The “Field”: Antonino Ferro

Antonino Ferro has written extensively about the psychoanalytic “field”, alpha function, and the play of the mind. Batya and Nancy thought of him immediately when thinking about space and psychoanalysis. This gallery presents a video, “Dr. Fish” (sent to Nino by a colleague), and Nino’s commentary about the video and an essay about the “narrative container.”

Commentary about “Dr. Fish”
Antonino Ferro

This short video, kindly sent to me by colleagues, could also be regarded as a metaphor for what occurs in the analytic field.

The role of the analyst and the “field”

From the perspective of the “field” (therefore everything within the psychoanalytic session), the analyst immediately encounters relational problems with the patient through the “wife” character. Proto-emotions and beta-elements, depicted here as fish, invade the field and are absorbed by the analyst’s (or better the field’s) alpha function. The film then shows how these are alphabetized, gradually transformed into alpha-elements and reinstated within the patient or the field.

Analyst and patient: two functions within the “field”

From a “strong” perspective of the field, analyst and patient are substantially two functions or places within the field itself. Revitalized alpha-elements breath fresh life into the functioning of the field as a whole. Other “characters” (not people) of the field come into play and are in their turn alphabetized. When there is contact with the “Super Beta,” the analyst (or the analytic function of the field) appears overwhelmed by the indigestibility of this hyper-content (proto aggregates of beta-elements).

Super alpha function of the “field”

The beta-elements appear to proliferate and overwhelm the analyst or the alpha function of the field. This is until a “super alpha-function” (night time dreaming) is able to metabolize the undigested beta-elements. At this point, the analyst is able to re-establish contact with himself and his own alpha function and continue to make the field function in a creative and transformative way.

I would emphasize that from this perspective we are dealing not with people but with functions or characters of the sessions understood as places or functioning of the field itself.


Spatial and Narrative Container
Antonino Ferro

The first way Bion described the container was from a spatial perspective. During the interplay between projective identification of the child and the reverie of the mother the notion of an internal mental space is first experienced. Finding a mental space within the mother’s mind allows the child to introject the concept of an internal space. This mental space is the first epiphany of the container. The container is always solicited by the contents that need to be contained.

The second way of describing the container is in terms of a sort of relational/field theory. In analysis, we could envisage the container as being made up of emotional threads extending from the mind of the analyst to that of the patient and vice versa; and each time there is unison between the two, another small thread is added to the container, thus expanding it continuously.

It can be seen as a kind of safety net, such as those used in circuses during trapeze performances. The difference in this case is that it extends around a full 360 degrees, in every direction. As the container is strengthened and enriched by new emotional threads, the size and nature of the emotions it can contain grows.

This too is a spatial metaphor, but now I think it is better to set aside this spatial concept and turn to that of narrative container.  If “Jack the Ripper” is alone, his presence in the city is unbearable; but if he is linked to “Django Unchained,” the connection between them lessens the “intolerability.”

Through narration, the more connections made between different characters within the field, the less havoc they can wreak. Naturally all of this pertains to mental functioning within the analytic session


Antonino Ferro is a Psychiatrist and the current President of the Italian Psychoanalytic Society. He holds full membership in the American 
Psychoanalytic Association and the International Psychoanalytical Association. He has held supervisions, lectures and seminars at major
 psychoanalytic societies in Europe, North America, South America and Australia. His publications include Psychoanalysis as Therapy and
 Storytelling (2006), Mind Works (2009), Avoiding Emotions, and Living Emotions (2011), Torments of the Soul (2014), all published by Routledge, New Library. In 2007 he received the Mary Sigourney Award.

⇐Return to the Time & Space gallery

1 thought on “The “Field”: Antonino Ferro

  1. jane hall

    This short film about Dr. Fish, and the comments by Dr. Ferro clarified in a unique and powerful way what Bion and field theory contribute to our work. I appreciate the presentation and the virtual museum. We need more art in this difficult and rewarding profession.
    Thank you


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *