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Whyte, C. (1988). Struggling with a Question: An Example of Projective Identification. Brit. J. Psychother., 5(1):92-93.

(1988). British Journal of Psychotherapy, 5(1):92-93

Struggling with a Question: An Example of Projective Identification

Chris Whyte

Should I answer a patient's question? What is a question? What is the question?

K reports that she has a question that she would like to ask me. She says she probably won't ask it because she does not want to know the answer. She falls silent. I feel intrigued. I wonder what the question is. I wonder if I should answer it. I wonder if I will be able to answer it.

Sulkily she says it's not important anyway and tries to talk about something else. “The question hangs in the air above us both. It does not go away. The question has been with her since the last session. Another long pause… then she mutters so quietly that I can hardly hear that she has been wondering whether I am fed up with her. She wants to know, needs to know, but fears the answer.

Although she has told me what the question is, she has not asked the question. She does not ask the question. There is a big difference between saying what the question is and asking the question. I cannot answer a question that has not been asked. What if she were to ask’? Should I answer? Do I know the answer?

Am I fed up with her? My First thought is: ‘No, of course not. How could she think such a thing’. I realise I am being defensive and look into myself some more. Sometimes she gives me so little, I have to survive not knowing what goes on in her. She never looks at me - only one or two glances in several years. Then there are the silences! She takes such a long time to say nothing. My attempts to clarify only make matters worse.

[This is a summary excerpt from the full text of the journal article. The full text of the document is available to journal subscribers on the publisher's website here.]

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