through transference — it is possible to create a resumption of arrested development, that parcel which was lost in route or that direction or destination from which the analysand had been detoured.”

To paraphrase, although endeavoring to keep closely to the descriptive words of Coimbra de Matos: What was lost through repression, isolated through obsession, maintained in an embryonic state through somatization or psychosis, or frozen and cleaved through splitting-off or projection could now be revived in the new process and updated from dormant potentialities to realizable empowerments that can be put to use right now in the analytic hour.

Consistent with his perspective on emotional health is Coimbra de Matos’ view that a predisposition to somatization disorders and possibly a factor in many illnesses of the soma in general, is just such an intrinsic relational component. In his writings on psychosomatics, he describes a “pre-depressive” or “depression failed” condition wherein the relational and affective “crash in” and “deregulate biological homeostasis,” contributing to what he sees as a giving up of the biological control towards survival, in other words, a “biological depression.”

“The analytic intention,” beautifully stated from Coimbra de Matos’s perspective on treatment, “is not to repair that which suffered narcissistic injury nor to restore that which was lost through objectal trauma, but it is a renewal of the existential journey, with the recovery of the hidden potentialities… It is a new birth, a re-birth, metaphorically taking place in the mental womb of the analyst, with all the parental affection and enthusiasm that such birthing entails…”

Coimbra de Matos (in what I see as his hybridization of internal object relations with the new and present intersubjective reality of the treatment relationship) reminds us of the importance of offering our own mental space for this purpose through our attentive and accepting stance. He teaches that, in order for re-growth to occur, “It is essential and catalytic for the subject inside the object” to experience the analyst as having genuine empathy and responsiveness – leaving only very small spaces scored (here and there) of foggy responsiveness [neblina responsiva] to leave room for creation, where creation is possible…”

In explaining his understanding of our analytic work as providing a mental womb for the analysand, of re-birthing and of befriending in the service of helping our patients continue their existential journey with the increased possibility of fulfilled potentialities, Coimbra de Matos makes us very aware of our role, responsibilities and even our importance in such service when noting that “the essential co-factor of the equation is the analyst” who understands that “new relationship is the backbone of the analytic cure.”

Respectfully deciphered from Coimbra de Matos’s words, into translation, in terms of my own understanding, and submitted for your perusal today July 21, 2012.

Farrell Silverberg
Philadelphia, PA


Matos, A. Coimbra de (1992). A Função analisante. In Psicanálise e Psicoterapia Psicanalítica, pp: 185-196, Climepsi, 2002.

__________________(1997). Progressos no Tratamento psicanalítico. Psicanálise e Psicoterapia Psicanalítica, pp: 263-269, Climepsi, 2002.

__________________(1999). Psicanálise, psicossomática e imunidad, Revista Portuguesa de Psicossomática, pp. 9-16.

__________________(2003). Vinculação e Ligação na Prática Clínica. In Saúde Mental, pp: 27-3 7, Climepsi, 2004.

__________________(2005). Transferência e Nova Relação na Psicose. Psilogos. Rev. do Serv. de Psiquiatria do Hospital Fernando da Fonseca, N° 1, Vol.2, pp: 83-90.

__________________(2006). Para que serve una psicanánalise hoje? Comunicação no I Congresso Luso-Brasileiro de Psicanálise, 29 e 30 de Maio de 2006, Lisboa.


Farrell Silverberg PhD, NCPsyA, is a clinical psychologist and certified psychoanalyst for whom crossing language and geographical boundaries has been commonplace. He has lectured internationally, published in the United States, Europe and Asia, and has been translated into Portuguese, Romanian and Korean.

As the the first Westerner trained in Korean Taopsychotherapy, Silverberg helped introduce the work of Rhee Dongshik to English speaking audiences at the 2009 American Psychological Association convention. Silverberg began integrating psychoanalysis and Eastern philosophy thirty years ago, and his papers on the combined technique include Therapeutic Resonance (1988), Resonance and Exchange in Contemplative Psychotherapy (2008), and, most recently, The Tao of Self Psychology: Was Heinz Kohut a Taoist Sage? (2011).

In an article that is soon to appear in Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, Silverberg and his co-authors from the University of Linköping in Sweden, will present groundbreaking research on the efficacy of a psychoanalytic method manualized from his 2005 book Make the Leap, that distills psychoanalytic concepts into lay language.

Having served in hospitals and clinics over the years, Silverberg is currently a Supervising and Training psychoanalyst at the Philadelphia School of Psychoanalysis and currently serves as a board member of the International Forum for Psychoanalytic Education (IFPE).

One Response to My Understanding of the Psychoanalytic Wisdom, Thinking and Contributions of Portuguese Psychoanalytic Educator António Coimbra de Matos

  1. Maria do Rosario Dias says:

    Dear Prof Silverberg!!
    My gratefulness forever! thank you to be with us!
    all the best from Portugal
    Maria do Rosario Dias

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: