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Hoffman, I.Z. (1983). The Patient as Interpreter of the Analyst's Experience. Contemp. Psychoanal., 19:389-422.

(1983). Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 19:389-422

The Patient as Interpreter of the Analyst's Experience

Irwin Z. Hoffman, Ph.D.


THIS PAPER PRESENTS A POINT OF VIEW on the psychoanalytic situation and on psychoanalytic technique through, in part, a selective review of the literature. An important underlying assumption of the paper is that existing theoretical models inevitably influence and reflect practice. This is often true even of models that practitioners claim they do not take seriously or literally. Such models may continue to affect practice adversely as long as their features are not fully appreciated and as long as alternative models are not recognized or integrated. An example of such a lingering model is the one in which the therapist is said to function like a blank screen in the psychoanalytic situation.

The Resilience of the Blank Screen Concept

The psychoanalytic literature is replete with attacks on the blank screen concept, the idea that the analyst is not accurately perceived by the patient as a real person, but that he serves rather as a screen or mirror to whom various attitudes, feelings, and motives can be attributed depending upon the patient's particular neurosis and its transference expression. Critiques of this idea have come from within the ranks of classical Freudian analysts, as well as from Kleinians and Sullivanians. Even if one looks only at the classical literature, in one way or another, the blank screen concept seems to have been pronounced dead and laid to rest many times over the years. In 1950, Ida Macalpine, addressing only the implications for the patient's experience of classical psychoanalytic technique as she conceived of it (that is, not considering the analyst's personal contributions), said the following:

It can no longer be maintained that the analysand's reactions in analysis occur spontaneously.

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