Metaphor and Psychoanalysis: Transference: Love, Journeys, and Psychoanalysis

by Marco Casonato

December 1, 2001


Transference, itself a metaphorical concept, operates through metaphor. Given the well-known transference motif of the patient's being "in love" with the analyst, our conventional metaphors for love inevitably underlie much psychoanalytic discourse about the patient-analyst relationship. This essay analyzes several such metaphors--e.g, love is magic, love is a collaborative work of art--and examines how they may function within a psychoanalysis. The essay also proposes a particularly detailed analysis of LOVE IS A JOURNEY and its psychoanalytic derivative, THERAPY IS A JOURNEY. These are deeply entrenched metaphors which allow us to reason about love and therapy on the basis of what we already know about journeys. Metaphorical references to journeying commonly occur in both the dreams and discourse of analytic patients, and they may be used to monitor the progress of an analysis and to identify issues in it that require attention.

p align="Justify">Biological psychiatry and psychotherapy

    In this era of biological psychiatry, psychoanalysis and psychotherapy are in search of new foundations freed from the heritage of nineteenth century metapsychology (Bowlby, 1971; G.S. Klein, 1972; Peterfreund, 1975; Schafer, 1976; Spence, 1982; Fossi, 1985; Atwood and Stolorow, 1984, Weiss and Sampson, 1986; Stolorow, Brandchaft, and Atwood, 1987; Lichtemberg, 1989).

    Challenging biological psychiatry is not an easy task. It requires, for one thing, consolidating the evidence for the effectiveness of psychotherapy as compared to medications. For another thing, it means seeking a neural based theory of psychotherapy that can explain how "talk therapy" works (we have statistics showing that it does work) in terms of contemporary scientific theories like "neural plasticity" and so on.

    But by itself psychotherapy cannot carry out valid research on, for example, brain functioning. It is therefore necessary to create interfaces between the field of psychotherapy and the fields of brain research and experimental psychopathology. One such interface would seem to be the contemporary Neural Theory of Language (Feldman and Lakoff, forthcoming 2003). This is a neural theory that is meaningful at the level of clinical observation in psychopathology and psychotherapy, where the focus is on speech in an interpersonal frame. The Neural Theory of Language incorporates cognitive neuroscience, cognitive linguistics, computer science, cognitive psychology, and neurophilosopy, and can provide psychotherapy with a theoretical underpinning for techniques that are based on speech in a specially structured interpersonal interaction.

    The Neural Theory of Language can provide a scientific and up-to-date framework, free of psychoanalytic jargon, for explaining how psychotherapy works.

    A first step in applying the Neural Theory of Language would be taking a new approach to a central concept of clinical psychoanalysis: transference.



    The traditional "as if " of transference is based on a great number of metaphors through which analysts construct the peculiar realities of the different approaches to psychoanalysis that have become established in tradition. Arlow (1969) went so far as to say that psychoanalysis is a metaphorical process. Semi (1981) put forward a similar view. What Schafer (1976) called "transference as time machine," which takes the patient back to childhood situations to be worked on, is merely the result of the skillful use of metaphors that define, in psychoanalytic terms, the patient's present clinical experiences. In other words, the analyst uses the references to childhood in a metaphorical way to construct a psychoanalytic experience following different traditions, just as other basic metaphors of psychoanalysis may be used. Now, such peculiar experiences belong to the domain of the clinical concept of transference. This is significant because transference plays a clear and important role in psychoanalysis, and has had a strong impact on the therapeutic culture that derived from it. The idea of transference appears in Breuer and Freud's Studies on Hysteria (1895), where it is considered a false connection (in nineteenth century neural terms) in the patient's recollections. That is to say that the patient transferred onto the figure of the physician certain ideas that arose during the process of analysis. This view is linked also to the archeological model of clinical action and to Breuer's conception of memory as a storehouse or filing system. In the next development of the concept of transference the notion of "false connection" was maintained in the guise of distortion of reality. In this perspective "true reality" seemed to belong to the psychoanalyst, while the patient held a "wrong reality" that had to be corrected through therapy. Later transference-as-regression was seen as an attempt to recall and reproduce situations of childhood in the analytical situation with the analyst. Today the term re-enactment is preferred . This manner of conceiving transference was also linked to the idea of the cyclical nature and reversibility of time in nineteenth century science. Schafer (1983) has strongly emphasized some of the absurdities involved in viewing transference as a "time machine" that makes use of regression to take the patient back to typical situations of childhood.

    Transference is also seen as a form of displacement. The concept of displacement has a meta-psychological origin and is linked to the concept of psychic energy. According to this view, a charge is sent along an associative path from an idea of strong emotional intensity towards a peripheral idea of lesser intensity. This understanding of displacement is based on the introspective neurology of the late nineteenth century, according to which "ideas" contained within the nervous system could easily move around, driven by energy charges. Transference was also considered a manifestation of repetition compulsion, to which Freud (1920) assigned a biological basis. Such a compulsion invariably leads the subject to reproduce the past, following the already mentioned conception of cyclical time that was biologically important also. This tendency to relive the past would not improve the patient's life. Neither could it modify the recollection of the past or expectations about the future. Such repetition would end up perpetuating archaic configurations until it could be incorporated into the analytic transference, thus becoming analyzable and modifiable either through a "corrective emotional experience" or just by working through by means of psychoanalytic interpretation. Semerari (1991) aptly remarks that the phenomenology of the repetition compulsion derives from the simple fact that a person can use only the schemata available to him or her. Observers will find "unexplainable repetitions" only because they fail to consider the point of view of the person who acts within a reality that he himself defines cognitively and which, therefore, he interprets and explores according to he personal conventional modalities. Structures that were acquired in the past continue in fact to be active in the present or may become so under the effect of particular stimuli in the here and now of analytic sessions. Repetition compulsion therefore loses its mysterious character, and becomes the effect of the subject's use of the same schemata simply because no others are available (Semerari, 1991). Hence as a clinical phenomenon it becomes totally obvious. Kleinian analysts (Racker, 1968; Bion 1962), however, tend to consider transference as a manifestation of multiple projections. Racker (1968), who has made one of the most important classical contributions to the study of transference and countertransference, has conceived transference as the outcome of the projections onto the analyst of rejected internal objects. Through this process certain intolerable internal conflicts are transformed into external conflicts. This view has been refined by Bion (1962) and has enjoyed great popularity.

    Kohut (1971, 1977) introduced "new" types of transference: self-object transference, idealizing transference, and mirror tranference. According to Kohut, the patient attempts to re-establish with the analyst fundamental ties with relevant figures, ties that were traumatically broken during childhood. Building in part on Kohut's legacy, Stolorow, Brandchaft, and Atwood (1987) saw transference as a kind of microcosm of the patient's psychological life. The analysis of transference provides the focus through which the schemata ruling the patient's life can be clarified and transformed. Transference is seen as the expression of organizational principles and images formed during the patient's attachment experiences. According to these views, transference is a process that organizes experience. Therefore it is part of the construction of reality and consists in the expression of structures of meaning which normally include the analyst, his or her actions, and what happens during analytic sessions. In this view, transference is subject to the mechanisms of "assimilation" and "adjustment" described by Piaget (Wachtel, 1980). This process draws on multiple sources ranging from personal history to the features of the present analytic situation and the meanings and personal constructs that connote them. These cognitive processes define the experience of the situation in the here and now of the analysis as well as in the present life situation. Therefore transference appears as a multiplicity of thematic structures and levels of psychological organization activated by analysis. According to Stolorow, Brandchaft and Atwood (1987), transference refers to the assimilation of the analytic relationship into the thematic structures of the patient's personal, subjective world. Thus transference is the expression of the psyche's efforts to organize experience. From this point of view metaphors express precisely those personal themes used by patient and therapist to organize the present relationship. Both historically and at present (in terms of current doctrine), the falling in love of the female patient with the analyst is one of the themes most often linked with transference (even if not the most important). Failure to analyze this factor brought about the interruption of Dora's treatment and marked the emergence of a theoretical-clinical reflection on the phenomenon. In addition, in the psychoanalytic tradition love is considered a particularly relevant element in the philosophy of the cure. Love seems relevant for healing processes. Today it is also believed to be an important "therapeutic factor." But love belongs to a solid, deeply rooted narrative tradition that is elaborated through our conventional metaphors.

Love: the crucial issue in psychotherapy

    Lakoff and Johnson (1980, p. 49) have provided a useful analysis of several fundamental metaphors concerning love, as has Kovecses (1988). Such metaphors suggest connections with meta-psychological or even clinical concepts from different forms of psychotherapy, both psychoanalytic and non-psychoanalytic. The first of the fundamental metaphors identified by these authors, which has to do in particular with psychic energy and libido, also recalls physical concepts from physics that are utilized in medicine and in psychoanalysis


I could feel the electricity between us.

There were sparks.

I was magnetically drawn to her.

They are uncontrollably attracted to each other.

They gravitated to each other immediately.

His whole life revolves around her.

The atmosphere around them is always charged.

There is incredible energy in their relationship.


    The love relationship may be expressed also through another anthropomorphic metaphor recalling the classical love "potions" given by sorcerers and witches. This metaphor is also reminiscent of the kind of "love hypochondria" found in women who are always looking for tests or measurements of their love relationship. Such women, indeed, often have recourse to sorcerers--or else to therapists, from whom they obtain a similar response.


This is a sick relationship.

They have a strong, healthy marriage.

The marriage is dead--it can't be revived.

Their marriage is on the mend.

We are getting back on our feet.

Their relationship is in really good shape.

Their marriage is on its last legs.

It's a tired affair.

They will kill their love in this way

They need marital therapy


    Linked with the latter metaphor is the view that the love relationship is magical. In narrative also, this is a typical quality of the power women can exert over men. Think, for example, of Circe in The Odyssey: common men turned into pigs, and the enchantress's sexual submission to Ulysses (the tough man).


She cast her spell over me.

The magic is gone.

I was spellbound.

She had me hypnotized.

He has me in a trance.

I was entranced by him.

I'm charmed by her.

She is bewitching.


    From time immemorial love relationships have also been compared to madness. While in bygone ages it might have been necessary to get on a hippogryph and fly to the moon to retrieve one's sanity (an ontological metaphor), in the time of space exploration psychoanalysis seems better suited to travel in the "inner world."


I'm crazy about her.

She drives me out of my mind.

He constantly raves about her.

He's gone mad over her.

I'm just wild.

I'm insane about her.


    Finally, one metaphor underlies a great deal of clinical practice. Just think of conflicts within couples, "wars" inside families or institutional groups, and of the whole array of clinical terms that is supposed to differentiate fundamental aspects of different forms of psychotherapy.


He is known for his many rapid conquests.

She fought for him, but his mistress won out.

He fled from her advances.

She pursued him relentlessly.

He is slowly gaining ground with her.

He won her hand in marriage.

He overpowered her.

She is besieged by suitors.

He enlisted the aid of her friends.

He made an ally of her mother.


    These love metaphors constitute a sort of narrative "hard core" that molds specialized clinical languages as well as patients' personal stories. As Lakoff and Johnson point out (1980, p. 139), these are "conventional metaphors, that is, metaphors that structure the ordinary conceptual system of our culture, which is reflected in our everyday language." They are acceptable to our narrative community and therefore constitute the network within which specialized clinical languages are also legitimized. Moreover metaphors allow the production of new meanings through the recombination of different realms of experience. Some metaphors outside the conventional conceptual system (creative and imaginative metaphors) are capable of giving us a new understanding of our experience. As both Lakoff and Johnson (1980) and Schafer (1983) suggest, they can give new meaning to our past and to what we know and believe. The conventional love metaphors of Western culture coincide with the typical features of the analytic situation. Such extraordinary correspondence and overlapping are what make psychoanalytic commonplaces about the therapeutic relationship feel so plausible and true to experience. Love metaphors make all this possible. The role of love as therapeutic factor technically used pertains to the metaphor:


    This is a good example of a fundamental metaphor behind the clinical concepts of psychoanalysis that govern the therapeutic process. This metaphor is particularly powerful, insightful, and appropriate, given our experience as members of a generation and a culture. It makes our love experiences coherent and bestows on them a shared quality. From our conventional way of looking at them the following implications arise for this metaphor, implications that also apply to a number of standard psychoanalytical concepts:

Love is work (psychoanalysis is work; working through is the main feature of psychoanalytic process1; analytic work; working alliance);

Love is active (the Ferenczian position about healing that psychoanalysis has recently revalued);

Love requires cooperation (working alliance, therapeutic alliance);

Love requires dedication (analytic motivation, motivation sought in the candidate, secondary processes; capacity to delay satisfaction);

Love requires compromise (analytic resolution of conflicts);

Love requires discipline (scheduling, setting, payment of missed sessions, saying everything that comes to mind without censorship; a long and rigorous training is required to become psychoanalyst);

Love involves shared responsibilities (analytic motivation of the neurotic subject; transference/countertransference; personal equation of the analyst);

Love requires patience (long term analysis; secondary process; slow maturation; it is ëanalytic,í and therefore does not seek immediate relief of symptoms or therapeutic results);

Love requires shared values and goals (the patient will acquire some of the values of the analyst, a sure belief in the existence of the unconscious, or of "internal objects");

Love demands sacrifice (respect for the rules of abstinence, non- action, delayed and limited satisfaction);

Love regularly brings frustration (optimal frustration, rule of the counter demand);

Love requires instinctive communication (free associations, empathy, letting id productions emerge);

Love is an aesthetic experience (psychoanalysis is an art and not a science, ineffability of analytic interpretation);

Love is primarily valued for its own sake ("I cannot promise you anything, knowledge is valued for its own sake," said a prominent analytic follower of Bion during the "Golden Age of Psychoanalysis." He then took rather high fees for an initial therapeutic session scheduled to start five years in the future);

Love involves creativity (psychoanalysis as a creative process, the creative unconscious);

Loves requires a shared aesthetic (empathy makes it possible to put one self in the place of another);

Love cannot be achieved by applying a formula (parameters of psychoanalysis, heuristic psychoanalysis vs. stereotyped psychoanalysis, no diagnosis, nor DSMs are necessary for psychoanalysis);

Love is unique in each instance (each analysis is different from all others, analytic experience is ineffable, schematic therapies cannot be effective as ëtrueí psychoanalysis);

Love is an expression of who you are (each analysis reflects the deep idiosyncrasies of the patient's history);

Love creates a reality (the analytic process makes the past present or frees the present from the past, it creates a new ëanalyzedí reality, it changes both internal world and internal objects);

Love reflects how you see the world (during analysis the analyst has access only to the way in which the patient sees his or her reality);

Love requires the greatest honesty (the analytic process excludes sexual or financial abuse; as Bion stated, the mind needs truth);

Love can be transient or permanent (psychotherapy may be brief, long or interminable);

Love needs funding (psychoanalysis requires funding in the sense of Besetzung [Investment/Cathexis] and in the sense of considerable monetary expenses over the course of the years);

Love yields a shared aesthetic satisfaction from joint efforts (insight, empathic interpretation, and good analytic session).

    As these examples show, the implications of the Love metaphor coincide with the major clinical commonplaces of psychoanalysis. Moreover, if we consider the changes that have occurred in conceiving and executing a work of art from Freud's time to the present, we would find a corresponding shift from the archeological or investigative model (Fara, Cundo, 1981; Spence, 1982) to less structured or univocal models, precisely matching the contemporary idea of the work of art. Our experiences form a coherent whole as instantiations of the metaphor, and through the network of entailments we experience a sort of reverberation. This awakens and connects our recollection of past love experiences and serves as a possible guide for future ones. The narrative exploration fostered by psychoanalysis is based on this connection, as is, on a more general level, the credibility of the very conception of psychoanalysis. The metaphor LOVE IS A COLLABORATIVE WORK OF ART both highlights and masks certain additional concepts and traits of the realm of experience we are exploring. The active aspect of love is foregrounded through the notion of work, whether collaborative work or work of art. Passive aspects of love are therefore masked. Indeed according to Lakoff and Johnson (1980, p. 141) our conventional conceptual framework does not view the emotional aspects of love as being under the lovers' active control. For example, in the metaphor LOVE IS A JOURNEY (also PSYCHOANALYSIS IS A JOURNEY)2)) the relationship is seen as a vehicle that is not under the couple's complete control, since it can be off tracks, or on the rocks, or not going anywhere. Along the same lines, according to Lakoff and Johnson (1980, p. 141), "In the LOVE IS MADNESS metaphor (I'm crazy about her; She is driving me wild), there is the ultimate lack of control." In the LOVE IS HEALTH metaphor, which plays a role in the narcissist's evaluation of the results of analysis, the relationship is a patient. "It is a healthy relationship," for example, or "It is a sick relationship," or Their relationship is reviving." In this way the passivity that our culture attributes to health is transferred to love. Therefore-- according to the authors--in focusing on various aspects of activity (work, creation, pursuing goals, building, helping, etc.) the metaphor provides a conceptual organization of love experiences that our conceptual system would not otherwise make available. In any case the metaphor does not merely entail other concepts, but rather specific aspects of these concepts. Lakoff and Johnson (1980, p. 141) believe that "though the metaphor may suppress the out-of-control aspects of the love is madness metaphor, it highlights another aspect, namely, the sense of almost demonic possession that lies behind our culture's connection between artistic genius and madness."

    Moreover, the metaphor highlights and gives coherence to certain love experiences, thus contributing to the structuring of a narrative activity, while other love experiences are masked. Narration with its key metaphors gives love a new meaning, and the same may happen in the course of therapy.

    Finally, if the elements included in the metaphor represent for us the most important aspects of love experiences that we have lived or imagined, then the metaphor can come to be taken as a truism, becoming a basic assumption about reality--for many people love just is a collaborative work of art. Thus the metaphor can have a feedback effect, guiding our future actions in accordance with the metaphor itself and building what Schafer (1976, 1983) defines in narrative terms as the "character" of the patient: i.e, a series of narrative structures of the Self that self-actualize with experience. For example, If I view love as madness, I do not focus on what I should do to maintain it. But if love is work, then it requires activity, and if it is collaborative, then it is an even more specifically delimited phenomenon. This is the kind of change that therapy produces in the basic metaphors underlying psychoanalytic narratives. In addition, the meaning of a metaphor is partly culturally determined and partly tied to past experiences. " Love is a collaborative work of art" would mean very different things to two fourteen-year-olds on their first date, to a mature couple of artists, or to someone who has an idea of art only as an object for display or who thinks that art creates only an illusion. For example:

Love is an object to be placed on display.

Love exists to be judged and admired by others.

Love creates an illusion.

Love requires hiding the truth.3

    Or if the subject in question were a narcissist who develops love relationships following narcissistic modalities, the work of art metaphor would still be appropriate, although it would be understandable in its deep personal implications only through lengthy and thorough clinical work. To be capable of this almost heroic work the analyst should have learned, from a deep and lengthy training analysis and from rigorous supervision, to examine all the aspects of his or her narcissistic grandiosity. Otherwise the analyst would be blind to such phenomena. (At this point an amusing game would be to count the metaphors present in this typical psychoanalytic discourse on the difficulties of the analyst's profession).

Love and psychoanalysis as journeys

    The conceptual metaphor LOVE IS A JOURNEY appears to be a key element for understanding many aspects of clinical analysis and of the phenomenology of analytic treatment--both areas in which an obvious role is played by the "metaphoric" principles LOVE IS THERAPY and THE THERAPEUTIC AGENT OF PSYCHOANALYSIS IS LOVE. Indeed, from the metaphor LOVE IS A JOURNEY there follows a sort of second order metaphor, found in patients' thinking, in analysts, in daydreaming and even in patients' dreams: THERAPY IS A JOURNEY.

    Schafer (1983) reminds us that the journey is one of the great narrative motifs (as in the Odyssey, The Divine Comedy, and Gulliver's Travels). It subsumes the place where three roads meet in Oedipus Rex as well as "drug trips" and "ego trips".4 According to Schafer (1983, p.259), "the journey may describe or allegorically imply, or be implied by, a trip through one's past or the development of one's inner world." It is precisely the human tendency to tell stories that makes the metaphor of the journey applicable to therapy in the context of conventional thinking in which love is seen as a journey. In fact psychoanalysts belong to the same narrative community as their patients5 and therefore share with them models and metaphors for the real world that will show up in the course of therapy. Let me stress that I am not talking about the usual "unconscious fantasies," but rather about narrative themes of our culture used idiosyncratically so as to tell oneself or others the experience of one's life and how to find one's way in it. Referring to the thinking of Hanns Sachs (1942), Arlow (1969) has suggested that we belong to the same community of daydreamers as our patients. Quite often, depending on the patient's character traits, the journey becomes the narrative model for the story we tell in analysis, at least during certain phases. The metaphor implies that one is traveling towards some destination, and love also, as we saw, is considered a form of journey. Thus the narrative of the journey interacts with the narrative structures of love. As is often recognized, this is a therapeutic factor in psychoanalysis, largely because of the metaphoric nature of the interaction between the two narratives. In fact as Lakoff explains, (1986, p. 216) "in our culture, there is a full-blown love-as-journey metaphor that is used for comprehending and reasoning about certain aspects of love relationships, especially those having to do with duration, closeness, difficulties and common purpose." According to Lakoff and Johnson (1980), several expressions in common usage reflect the conceptualization of love as a journey. Some have to do with love, and others can be adapted to it. All of them can easily refer to the analytic relationship.

Look how far we've come.

It's been a long, bumpy road.

We can't turn back now.

We're at a crossroads.

We'll just have to go our separate ways.

We're just spinning our wheels.

This relationship isn't going anywhere.

Our marriage is on the rocks.

We've hit a dead-end street (If you hit a dead-end street when traveling towards a specific destination, you can't keep driving in that same direction, but must turn back.)


    Common expressions such as "Look how far we've come" do not refer exclusively to love or psychoanalysis, but may also be understood as belonging to the class of relationships conceptualized as journeys. Love metaphors belonging to this class express a typical way of thinking about love. Lovers are travelers on a journey undertaken together, just like the analyst and the patient with their shared goals. The relationship is their vehicle, which allows them to pursue their goals together. The journey is not easy. There are obstacles, and there are places (crossroads) where a decision has to be made about which direction to proceed in and about whether to continue the journey together. It is clear that metaphors support the narrative tradition of psychoanalytic commonplaces that are passed down in training analyses or in supervision. These commonplaces purport to be "clinical facts" discovered by virtue of a special psychoanalytic ability to get at hidden dimensions, whereas in fact those dimensions are of a totally metaphorical nature. So called unconscious fantasies are often, if not always, just metaphors operating unconsciously as cognitive processes and made explicit through a sort of psychoanalytic process of mapping the metaphor. The mode of travelling can be of different types: by car ("a long, bumpy road," "we are spinning our wheels"); by train ("we are off track"); by ship ("we ended up on the rocks," "we are foundering"); or by plane ("we are just taking off" or "we are bailing out"). It is easy to understand the relevance of such metaphors in different types of phobias, counterphobic actions, or character-induced conceptions of reality. For Lakoff (1986), metaphors involve a mapping (in the mathematical sense) from a certain source domain in experience (in this case, journeys) to a target domain (in this case, love and then therapy). In its turn love becomes the source domain for the second order clinical metaphor whose target domain is psychoanalysis. The mapping is highly structured. There are ontological correspondences, according to which entities from the domain of love (for example, the lovers, their common goals, their difficulties, the love relationship, etc.) correspond systematically to entities in the domain of journeys (the travelers, the vehicle, the destination, etc.). These correspondences can be easily extended to the domain of affective experiences in psychoanalytic therapy (patient/therapist, the therapeutic relationship, transference, the completion of analysis), just as they can be expressed for example in dreams. Referring to the love-as-journey metaphor allows us also to read so-called "dream symbols" with ease. In fact "dream symbols" correspond to particular narrative structures (typical of certain cultures and times) that are central to the organization of imaginative activity during sleep.

1. The lovers correspond to travelers (i.e, patient-therapist).

2. The love relationship corresponds to the vehicle (i.e, the therapy, the analytic relationship).

3. The state of being in the relationship corresponds to the physical closeness of being in the vehicle (this applies to dreams about the analysis).

4. The lovers' common goals correspond to their common destinations on the journey (this applies also to dreams).

5. Difficulties correspond to impediments to travel (and to resistance within analysis or to the relational problems that arise during the treatment).

    The mapping also includes epistemic correspondences through which knowledge about journeys is mapped onto knowledge about love and therapy. Such correspondences allow us to reason about love using our knowledge of journeys, as well as to reason about psychoanalysis and to teach it using ideas about journeys and love. Lakoff (1986, p. 217) writes:

Two travelers are traveling somewhere in a vehicle, and it hits some impediment and gets stuck. If they do nothing, they will not reach their destinations. There are a limited number of alternatives for action: a) They can try to get the vehicle moving again, either by fixing it or by getting it past the impediment that stopped it; b) they can remain in the stuck vehicle and give up on getting to their destinations in it; and c) they can abandon the vehicle. The alternative of remaining in the stuck vehicle takes the least effort, but does not satisfy the desire to reach the destination. [This applies to the so called "analytic impasse."]

    Correspondences thus map the scenario of the journey onto a corresponding love scenario, which will make use of the corresponding possibilities for action. By applying correspondences to this knowledge structure, one arrives at a love scenario.

    The process repeats itself at a second level for psychoanalysis. According to Lakoff (1986, p. 217),

Two people are in love and pursuing their common goals in a love relationship. They encounter some difficulty in the relationship that, if nothing is done, will keep them from pursuing their goals. Their alternatives for action are: (a) They can try to do something so that the relationship will once more allow them to pursue their goals; (b) they can leave the relationship as it is and give up on pursuing their goals; and (c) they can abandon the relationship. The alternative of remaining in the relationship takes the least effort but does not satisfy goals external to the relationship.

    The same is true of psychoanalysis. Patient and analyst become involved in an analytic relationship that transports them into an "inner world" or a "maze of memories" or "transference country." They meet resistances that, if not aptly interpreted, will prevent the unfolding of the analytic process. There are only a limited number of actions that can be undertaken by the analytic couple respecting the setting:

a. They can face and analyze the resistances as they arise while pursuing the goals of the cure (psychoanalytic knowledge).

b. They can get bogged down in an interminable and unsuccessful analysis on account of failing to analyze resistances, or on account of collusion, folie a deux, and so on.

c. They can interrupt treatment.

    The narrative theme implicit in the metaphors of love-as-journey and of psychoanalysis-as-journey is not to be found in a particular word or expression: it is in the ontological and epistemic mapping between conceptual domains that links one of our conventional ways of understanding love6 and psychoanalysis. Such knowledge is part of the way we understand what love is and what therapy is. If love and therapy are understood as journeys, then expressions that belong to journeys--"dead-end," "crossroads"--can refer either to love or to psychoanalysis. New extensions of the mapping are immediately understood, if one has the ontological correspondences and other knowledge about journeys (Lakoff, 1986). For example, an aberrant form of therapy with hypo-maniacal features, certainly a characteristic of "wild" therapists, may be well expressed by the metaphors of the song lyric, "We're driving in the fast lane on the freeway." The knowledge involved-- about journeys and about love (and also about psychoanalysis)--is the following: "When you drive in the fast lane, you go a long way in a short time and this may be exciting, only apparently effective, and dangerous. The danger may be to the vehicle (the relationship may not last) or the passengers" (Lakoff, 1986, p. 218). The lovers or patient and analyst may get hurt emotionally and the treatment/vehicle can be destroyed or damaged. The excitement of the love journey can become sexual (and not purely "cognitive"). According to Lakoff (1986, p. 218), our understanding "depends upon the pre- existing metaphorical correspondences of the love-as-journey metaphor." This is a distillation of what must be scrupulously avoided in a classical psychoanalysis. If it occurs, a supervisor will mechanically and systematically stigmatize it, thereby contributing to the ritual learning of a model of clinical conduct comparable to the one that a housewife with phobic tendencies might propose to her son who wishes to explore the world. That seems to be the manner in which Ernest Jones evaluated Ferencziís clinical experiments (Breger, 2000). This same way of focusing one's training in abstinence on sexual excitation is typical also of priests. The result is that they both fear and are obsessed by sex.

    Thanks to this novel theory of metaphor, new and interesting themes and problems arise that could not have been formulated previously. Lakoff (1986, p. 219) describes the purposes-as- destinations metaphor. In this metaphor the source domain is space and the target domain is intention. Ontological correspondences include: a purpose corresponds to a destination (maturation, personal enrichment normality); achievement of the purpose corresponds to movement to the destination (completing the analysis; going in deep; fully analyzing); a difficulty corresponds to an impediment to movement (getting stuck, going uphill, encountering an autistic barrier, an analytic impasse, resistance); maintaining the purpose corresponds to keeping the destination in sight; keeping the setting corresponds to stimulating growth; failures in keeping the setting result in confusion, loss of clarity and diminished understanding of the patient, so that certain analytic functions are rendered inoperative. The following examples also function as conceptual sources of possible clinical interventions from an analyst, or anybody else.

We still have a long way to go.

We are almost there.

Our goal is in sight.

We have reached our goal.

There is nothing in our way.

It has been uphill all the way.

You can look back now.

    The LOVE IS A JOURNEY metaphor is also closely linked with the LIFE IS A JOURNEY metaphor that influences one's ways of narrating one's life in an analysis. A long-term love relationship is understood as a journey through life together. The vehicle is the love relationship itself. All this corresponds to the standard conceptualization of psychoanalysis--one in which the concepts of love, journey, life, life history, and the history of a journey (transference) all overlap and intersect one another. Metaphorically, people who are in a long-term love relationship are on the same journey, because the common goals correspond to common destinations.

    To understand why in the LOVE IS A JOURNEY metaphor the love relationship is understood as a vehicle we may look at a metaphor whose source domain is physical space and whose target domain is interpersonal relationships (Lakoff, 1986, p. 221): "Intimacy corresponds to closeness. Lack of intimacy corresponds to distance. Examples include: We used to be very close, but we've drifted apart over the years. We are pretty distant these days." These expressions could be used in discussing the development of the transference over the course of a long-term therapy (see also Kovecses, 1988, 1990).

    A second metaphor is: A LOVE RELATIONSHIP IS A CONTAINER. The people in the relationship correspond to the contents of the container. The setting is the container (as Bion affirmed) of the analytic relationship in which libidinal investments occur. We can easily recognize that "developments" of classical concepts of Psychoanalysis as "Container" by Bion (1962) are just metaphorical extensions of classical metapsychological concepts.

Examples include:

We got into the relationship without thinking.

He has entered analysis.

It is a difficult relationship to get out of.

I am thinking of leaving the relationship (or the analysis).

    These expressions metaphorically describe the typical interpersonal tensions that may be observed in the course of an analysis. A third metaphor is: AN INTERPERSONAL RELATIONSHIP IS A CONSTRUCTED OBJECT. This is an ontological metaphor that is particularly relevant today (Lakoff, 1986, p. 221):

It took us a long time to build that relationship.

We have a solid relationship.

Their relationship is very fragile and it may fall apart.

We need to patch up our relationship.

Let us now consider some examples taken from folk knowledge about vehicles, love relationships and therapeutic relationships:







    If we put all this together, we can metaphorically compare our knowledge of vehicles to love relationships and to a therapeutic relationship in which love is a therapeutic factor:

A vehicle is a constructed object. It is a container. In it there are people who are close and who are on the same journey. The vehicle facilitates the journey;

A love relationship is a constructed object. It is a container, in which people are close, and are on the same journey. The relationship facilitates the journey;

    A psychoanalytic relationship is a container (Bion, 1962) with people who are close or empathic (Kohut, 1971) who have undertaken the same journey, which is made easier by the container. The properties that characterize the vehicle on a journey are therefore the metaphorical properties that characterize the love relationship in the metaphor Love is a journey and that characterize psychoanalysis as a clinical process.

    The metaphors LOVE IS A JOURNEY, LIFE IS A JOURNEY, and THERAPY IS A JOURNEY are not a fanciful, idiosyncratic way of understanding love relationships, life, and analysis. On the contrary, they are part of our culture. Every aspect of the LOVE IS A JOURNEY metaphor is motivated by other metaphors in our conceptual system and in folk knowledge. The rest of our conceptual system provides the resources needed to view love, life and therapy as journeys.

The Journey/transference Dreams

Dreams are also a form of unconscious thought that makes use of conceptual metaphor.

Dreaming, as Freud suggested, is a form of thought. Powerful dreams are forms of thought that express emotionally powerful content.

Precisely because dreams are a form of thought, dreams make use of metaphor, since thought typically makes use of metaphor.

    Dreaming is a process with open-ended possibilities for metaphorical expression. What those possibilities are is determined by the fixed, general metaphors in the conceptual system. The fixed metaphors are fixed correspondences across conceptual domains at the superordinate level. Those fixed correspondences make it possible for basic level imagery to have systematic meaning. Since the possibilities for basic and subordinate level imagery is open ended, the fixed metaphorical correspondences allow for an open-ended range of possibilities in any particular dream. Dream construction is a dynamic process that makes use of the fixed metaphorical correspondences to construct the image sequences that occur in dreams.

     Our metaphor system might be seen as a set of fixed, general principles that permit an open-ended range of possible dreams that are constructed dynamically in accordance with fixed principles. To understand the system of metaphor is to understand those principles.

    An example of fundamental metaphor, so deeply rooted that it appears in dream images during treatment, is THERAPY IS A JOURNEY. (Another metaphor linked to this is LOVE IS A JOURNEY, which says a great deal about transference and about the grounding of knowledge.)

    In patients' dreams all journeys are considered journeys through transference country. Typical dreams that occur during analysis are in fact those that represent therapy as a patient's journey. Keeping in mind both the manifest content of the dream and the direction of the analysand's associations in relation to it, analysts consider the variations of the journey in the dream in order to gain a better understanding of how analysis is going.

In the clinical situation Schafer suggests, to this end, asking the following questions (1983, p. 259 ):

    "Is it solo or are there companions? Who if anyone is driving, piloting, guiding, or blocking the way, and how well is that job being done? Is it up in the air, at sea, in the jungle, or in some dark and ratty basement? Is the route clear of snakes and pits? Has the way been lost? The station passed by? The train missed? Is the destination known? Is there light at the end of the tunnel? Having an array of analytic questions and expectations at our disposal, we know how to set up and to follow these dreamed and associatively elaborated stories of the journey through analysis."

    According to Schafer, to competently recognize fragments of stories of journeys7 (such as a bus that appears in a dream, or a path, or a street sign) the analyst draws on other sources. Schafer (1983, p. 260) emphasizes that the analyst is prepared to find more of this story in other material (for example, the analysand asks to borrow carfare, or takes the wrong exit off the highway to the analytic session, or stumbles on the way to the couch). The analyst is adept at then spinning the story out further. Similarly, the analyst will be alert to metaphors of travel in the analysand's language and will pay attention to each such metaphor.

    In metaphors, there is in fact an implicit or potential narrative line, based on infantile models. For example Lachmann and Lichtenberg (1992, p. 126) relate a typical journey dream that appeared in analysis in relation to the transference constructs of a female patient. Initially the analyst (as well as her boyfriend and other people in her life) had been cast as the vulnerable mother whom she had to take care of and treasure during the few precious hours during which they would still be available to her. At a later stage, she began to experience the analyst as a competent adult who could be expected to relieve her of a precociously felt burden to look after others. A dream presented six months after the emergence of the transference shift further crystallized the precarious nature of her reliance on others:

    "There was this small car. A man was driving, grey suit, plump, short, an anonymous man. The car was a two-seater, so small I was riding on the outside of the car, sitting on it, on the back of the car, holding on with my fingers. I thought that he really has to let me ride in the front seat, but I was resigned to my place."

    The patient went on to describe her stormy relationship with her boyfriend. The mood of the session was friendly with some shared laughter about the clarity of the dream images and allusions especially to the "anonymous" short, plump driver. The transference that emerged centered on her admiration and idealization of the analyst. She felt "unworthy," and "childish." In particular, she was acutely aware of fearing she would lose his interest.8

    Schafer (1983) stresses that the analyst does not expect to find only one story of travel; in fact he or she encounters sets of stories of travel, that may be told or implied. For Schafer (1983, p. 261), "the analyst's competence in working out, working with, and working through all such narratives is a crucial constituent of his or her general competence in analytic interpretation."9 It means that the analytic competence is a technically refined competence in the understanding and using the human metaphorical system.

    Let us see how therapy as journey may appear in the associations of a patient: "I don't know where I am going with this." The female patient of Schafer's (1983) who made this comment was reflecting, in a disconcerted moment, on her associations. According to Schafer (1983, p. 260), her implied travel story, once it had been charted by analytic exploration, was one of associating comfortably only when the destination was known, thus giving the appearance of associating freely while in fact closely following a prearranged and confining agenda or travel plan. In this strategy she was, as it turned out, preconsciously struggling against an identification with a disorganized mother and also unconsciously enacting an abhorred identification with an overcontrolled and overcontrolling father. In an account of her journey having to do with sexual prototypes, at a more advanced stage of the analysis, it turned out that the patient was caught in a double bind, consisting of the fear of losing control and, at the same time, the feeling of being imprisoned in a situation where she would be too tightly controlled. This simultaneously expressed both sides of a conflictual position, as travel and imprisonment coincided in a single metaphorical expression. Schafer (1983, p. 261) comments that "in what could be taken as another version of this woman's condensed, conflictual travel and prison stories, she presented herself as a severely trained dog--obedient, clean, protective, loyal, cowering at a harsh word and frisking at a kind one; thus, knowing where she was going in her associations was also being a good dog."

    As we discussed above the imagery used in dreams is not arbitrary. It is constrained by the general metaphors used by the dreamer. The general metaphors are sets of correlations between source and target domains at the superordinate level.

Dream imagery is chosen from the basic (and subordinate) level -- that is, from special cases of superordinate categories present in the general metaphors.

    For example, suppose the dream is about love. One of the metaphors for love will be used in the dream. If it is LOVE IS A JOURNEY, then the dream imagery will be about a particular kind of journey, say a car or a schoolbus trip. Then the dream images might include a car, roads, bridges, bad weather, crossroads, etc. Because metaphorical thought is natural, the use of images in dream thought is also natural.

    Schafer (1983) proposed to reach a viable interpretation from examining the following questions: Is the traveller alone or with somebody else? Who is the driver, and is he a good driver or not? Is the trip is in the air, on the sea, on a road, or inside a house or in a deep, dark, dirty place? Is possible to relate the dream to a problem in walking between the door and the couch?

    For example when her treatment started a woman dreamt that she was starting a trip on a schoolbus. Could she trust the driver ? In the background was a car accident in which her sister had died. This can be considered a Plan oriented dream (Weiss, 1993) in the first session of a treatment. The patient is constructing the present experience of starting a therapy and asking whether she can "trust the analyst/driver," incorporating into the present (transference) trip the "traumatic" trip of the schoolbus when her sister died. The patient's plan is to travel (have treatment), while overcoming the feelings of danger by having a driver who is in fact a good one.

    Even in Freudís dream of Anatomic preparation the road narrowed after a while, and turned to a dirt road. The road got narrower and narrower and the terrain got rough and dangerous. Exhausted, the dreamer reached a hut at the top. There he saw an abyss. He knew that instead of planks two children could help to cross the abyss. (Freud, 1900). This was considered to be Freud's own life cycle as he self-represented it while writing The interpretation of Dreams (1900). It is structured according to the metaphor LIFE IS A JOURNEY. And the interpretation of the dream is made possible by the shared human conceptual metaphorical system.

A conventional metaphor that structures this dream is called the Event Structure Metaphor. It has a number of parts, among them:

ďStates are Locations

ďActions are Self-propelled motions.

ďPurposes are Destinations.

ďMeans are Paths.

ďDifficulties are Impediments to motion.

    Recall that LOVE IS A JOURNEY is an extension of A PURPOSEFUL LIFE IS A JOURNEY. It happens that LOVE IS A JOURNEY has a dual that is an extension of the dual of A PURPOSEFUL LIFE IS A JOURNEY, which is A PURPOSEFUL LIFE IS A BUSINESS. The dual of LOVE IS JOURNEY is LOVE IS A PARTNERSHIP, that is, a two-person business. Thus, we speak of lovers as `"partners." Then there are "tacit couple agreements" or perverse love contracts like the many issued between Wanda and Leopold von Sacher Masoch and by characters in his book Venus in Furs. There are also "analytic contracts," and in a long-term love relationship the partners are expected to do their jobs and to share in both responsibilities (what they contribute to the relationship) and benefits (what they get out of it). It is the same in the "analytic couple". Long-term love relationships fail under the same conditions as businesses fail -- when what the partners get out of the relationship is not worth what they put into it (poor outcomes of therapy).

Cognitive linguistics tells something also about "Flying" Dreams

The common metaphors involved are these:




    Flying, in this metaphor, is a form of fast motion with no constraints, but with the danger of falling and crashing, which signifies resulting harm. Metaphorically, flying is intense action with a sense of freedom that can express grandiose narcissistic imagination as manic outbursts approach.

Free Associations

    The use of metaphors to represent analysis as a journey is quite frequent by both patients and analysts. Yet there also exists a danger of collusion if it is taken for granted that the only way to describe the situation is through the journey metaphor. This excludes a priori the use of other metaphors that are made possible by the human conceptual system. If this happens, a successful analysis of the countertransference (self-recognizing the use of metaphor) would depend partly on the analyst's being able to recognize his own tendency to make exclusive or predominant use of such metaphor-based narrative (life is a journey). The analyst could then look for story lines and metaphors that tend to remain hidden in the patient's discourse. Within the metaphor, however, the analyst can maneuver to make valid interventions in the course of therapy. The metaphor, that is to say, establishes a context, in which it becomes possible to introduce particular or different ways of thinking about the journey/therapy. Lakoff and Johnson (1980) offer examples that may be extended to psychoanalysis:

Look how far we have come (says an analyst after more than five years of scarcely effective analysis).

    We are at a crossroads (says an analyst to a patient who wants to interrupt therapy. The analyst equates the therapy itself with an interesting and reasonable goal in life. Her correct interpretation locates analysis on the far side of the crossroads and prevents interruption without blocking the patient's efforts and improvement).

We can't turn back now (says an analyst faced by the patient's complaints about loss of secondary advantages and childish habits as a result of therapy).

    I don't think the analysis is going anywhere (says a patient after many sessions spent in silence). Exactly! (says the analyst making an implicit ń but a little bit acted out - reference to the silence).

Where are we? (asks a disoriented patient talking about the fact that his or her analysis does not resemble anything he knows or has read about).

We are stuck (says a patient subtly showing his or her claustrophobic fears).

    The analysis has reached a dead-end street (says a female patient to the analyst reproducing in the transference the situation that is typical of her love relationships and her narcissistic fears of remaining imprisoned in a symbiotic relationship, both trapping herself too close in a sexually dangerous way to the analyst and indicating the possibility of breaking off the treatment).

    It has been a bumpy road (says a female patient after a difficult but satisfying session, which she also perceives unconsciously as resembling the time when she would indirectly masturbate by playing piggy- back with dad).

The analysis is going into the deep (says a patient who can't swim).

We are off the tracks (says a patient very fond of model toy trains).

    In all these cases the journey is the central metaphor. From it radiate different types of journeys which can be hypothesized in the course of therapy. It is not possible, however, to find a single image for the journey--that somehow comes entirely from the interaction between other metaphors of possible journeys and the various means of transportation. Were the therapist to make interventions centered exclusively on the journey metaphor, the result would be the kind of "focalization" that is actually practiced in dynamic short-term therapy. During psychoanalysis, though, different story lines are tried out, with an awareness. And one must be aware that adequate story lines may not exist or that there may be many irreconcilable story lines.



    After reading this paper someone might return to its opening paragraphs, asking once more how Metaphor can tell us anything about brain functioning. He might, moreover, wonder how mere metaphors can have any relevance during an effective psychiatric treatment (which is what psychotherapy should attempt to be). In the end, he might affirm on the basis of the classical theory of the rhetorical value of metaphor, metaphors are just words. They may improve communication, but they can easily create illusions and cannot be true or scientific in the way that contemporary biological psychiatry calls for.

    Metaphors ń a traditional reader might insist - are a means for adorning our discourse. How, then, they can be involved in pathology or in therapy? And how, even more crucially, can they be connected to brain activity otherwise than as epiphenomena?

    In brief we can remember that the first great development in the study of metaphors came at the end of the 1970's, when it was recognized that metaphors, rather than being "just words," are in fact working structures of thought, and that there is a shared Conceptual metaphorical system based on bodily experience derived from the structure of the human body as it interacts with the constraints of the earth environment (Lakoff & Johnson, 1999). Therefore "talk therapy" ń which is very largely made up of metaphorical expressions ń is the actual expression of the peculiarities of troubled thinking (psychopathology) and a fully legitimate area of research and treatment. "Talk therapy" really does mean "talk therapy."

    Moreover metaphors are made of bodily experiences that are repeated and simulated in the brain during metaphorical reasoning. Working with metaphors therefore means working on some activities of the brain (constraining or altering them as usually happens during such processes as learning, adaptation to changes in the environment, actual problem solving etc.) and calling upon some very peculiar relational and communicational strategies in order to construct fictive relational experiences that constitute the technical core of psychotherapy.

    At last we recognize that the Theory of Metaphors and a contemporary Neural Theory of Laguage (Feldman, Lakoff, 2003 forthcoming) function in fact as interfaces between the clinical practice of psychotherapy and that discipline which, in our day, must provide the cornerstone for any psychiatric therapy--Cognitive Neuroscience.


1 The notions of working through and Durcharbeitung are influenced also by the effect of the spatial metaphor that adds a web of further implications.(Back to Main Text)

2 The metaphors LOVE IS A JOURNEY and PSYCHOANALYSIS IS A JOURNEY are both included in the more general metaphor RELATIONSHIPS ARE A JOURNEY that structures our experience, appearing also in dreams.">(Back to Main Text)

3 Such statements, if referring to analysis and its commonplaces, would describe abnormal or perverted forms of psychoanalysis that generally are attributed to the practice of "wild analysts" or to an insufficient analysis of transference or the grandiose Self or other issues according to individual practice. (Back to Main Text)

4 In Romanticism, the journey that earlier had been to distant or unknown lands becomes a journey into the inner world of the self.(Back to Main Text)

5 For Schafer (1983, p. 260), "Our narrative competence seems to stem from three main sources: from the language we have learned since childhood through example, instruction, and stories; from the daydreams we construct throughout our lives; and from our analytic training and experience which prepare us to anticipate, follow, and organize the narrative lines of psychical reality. It is the third of these that makes us specialists in a job that is performed more or less adequately by all analyzable members of the same culture, that is to say, all members of the same narrative community."(Back to Main Text)

6 According to Lakoff (1986), "If metaphors were just linguistic expressions, we would expect different linguistic expressions to be different metaphors. Thus, "We've hit a dead-end street" would constitute one metaphor. "We can't turn back now" would constitute another, quite different metaphor. "Their marriage is on the rocks" would involve a still different metaphor. And so on for dozens of examples_Love is conceptualized as a journey. It is a unified way of conceptualizing love metaphorically that is realized in many different linguistic expressions." (Back to Main Text)

7 According to Schafer (1983, p. 260), "In the case of travel stories specifically, there is this additional source of narrative competence: infantile preoccupation with the innumerable and varied comings and goings of people and things, bodily substances, and subjective phenomena. Any one of those may become a prototype for travel (for example, in the child's spool play in Beyond the Pleasure Principle (Freud, 1920)." (Back to Main Text)

8 The literature on unconscious fantasies, on the contrary, contains some examples of storylines frequent in analysis, such as "Sleeping Beauty" or the "pseudo-imbecile detective." Although Arlow did not fully develop the idea of narration, he recognizes its importance when he says, "The plot line of the (unconscious) fantasy remains the same although the characters and the situation may vary" (1969, p. 47n). (Back to Main Text)

9 A properly selected candidate shows at least in part some of this competence from the beginning of training. (Back to Main Text)

A first draft of this article, written in 1992 and revised in 1993, was published as a chapter of my book <Metafore>, Rome: La Nuova Italia Scientifica, 1994. I thank the Publisher for permission to re-publish the chapter in a new format. A later version was delivered as part of my presentation to the Ulm Psychosocial Colloquium in the spring of 1998 at Ulm University, Germany. The present version is an updated one that attempts to include more recent developments in Cognitive Linguistics. I am indebted to George Lakoff and Zoltan Kovecses for fruitful discussions that stimulated some improvements of the basic text.


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To cite this article, use this bibliographical entry: Marco Casonato "Metaphor and Psychoanalysis: Transference: Love, Journeys, and Psychoanalysis". PSYART: A Hyperlink Journal for the Psychological Study of the Arts. Available July 19, 2024 [or whatever date you accessed the article].
Received: December 1, 2001, Published: December 1, 2001. Copyright © 2001 Marco Casonato