The term vertex, in Wilfred R. Bion's terminology, refers to the psychic place from which an emotional experience can be represented with the support of data from a sensory modality, which he called the "mental counterpart" (1965, p. 90) of the sense involved.
In common English, vertex has the more general meaning of "top." Bion introduced it into his terminology in 1965 in his book Transformations: Change from Learning to Growth. He was seeking an abstract definition of the "point of view" from which the mind, through a system of transformations, can bring emotional experiences linked to the absence of the object together into a "constant conjunction" (p. 96) and give them meaning. He thus used the geometric term vertex, "clothing" the abstract geometric concept in imaginary flesh. In so doing, he sought to avoid two pitfalls: that of using a term with strong metaphoric connotations such as point of view, which privileges the sense of sight, and that of reducing the libidinal objects and their processes of intrapsychic transformation to purely formal entities. He nevertheless recognized the primacy of the sense of sight in these processes of transformation, notably, that it leads more readily to verbal description than the other senses. While he emphasized this primacy, he nonetheless showed that a change of vertex, or the mental equivalent of a sensory modality, can be necessary to represent certain psychic experiences. He also described the reversal of a vertex; for example, the reversal of the visual vertex that leads to hallucinations.
Bion used the concept of the vertex to describe the relationship between patient and analyst and to propose a theory of interpretation. In the analytic relationship, patient and analyst share the same experience, but each has a different vertex. The patient's vertex is linked to his or her unconscious motivations and their corresponding emotional bonds, the H (hatred) bond or the L (love) bond. The analyst must strive to adopt a vertex that is linked only to the K (knowledge) bond, the emotional bond corresponding to the psychic tension that must be tolerated until meaning emerges. Interpretation for the analyst consists of formulating, when the time comes, his or her experience of the situation based on this vertex. The vertices of the patient and the analyst must be neither too close nor too far apart from one another. This produces a "binocular vision" that enables the patient to take a step back from his or her original vertex, bringing a sort of perspective into the patient's psyche.
See also: Bion, Wilfred Ruprecht; Invariant; Transformations.
Bion, Wilfred R. (1965). Transformations: Change from learning to growth. London: Heinemann.
——. (1970). Attention and interpretation. London: Tavistock.
Grinberg, Léon, Sor, Dario, and Tabak de Bianchedi, Elizabeth. (1977). Introduction to the work of Bion: Groups, knowledge, psychosis, thought, transformations, psychoanalytic practice (Alberto Hahn, Trans.). Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson. (Original work publushed 1973)
ver·tex / ˈvərˌteks/ • n. (pl. -ti·ces / -təˌsēz/ or -tex·es ) 1. the highest point; the top or apex. ∎ Anat. the crown of the head. 2. Geom. each angular point of a polygon, polyhedron, or other figure. ∎ a meeting point of two lines that form an angle. ∎ the point at which an axis meets a curve or surface.
So vertical pert. to the zenith XVI; perpendicular, at right angles to the axis, etc. XVIII. — F. or late L.; see -AL1.