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Atwood, G.E. Stolorow, R.D. Trop, J.L. (1989). Impasses in Psychoanalytic Therapy—A Royal Road. Contemp. Psychoanal., 25:554-573.

(1989). Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 25:554-573

Impasses in Psychoanalytic Therapy—A Royal Road

George E. Atwood, Ph.D., Robert D. Stolorow, Ph.D. and Jeffrey L. Trop, M.D.

OUR THESIS IN THIS PAPER IS THAT impasses in psychoanalytic therapy, when investigated from the standpoint of the principles unconsciously organizing the experiences of patient and therapist, provide a unique pathway—a "royal road"—to the attainment of psychoanalytic understanding. Before developing and illustrating this thesis, we first present an overview of the theoretical framework that has guided our investigations of the therapeutic process.

We refer to our framework as an intersubjective approach to psychoanalysis. Previously (Atwood and Stolorow, 1984), we defined its essentials, which can be applied to any psychoanalytically-oriented therapy, as follows:

In its most general form, our thesis … is that psychoanalysis seeks to illuminate phenomena that emerge within a specific psychological field constituted by the intersection of two subjectivities—that of the patient and that of the analyst. … Psychoanalysis is pictured here as a science of the intersubjective, focused on the interplay between the differently organized subjective worlds of the observer and the observed. The observational stance is always one within, rather than outside, the intersubjective field … being observed, a fact that guarantees the centrality of introspection and empathy as the methods of observation. … Psychoanalysis is unique among the sciences in that the observer is also the observed … [pp. 41–42]. Clinical phenomena … cannot be understood apart from the intersubjective contexts in which they take form. Patient and analyst together form an indissoluble psychological system, and it is this system that constitutes the empirical domain of psychoanalytic inquiry [p. 64].


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