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Stack, C. (1998). The Analyst's New Clothes: The Impact of the Therapist's Unconscious Conflicts on the Treatment Process. Contemp. Psychoanal., 34(2):273-287.

(1998). Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 34(2):273-287

The Analyst's New Clothes: The Impact of the Therapist's Unconscious Conflicts on the Treatment Process

Carolyn Stack, Psy.D.

It might seem at first glance that the psychoanalytic two-person theories offer a comprehensive analysis of the role of the therapist's unconscious conflicts in treatment. The revolutionary notions in these theories of the analyst as subject, of the patient's attunement to the person of the analyst, and of the therapeutic ground as the space between two subject-participants lend themselves to a greater explication of the contribution of the analyst's unconscious conflicts to traumatic treatment reenactments. I argue, however, that these models ultimately shy away from fully considering the interaction of the therapist's all-too-human limitations and the need that many patients have to do their therapeutic work on the ground of the other's most complex, unconscious arenas.

I write from the assumption that our theories dictate the possibilities that we hold in our imaginations as we listen to our patients. Theory shapes the material that patients bring to us; it shapes our understanding of that material and reflects normative modes of practice. Lawrence Friedman (1988) reminds us that “one major purpose of theory is to permit, and another is to forbid certain intuitive attitudes on the part of the therapist” (p. 435). I suggest that for the large part, our theories forbid intuitively knowing that certain patients sometimes seek and urgently need to make sense of their therapist's unconscious psychological conflicts. The analytic and cultural traditions of therapist-as-expert forbid us from normalizing the notion that a good-enough analyst may be unable to come to terms with her own unconscious material in a timely manner. Because this juncture of the patient's need and the analyst's limitation remains undertheorized, it contributes to the all-too-frequent phenomena of traumatic reenactments and failed treatments.

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