The Touching of Souls in Psychoanalysis: Three Innovative Papers by António Coimbra de Matos

As translated from the Portuguese (and notated) by Farrell Silverberg

Translator’s Introduction:

The lyrical words of Portuguese psychoanalyst António Coimbra de Matos present an evocative view of relating that encompasses the inner world of objects, the real psychoanalytic dyad and the universal struggles of the human soul and human condition. This translation, carried out in consultation with Prof. Coimbra de Matos, aims to bring to life his philosophical and respectful approach to humankind’s eternal search for relating in love, in relationships and in treatment–culminating in a paradigm shift about the mechanism of psychoanalytic cure. Key excerpts from “The Interpreter/Performer[1] and the Author in Psychoanalysis” (2008), “The Touching of Souls” (2009) and “Analysis of the Intimate Relationship” (2012) are translated and presented herein. In these three beautiful works, AC de Matos reminds us that we are not only performing as our training, upbringing or society tells us, but that we are also the authors of our co-existence on this earth–and in so reminding, makes a powerful case for privileging the real over the transferential aspects of the treatment process.

The Interpreter/Performer and the Author in Psychoanalysis:

Psychoanalysis is the science of mind and human relationships. It addresses the genesis of mind and the capacity for relationships, and it encompasses the evolution and transformation of both–healthy or pathological. Studying subjectivity and intersubjectivity, motivation and intention, are also part of this work. Ergo, the discovery and recognition of impulse and intention, and of desire and anticipation, contribute to the outline of an individual’s personal story and assemble the associated relational history.

Everything is played out in relationship–interpersonal and intersubjective,[2] via both explicit and implicit bi-directionality as well as through shared experience. This is true whether a relationship is developing or declining, pathogenic or therapeutic, and true whether it is a relationship encountered in everyday life or whether it is a relationship encountered in analysis.

In any relationship, adjustments have to be made, which are then inevitably destabilized, and than always requiring of readjustments. In any relationship there are meetings, reunions, and incompatibilities to be corrected; there are fruitful moments and traumatic endings; there are events that are planned and ones that are unforeseen, phases of determined length and phases of indeterminable length. In any relationship all of this can occur in conditions of clear awareness or in the fog of unclarity, but in either case, one thing is certain: gaining knowledge of the intra-psychic and inter-psychic processes, in the individual and in the pair or group, is important in life and fundamental in analysis.

Thus, the primary function of the analyst is to understand and interpret: to feel, perceive, recognize and find meaning in communication–whether or not this meaning is translated into words. Sometimes you have to wait for that meaning to expand and become discrete before sharing it, and from time to time, you must keep the meaning privately locked inside yourself. Once apprehended inside our awareness, we can let the intrinsic value of the communication resonate, gain bodily form, and echo that meaning until incarnate (when the soul becomes fully embedded in the flesh). The soul thus embedded, is that which animates human relations – It is the agent of our identity and the force that affirms the relational commitment that generates and sustains our human condition and human nature.

It is noteworthy, therefore, that the second function of the analyst is the function of “author.” Just like any other human being, we are not mere spectators of the life we lead nor of the relationships into which we open ourselves, we are not simply actors, or receptors, neither are we just embodiments of the biological forces dwelling within us, nor simply a part of the cultural design into which we were inculcated. Rather, we are designers and builders of that which is new — of other worlds, personal and collective; we humans are the builders of our universe of experience, of our culture and the architects of our coexistence.

Interpreting reality, especially the reality of internal and relational processes, is not simply the act of translating such reality into the language of one psychoanalytic theory or another (whether the particular theory is sanctified or not-yet-sanctified). Instead, it is the act of selecting the relevant data from observation and experience, abstracting what seems essential, formulating hypotheses on that basis, and testing those hypotheses–verifying or refuting their validity. From this data springs the construction of concepts and the development of theories that are always provisional and falsifiable.

We would be wise to rely on the evidence to propose paradigm change, continue to inquire, think and build models, and, in a word, approach the world not with thoughts already thought, but approach the world while thinking thoughtfully. This is what distinguishes the data collector from the observing, experiencing and thoughtful researcher; the author from the performer, and what distinguishes the verbatim translator from the skilled interpreter–who, conveys not only a translation of the words but also attempts to share the deeper meaning and intention that was communicated and understood.[3]

And why, you may ask, is interpretation not a statement of fact? Our interpretation is not fact because the ultimate reality is unknowable.  We can only interpret the readings we take on reality–it is our measure of the reality we are observing, however reliable and how much, more or less, an approximation thereof. The knowledge that we acquire is always incomplete, uncertain and indeterminate to some degree–and for clarification, we have to guess as to exactly where and how to research it further. We are guided by probabilities, deductions and inductions in searching through the stochastic system of reality — which is largely non-deterministic and randomly occurring despite our best efforts to control and comprehend.

And to whatever degree such uncertainties and their concomitant deductions exist about physical reality, there is a manifold increase when they consider psychical reality. The more we look into the darkness of the dynamic unconscious, and into the void of the implicit, the more we are interpreting only shadows and disguises.

But, let us remember that we are not in this alone. Psychoanalysis entails a collaboration between analyst and analysand, and thus there are two minds researching, both in pursuit of the truth–albeit a relative and temporary truth–and ostensibly about only one of the two. Or is it really about both, since the skilled analyst, in preparation for the role of skilled interpreter, is also self-analyzing in the process?

Although the analyst’s intention is to assist in the transformation of the patient, inevitably, in a good analysis the analyst is also transformed. Without this bi-directional change, without being agent and reagent, the process would not be indicative of a real human relationship. However much we might idealize the somewhat fanatical illusion of the analyst as unaffected “mirror” or as an “as if” and unaffected transference object (e.g., as if we are the father, as if we are the mother or as if we are any fictional symbolic abstraction)–still, as analysts we also change and grow in the treatment process. Only in a failed analysis does analyzing leave the analyst unchanged, or worse yet, more enfeebled than before or more foolish than at the outset.

Now I wish to direct our attention towards what is, in my opinion, the most important and potentially the most salient element of the analytic cure–and that is the specific and unique character of the resulting product of the analysis–the enduring and generative result. A truly enduring analytic result is reflected in its dynamic and propulsive impact on both partners of the analytic pair. The formal analytic relationship is of a limited term, however, it can leave seeds that continue to germinate, and can perpetually produce growth, flower and bear fruit long after the term of the formal analysis has ended.

The analytic relationship, if genuine, is a seminal relationship–not unlike other key relationships in life such as parental relationships, filial relationships, deep friendships, master-disciple relationships and, of course, love relationships. Even when the tangible aspects of such relationships come to an end, the marks of their intimate aspects endure within us. Though the outlines of these memories fade from view, below the surface the nectar that flowed from those relationships recirculates to feed other and new relationships. Thus, the nectar of life from these past relationships empowers us to generate more life today. The purpose of the analysis is to open that connection, to let energy flow into new and as yet unsaturated valences, to magnetically attract new quests and achievements, to reach out with new questions for new responses, and to weave yesterday’s memories of loves and estrangements, into tomorrow’s romance and other fruitful and innovative relational paths.

My analyst served as an important reference point that helped me to reflect and think about my life, like other significant people in my life–teachers, close friends, lovers, students and patients. My analysis promoted openness to considering other points of view, including viewpoints that were complementary, alternative, divergent and discordant, and in all cases, a source of enrichment and an epistemological stimulus to investigate and examine the underlying foundations of my own knowing–regarding internal and external realities as well as personal and relational realties.

The development of identity that is promoted in analysis is towards the idiomorphic (consistent with one’s internal structure and true to oneself) and not toward the imaginary, imposed or allomorphic (inconsistent with one’s structure). The identity that is promoted in analysis is in the direction of progressive differentiation rather than regressive degeneration. It is a vision of oneself that is based in knowledge rather than a vision that is founded in myth and make-believe, and based in nuanced distinguishing of oneself rather than in an undifferentiated mass and vague sense of oneself.

Similarly, the change in relational style that is promoted in analysis is toward a diverse repertoire to be in tune with circumstances as opposed to a pasty socially correct decorum. In place of ritualistic rite, analysis promotes spontaneity, in place of dogma, analysis promotes critical reason, and in place of belief, an open mind.

Creation is born of a crackle in the silence, an event in our intimate relationship with our internal objects.[4] With the exception of the original Creator, or Supreme Architect or whatever name is in accordance with your beliefs, the rest, everything else, is the creation of us, the more modest, but more tangibly real designers.

Creation alone, in isolation, can result in delirium, and creation by the masses can result in a mess; the only true creativity springs from the couple, from the relation of the two. What springs from this crossbreeding of two intentions, is the new stuff of inter-intentionality.

Beauty is beyond the horizon; and in our quest, we are all sailors on “hitherto uncharted waters” (said the poet Camões)–no matter who we are. Creativity is therefore the watchword.

The patient comes to us with a story, or rather, with many stories to tell us. With the material of those old stories, we build a new story–one that begins in our therapy, in our new relationship–and this new story is the legitimate child of an authentic analytic relationship. It entails a new style of relationship that is more open, deeper and more expansive in its progressive relevance to the patient’s daily life. 

The Touching of Souls:

“I feel that you feel what I feel. What that is, I don’t know; but I know that you feel what I feel.”

Of course, this experience of “I feel that you feel what I feel” is the primary consciousness realized in relational reality, it is the experience from which the connection between one individual subject and another individual subject is built (technically, as an artifact of drive theory, we psychoanalysts are accustomed to calling these subjects “objects”). Additionally, it is the experience from which develops the interlacing–the very relation itself. This idea is like saying that the function makes the body; and that each organ, in performing its bodily function, contributes to the development of the entire system of the organism. In other words, rather than saying that the basic things are the “objects” through which we come to relate as is the convention in object relations thinking, I am saying: “In the beginning there was the relationship.”

“And furthermore, I know well that thou knowest that thou and I both feel.” This additional experience of knowing that the other individual subject also feels that both of you are feeling is the beginning of secondary consciousness—it is the beginning of reflection.

“Moreover, I know that I and thou both want and that our wants are related.” This is the experience of intentionality and inter-intentionality, the co-mingling of wants, intentions that form a complementarity of subjectivity and intersubjectivity.

Now, in the context of all this occurring, the mind becomes fully functional.

But, we posit that first comes the event–the encounter; wherein we meet in a big bang of mutual astonishment. First comes the amazement; and only then, comes the knowledge – Aristotle dixit.[5]

Without this astonishment in response to the new encounter, analysis is not possible. Analysis is only possible when astonishment is continually self-renewing in the encounter. And, beyond analysis, It is this very touching of souls and this astonishing self-renewing dance that make us love the music of life and dream of infinite poetry.

Analysis of the intimate relationship:

The main vectors of analytic cure are formed by the identity transformation and by the change in relational style that come about through the internalization of the new relationship–a sound, expansive and developmental relationship–with the new subject (the analyst). This becomes catalyst, “par excellence,” for process of change. Furthermore, this new relationship, thus internalized, then can be externalized in, and applied as a new relationship transference, so to speak–in other words, this healthful approach can generalize into daily life; while at the same time, the repetitive transferences from the past, as they appear in the analysis and outside of the analysis–in daily life, will continue to be analyzed, interpreted and dispelled.

The process of the analysis and interpretation of the transference provide time and place for the parallel activity of developing and internalizing of the new relationship. The new object is introjected (and upon its introjection, it remodels the orbits,[6] of the internal objects, even of the nuclear introjects that had previously shaped identity, and thus, the newly introjected objects from the new relationship reshape identity–in accordance with the Conception of Wisdom[7]), and changing the internal standard, i.e., the internal object relations.[8]

However, as the relationship changes, the role of analyst as an object for transference gradually disappears, as this role is no longer there to play. It is a long process, but an effective one with real and more lasting results; and with the addition of this new relationship, analysis is not merely effective along with the caveat of remissions and recurrences as would be the analysis of historical object transferences alone.

However, analysis of the old and new relationships together does not require the high frequency of sessions recommended in the classical form, because these dually focused sessions are more active and productive than singly focused sessions, and are more likely to stimulate patient’s self analytic process in the course of everyday life. The process that I am describing is self-perpetuating and self-motivating for the analysand–additionally encouraging his or her initiative, determination and desire.

The new relationship is a real relationship, it is explicit and implicit–existing in the external world of relationships and in the inner world of object relations as well; it is authentic, committed and emotionally experienced and is not just a relationship of transference or as if merely enacting the performance of a role. This brings more room in the analytic process for the analyst as a genuine person; and not merely constrained by or as an adjunct to the transferential simulation. In fact, only an authentic relationship has impact. We don’t typically expect that a dictator will suddenly be deposed merely by the act of toppling his bronze statue. And who but a mad person would fall in love with the shadow of the beloved? Statues and shadows as mere representations of reality cannot be as impactful as that which is real.

So let me restate the dual operating principles of analysis, as I’ve outlined them herein, and these coalesce to feed the new relationship while disconnecting from and dissolving the transference relationship. This is rule of thumb throughout the analysis: nourish and cultivate the new relationship while analyzing and dismantling the transference. The transference is the main resistance to the process of change that is central in psychoanalytic treatment; and, in the paradigm shift described in this paper the new relationship ascends to become the most important engine of healing.

However, during the analytic process we walk the clinical fence: now the patient leans toward the transference, and then, toward the new relationship; now tipping over onto the slopes transference, then safely landing on the slopes of the new relationship. The analytic process helps to illuminate those territories–and, in the process, the analysand will come to realize where there are pitfalls, brambles and nettles; where they will find the flowers and orange trees; and, ultimately, where they will be suffocated and where they will be able to breathe fresh air.

And so it goes, with the dismantling of the tendency toward unhealthy relating and with capacities toward the building of healthy relating.

And with that said, I will leave you with the words of Cervantes, who, four centuries ago said: “The road is always better than the Inn,” which I interpret to mean that choosing to innovate is always better than choosing to repeat. And to that interpretation I would add as a special message to you, when you innovate, innovate with love, commitment, spirit and determination. And, such is not a calling for the faint of heart.



Matos, A. Coimbra de. (2012). Análise da relação intima: um sobrevoo. [Analysis of the intimate relationship: an overview]. Translated and presented in excerpted form by Farrell Silverberg, as part of this present paper, on November 3, 2012, at the 23rd Annual Interdisciplinary Conference of the Forum for Psychoanalytic Education (IFPE), in Portland, Oregon, USA.

Matos, A. Coimbra de. (2009). “O toque das almas” [The touching of souls]. Unpublished paper dated November 11, 2009, sent to this translator in a private communication from Prof. Coimbra de Matos, via email on October 11, 2012.

Matos, A. Coimbra de. (2008). “O intérprete e o autor em psicanálise” [The performer/interpreter and the author in psychoanalysis]. Keynote address at the Symposium: ‘Carlos Amaral Dias and the Psychoanalytic Nexus,’ in Coimbra, Portugal, on October 3, 2008 and published as presented at the conference, later that same year, without references, notes or bibliography in the Portuguese journal Interacções [Interactions], Volume 14, pp. 75-82.

[1] In the title of ‘O intérprete e o autor em psicanálise,’ AC de Matos chose to use the word “intérprete,” which can mean interpreter or performer depending upon the context. However, I believe that both are applicable here, since the psychoanalyst is described in this paper as interpreting reality, as well as both authoring and performing a role in the treatment, ergo my use of both words (interpreter/performer) each time “intérprete” appears in the original document.

[2] It is my impression that AC de Matos is a progressive Object Relations Theory thinker who pushes the envelope of the interaction/collaboration of two single-person psychologies meeting and manifesting in the real world as well as in the object world. When he uses the terms relational, intersubjective and inter-intentional, I have the distinct impression that such use is neither in a manner that abandons single-person psychology nor one that fully embraces Mitchell’s “relational” or Stolorow’s “intersubjective.” Robert Stolorow just happened to be in the audience when I presented this translated paper, and in a personal conversation afterwards, he concurred with this characterization. Instead it seems that Coimbra de Matos maintains a uniquely bridging position between the two psychologies.

[3] Here I’ll add the caveat that my English language version of these three excerpted AC de Matos writings is not so much a verbatim translation as it is an “interpreter’s” attempt to understand and describe the concepts discussed. Thus, my translation includes slight and nuanced departures from a verbatim translation, inextricably throughout, due to the influence of the author’s overlapping resonance with the translator’s own experience as an analyst and in life. I believe that such poetic license is consistent with, inspired by and ultimately sanctioned by Prof. de Matos’ own views on reality and creativity.

[4] This sentence preoccupied me during the translation, and consequently, I asked Prof. de Matos for a fuller explanation of this “crackle in the silence” and for clarification as to whether I was correct in understanding him to be saying that the analytic cure results from the new relationship with the analyst rather than through transference analysis. I asked if cure is accomplished by internalizing the external “real” relationship between the patient and analyst, and if this cured the pathology that resulted from preexisting internalized objects? In response he wrote, “Yes, I am saying that. It is a paradigm shift. Attached, I am also sending you a short text that you may not otherwise find called ‘The Touching of Souls’ (‘O toque das almas’). With the highest esteem, António.” Apropos, “The Touching of Souls” begins with the line, “I feel that you feel what I feel.”

[5] The “Conception of Wisdom” likely refers to Aristotle’s notion that the sense-experience of the soul comes first and then rational knowledge of the mind follows, if I understand Aristotle and Coimbra de Matos correctly. And de Matos’ use of “Aristotle dixit” likely comes from “Magister Dixit” or “the master said”–a phrase used by many when referring to Aristotle in his own time.

[6] In what here seems to be a reference to quantum mechanics, through AC de Matos’ use of “orbit,” wherein by newly adding to the system, the addition alters the orbits of the electrons and other sub-atomic particles.

[7] From what I have understood so far about Prof. Coimbra de Matos’ philosophy, I think it is safe to assume that he is making reference to the notion that revelation and logic both are involved, and that, as per Aristotle (in his “Nichomachean Ethics,” 350 B.C.), wisdom is both theoretical and practical, combines basic truths with knowledge and intuitive reason, as well as helps one to live well.

[8] What Coimbra de Matos has arrived upon may, in my opinion, provide a missing link or a bridge that provides for an object relations mechanism within the theory and practice of today’s relational school, bringing the intersubjective into the world of internal objects and then applying it back out again onto the here and now “new relationship.” 

Translator’s Bio:

Farrell Silverberg, PhD, NCPsyA is a psychologist and psychoanalyst for whom crossing language and geographical boundaries has been commonplace. He has lectured internationally, published in the United States, Europe and Asia, and in addition to his English language writings, he has also published in Portuguese, Romanian and Korean. As 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. His writings include Resonance and Exchange in Contemplative Psychotherapy and The Tao of Self Psychology. He co-authored RCT research in Sweden on the efficacy of a psychoanalytic method from his book Make the Leap (also published in Portugal as Dar o Salto), that distills psychoanalytic concepts into lay language. He currently serves on the IFPE Board of Directors and the NAAP Board of Trustees.

Author’s Bio:

Portuguese psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, Antonio Coimbra de Matos, is President of the Portuguese Association of Psychoanalysis and Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy and recipient of an IFPE 2012 Distinguished Psychoanalytic Educator Award. Coimbra de Matos was born in 1929, in the village of Galafura and educated in Porta. He was director of the Center for Child and Youth Mental Health in Lisbon for twenty years; served as a training analyst and Chair of Psychoanalytic Education in the Portuguese Psychoanalytical Society; served on the faculty of the University of Lisbon and as an associate professor at Lisbon’s Higher Institute of Applied Psychology. He was founder and president of the Portuguese Society of Psychosomatics and president of the Medical Association’s College of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Coimbra de Matos published numerous journal articles in Portugal and his books include: Depression; Adolescence; More Love, Less Disease; Relationship Quality; and, Psychoanalysis and Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy.

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