Avoiding the Pain of the Unthinkable

The Debbie Bellman Memorial Lecture by Dr Thomas Reitter

London & online


Dr Thomas Reitter

Avoiding the Pain of the Unthinkable

– a fresh look at so-called negative therapeutic reactions and the compulsion to repeat


In this paper three aspects are explored which despite their scant reference in the psychoanalytic literature seem to be of major relevance for the frequent occurrence of negative phenomena such as so-called negative therapeutic reactions and the compulsion to repeat.

The first aspect, the avoidance of psychic pain, plays the most significant role. The fact that differences in perception lead to a (re-)activation of repressed/rejected memories and of not yet represented memories (memories without recollection [Botella 2014]), can explain why better experiences are avoided and negative ones are repeated compulsively.

Further aspects entering in the dynamics of repetition compulsion are the aesthetic conflict, as described by D. Meltzer (1988), the sacrificing of one’s own potentialities as a kind of expiation or reparation of unconscious guilt, and the fear of annihilating oblivion, which are observable in the clinical and societal context.

Finally, technical issues are discussed resulting from the theoretical considerations, with particular emphasis on the analyst’s witnessing the attacks inflicted by pathological organizations of the mind on the patient’s perceptual apparatus.


The Debbie Bellman Memorial Lecture
Saturday 29th June 2024, 2 – 4pm
Hybrid meeting: 89 Prince of Wales Road, London NW5 3NT & Online via Zoom

Click here to book your place



Dr Thomas Reitter, M.D. specialized in Psychosomatic Medicine and Psychotherapy, in private practice in Heidelberg/Germany. Member and training analyst of the DPG (German Psychoanalytical Society) and the IPA. Practicing group analyst. Member of the Board of the German Annual of the IJP, the Organizing Committee of the British-German Colloquia and a French-German Working Group (DPG/SPP). Lectures and seminars on Bion’s work. Publications (in German) on epistemological issues in psychoanalysis, esp. the judgment function of the ego (orientation) and the apprehension of reality.