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Buechler, S. (1998). The Analyst's Experience of Loneliness. Contemp. Psychoanal., 34(1):91-113.

(1998). Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 34(1):91-113

The Analyst's Experience of Loneliness

Sandra Buechler, Ph.D.

In her classic, posthumously published article on loneliness, Fromm-Reichmann (1959) cites A. Courtauld's observations of isolation in a Greenland weather station. Courtauld (1932) recommends that “only persons with active, imaginative minds, who do not suffer from a nervous disposition and are not given to brooding, and who can occupy themselves by such means as reading, should go on polar expeditions.” It is the thesis of this article that the habits of mind required to bear the loneliness of analytic exploration are remarkably similar. It is in the realm of the imagination, relatively protected from brooding and anxiety, nurtured and stimulated by selected reading, that the context for withstanding the loneliness of analytic inquiry can be created.

Fromm-Reichmann is clear about the necessity for the analyst to be aware of his or her own loneliness and the anxiety it may engender.

The psychiatrist's specific problem in treating lonely patients seems to be that he has to be alert for and recognize traces of his own loneliness or fear of loneliness, lest it interfere with his fearless acceptance of manifestations of the patient's loneliness. This holds true, for example, when the psychiatrist, hard as he may try, cannot understand the meaning of a psychotic communication. He may then feel excluded from a “we-experience” with his patient; and this exclusion may evoke a sense of loneliness or fear of loneliness in the doctor, which makes him anxious.

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