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Wilner, W. (1998). Working Experientially in Psychoanalysis. Contemp. Psychoanal., 34(4):591-596.

(1998). Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 34(4):591-596

Working Experientially in Psychoanalysis

Warren Wilner, Ph.D.

As I see it, psychoanalysis was at first preoccupied with epistemology, and it remains so to this day. As a profession, we are greatly concerned with knowing: what and how much we can know and are able to know accurately and comprehensively. But this concern with getting it right cognitively, I believe, is often undertaken at the expense of taking risks, following our intuitions, and establishing a clinical atmosphere that is conducive to freely undergoing our experience. We remain caught in the wake of the Freudian legacy, in which knowing was thought to be made more efficacious by self-containment. Affective expressiveness, for example, was considered to be in the service of the pleasure principle and against the development of secondary process. This idea, however, is difficult to reconcile with the contemporary view that we learn about our unconscious through motility as well. Sandler (1976), for example, refers to the analyst knowing his or her unconscious countertransference through free-floating reactivity, but with the caveat that too much such reactivity leads to unproductive enactments.

I have attempted here to separate questions of technique that deal with how to handle what we believe we know, that is, what we take to be objectively and subjectively real in psychoanalysis, from the concept of experience, of which objective and subjective awareness are constitutive, but not exhaustive.

It has become almost a truism that the patient's ability to free associate is more a product of a successful analysis than it is a phenomenon of its ongoing process. But what of the analyst's ability to freely experience during the analysis? The interpersonal precept that the analyst's experience and behavior takes place in the interpersonal field with the patient, from which it cannot be separated, is a call for analysts to work more directly with their emergent unconscious awareness.

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