The following was published in Polish in Gos'ciniec Sztuki: Majazyn artystyczno-literacki, Number 1/6 (2002):

Think, Feel, React:
Some Thoughts on Psychoanalysis and Improvisation

Julie Joslyn

Musical improvisation and the practice of psychoanalysis both require the development of a distinctive self-state in the practitioner. As a practicing psychoanalyst and performing and recording musician I can certainly testify to the unique and rather bizarre "way of being" demanded by both. There are many parallels.

In both arenas you need to be acutely intellectually aware of what is happening on all levels. For instance in a musical context one must be aware of rhythm, harmony, melody, volume, tone production, thematic development and technical issues relating to your instrument, PA or recording equipment. An awareness of your audience is also a factor. In the psychoanalytic context you might consider the symbolic and imagistic meaning of the patient's communications, how these relate to their history, their family and to their current relationships as well as what they are trying to say and explore about the therapeutic relationship. One also must be aware of how the patient's expression relates to the "state of their self" and to their self-experience. With all this going on, you must be able to structure and frame the experience. At times this process doesnšt feel much like an intellectual one or that one is "thinking" at all. It is an elusive and different form of thinking--perhaps a kind of "informed reacting." It is this ability to create structure out of a range of wildly chaotic experiences and perceptions that differentiates artistic production from psychotic process.

Critical to the psychoanalytic process and to improvisation is the ability to be emotionally open, receptive and responsive to the complexity of what is going on within yourself and with your patients or your musical partners. This awareness spans all realms of consciousness. One has to be able to abandon oneself to the experience completely without losing ones sense of self or of order. Add to this the absolute necessity for emotional honesty and authenticity at all times. It is a complicated and multidimensional state of being--like being aware in a recording studio of the full twenty-four tracks simultaneously without sacrificing your awareness of any one.

I will now turn to a theoretical concept, which I developed with my colleague, Zoe Arlene Avstreih. This concept, which we refer to as "synchrony," is pivotal to psychoanalytic work as well as the creative process. Following are excerpts from a scholarly paper we co-authored called "On Synchrony," which first appeared in The Arts in Psychotherapy, Vol. 16 (Pergamon Press, 1989).

On Synchrony (Excerpts)


As he took his lonely stand to the right of the rest of the team, Jackson was aware only of Pitts, the opposing cornerback, waiting for him on the other side of the line, and his friend Joe Marco, calling signals over to his lefty. It wasnšt that he heard the signals. Marco's words came to him, rather, as a physical connection. . . . And though Marco was fifteen or twenty yards behind them now, his every movement was necessary to theirs. Jackson knew exactly what Marco was doing. Somehow, without turning his head around to look, he could "see" the quarterback rolling out to the right behind his interference and starting to fake a pass. (Leonard, 1974,p.32)





This seemingly ordinary occurrence in a game of football reveals an extraordinary aspect of human relatedness. What one notices in this example is the acute level of awareness as well as the simultaneity of interaction and gesture. Often one associates this degree of attunement with archaic developmental phases characterized by symbiotic fusion. The type of rapport described above, however, is obviously not symptomatic of symbiotic relatedness but rather is characteristic of another way of relating that we would like to refer to as synchrony.

Synchrony implies a harmonious and simultaneous responsiveness without merger or loss of boundaries or self/object differentiation. The concept of synchrony has been utilized for many years in the field of nonverbal research and has a specific meaning within that context. Davis (1983), a forerunner in the field of nonverbal communication, defines synchrony as "simultaneous changes in direction or initiations of movements that occur exactly together" (p.70). Perhaps we should make it clear at this point that we are using the term "synchrony" as clearly differentiated from the Jungian concept of "synchronicity." "As its etymology shows, this term [synchronicity] has something to do with time, to be more accurate, with a kind of simultaneity. Instead of simultaneity we could also use the concept of a meaningful coincidence of two or more events, where something other than the probability of chance is involved" (Jung, 1952/1969, p.520).

Fraenkel (1983) and Kendon (1974), among others, have already begun to explore the connections between synchronous behavior in movement and its significance in social interaction and in the development of empathy. It has been discovered that coordination of movement, mutual cueing, and a kind of "shared rhythmicity," in particular, are fundamental to sustaining rapport in a social encounter. "Where interactional synchrony is occurring it is found that the boundaries of the movement waves of the listener coincide with the boundaries of the movement waves in the speaker" (Kendon, p.152). It is important to notice that Kendon refers to the "coincidence of boundaries" and not the merging or annihilation of boundaries experienced in symbiotic fusion (Mahler, 1968; Mahler, Pine & Bergman, 1975). The recognition of this differentiation ha far reaching implications for both psychoanalytic theory and treatment as well as theories relating to the creative process.

Synchrony: The Creative Process


The rapport within the group was almost telepathic. . .Philly Joe Jones . . . once remarked that his and Miles' minds were so attuned that he could go "way out beyond easily countable time in a drum solo and come right back in with Miles because each knew where the other was. (Carr, 1982, p.72)


The rapport within Miles Davis' band as described above by the drummer illustrates once again the phenomenon of synchrony--this time in the creative sphere. The notion of synchrony is intrinsic to the creative proces and perhaps more adequately explains aspects of this process previously relegated to regression or defense. Krisš (1952) idea of "regression in the service of the ego" was certainly a major contribution to the psychoanalytic understanding of creativity, but unfortunately it seems to reflect a general attitude toward the creative process that permeates the psychoanalytic literature, regardless of theoretical orientation. For example Sterba (1939/1946) describes how the primitive rhythmic characteristic of most music allows for a fantasized regressive reunion with the symbiotic mother and with "the entire cosmos." Both he and Kohut (1957) describe the function of music as a compromise formation allowing the disguised gratification of infantile sexuality.

. . .in the barely perceived rhythms in the accompaniment of a sweet tune, or in the rhythm contained in the aesthetic abstractions of a Bach fugue . . . we can experience a catharsis of primitive sexual tensions under cover, because our conscious attention is directed toward a tune or a thematic variation and diverted from the rhythmic phenomenon. (Kohut, 1957, p.391)




Noy (1968) also described the development of musical ability along regressive lines, and musical experiences are viewed as a recreation of early symbiotic oneness with mother. In addition, he sees musical organizing ability as an attempt at mastery, defensive in nature, in the face of an inadequately functioning stimulus barrier. "It may be assumed, therefore, that specific musical abilities are part of coping mechanisms which the ego is forced to develop as a defense for mastering oversensitivity" (p.341).

Neiderland (1976) sees certain characteristics in all creative individuals: the mastering through creative expression of early trauma; overwhelming feelings of pain, either psychic or physical; feelings of bodily ugliness, sensitivity, disability or illness; feelings of loneliness; and object loss and grief. Perhaps the most important point that Neiderland stresses is the existence in creative people of incomplete self-representations that are striving for completion through the creative work. Though all these factors may be present in artistic individuals, they do not fully account for or explain the unique capacity for creative expression.

We would like to point out that compensatory structures (Kohut, 1977,1984) as well as defensive aspects of the ego obviously play a role in creativity development as they do in all aspects of self-development. What we would like to clarify, however, is that the literature to date has stressed that creativity stems from various pathological sources. Whether it be the defensive handling of id impulses, a reaction to a defective stimulus barrier, regression to an early symbiotic state, or a reparative attempt to mend basic defects in the self, all these explanations have a common assumption that creativity originated in pathology. Noy (1969a,b) and Roland (1972) began to set the stage for further exploration of this bias as they challenged the "hierarchical" attitude of theories pertaining to the primary process, dreams, and art.

Neiderland (1976), in his analytic work with artistic individuals, noted a phenomenon that he did not fully understand but that he was able to clearly differentiate from pathological ego states:

The artist's capacity to preserve the intense experience of wonderment is a phenomenon not sufficiently explored. It may be related to a partial blurring and diffusion of ego boundaries or, at least, an attenuation in the demarcation between the self and nonself . . . though frequent and intense in the artist, these experiences do not necessarily involve those difficulties in reality testing and self/nonself differentiation encountered in psychotic patients. (p.192)



Neiderland assumed the creative process involved some kind of peculiar disturbances in ego-boundary functioning. He was probably observing in these patients a highly developed capacity for synchrony. Though an innate potential, this capacity seems to be highly evolved in the creative individual.

Throughout our years of clinical experience with artistic patients as well as in our own creative work we have consistently noticed that the working through of conflicts and self-issues seems to enhance the capacity for artistic expression. Many patients fear that the reparation of the self and conflict resolution resulting from the analytic process will destroy both the need for and the source of their creativity. In other words, since the prevalent mythology links creativity with pathology, it stands to reason that as one progresses in analysis one will lose the ability to create. This is simply not true, as witnessed by a number of therapists.

As a clinician I have never seen a creative individual who did not have serious apparently all-pervasive and disturbing conflicts. Nor have I seen in these individuals a lessening of creative productivity as a result of analytic therapy. (Neiderland, 1976, p.189)


Obviously something else is at work here. The successful analysis that allows for the continued evolution and differentiation of the self most often results in an increase and refinement of creative expression. It is our contention that through the analysis the capacity for synchrony is liberated. It is this increased capacity for synchronous interaction that accounts for an increase in creativity. Artists' descriptions of their own self-perceptions seem to illustrate from an internal perspective that in fact the process is not characterized by regressive merging, but rather by a heightened awareness of both self and other. This highly creative state has been vividly described by the well-known jazz musician, Jane Ira Bloom. In playing jazz, particularly for improvising musicians, the expression "to lock in" or "locking in" is used to describe this feeling of synchrony:

In the middle of a solo when everything is locked in, youšre concentrating so hard--our concentration is like ecstasy. Your mind is on playing. Whatever it is youšre doing flows freely. . . From the moment I came in with the first C Sharp there was nothing I couldnšt play that wouldnšt be right--this was going to be a great cut--I could feel it! At those times all the focus is on your own instrument and what youšre playing. (Jane Ira Bloom, personal communication, November 5,1984)




It is clear from this description that, even in the midst of an intense creative experience, the self is certainly not "lost" nor are its boundaries obliterated. To the contrary, there actually seems to be an intensified awareness of self.

In conclusion, we believe that synchrony is a powerful and fundamental force in both the creative process and in the therapeutic relationship. It is the cornerstone of empathy and essential for the development of relatedness. It is perhaps the single strongest factor in the healing potential of treatment and in creative communication.