Saturday, December 7, 2013

Stefano Bolognini on Psychoanalytic Empathy

Editor's Note: Stefano Bolognini is the current President of the International Psychoanalytic Association and the first Italian to be elected to that position.

"I have chosen to focus on certain specific elements, since my interest is to highlight some fundamental points which I shall briefly summarize:

- Empathy is a complex state which is not limited to concordance with the patient’s conscious ego-syntonic experience (the hypothesis of gross “simplifiers”), nor with a specific conscious or unconscious part privileged by a particular theory (such as Kohut’s “wounded narcissistic self”). On the contrary, it requires space and suspension for an elaborate identification with the various areas and internal levels of the patient.
- Empathy cannot be planned because it comes about through occasional, undeterminable openings of the preconscious channels of the analyst, the patient or both.

- The analyst’s training gives him on average an advantage over most other people in being able to create the intra- and interpsychic conditions suitable for the development of empathic situations with greater ease and in a more elaborate way.
Empathy has nothing to do with kind-heartedness or sympathy, because it may come about through a type of identification which in itself is not particularly flattering or gratifying, made possible sometimes by the specific resonance with corresponding “undesirable” areas in the psychoanalyst or his negative feelings.

- Psychoanalytic empathy includes the possibility to accede over time and through the working through of the countertransference to the reintegration of split-off components, whose existence is not only hypothesized – in the manner of engineers around a drawing board – but experienced and recognized by the fully aware analyst.
If the conscious is the natural seat of the organization and formalization of experience “in the light of the ego”, the preconscious is the place for the exploration of the experience of one’s own self and that of others."
Stefano Bolognini, "The Complex Nature of Psychoanalytic Empathy," accessed from his personal blog -
His thoughts on this subject are explored in greater depth in his 2004 book Psychoanalytic Empathy (Free Association Books).

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