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Kohut, H. (1982). Introspection, Empathy, and the Semi-Circle of Mental Health. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 63:395-407.

(1982). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 63:395-407

Introspection, Empathy, and the Semi-Circle of Mental Health

Heinz Kohut


Written shortly before his death, Heinz Kohut's last paper opens with a discussion of the paper 'Introspection, empathy, and psychoanalysis', written in 1959, which he presented at the Twenty-fifth Anniversary Meeting of the Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis. In his first essay on the role of empathy in psychoanalysis, an essay that according to Kohut provided a foundation for many of his subsequent investigations in the field of depth psychology, he advanced the thesis that the introspective-empathic stance of the observer defines the science of psychoanalysis. The author explains that he was moved to propose this operational

definition of psychoanalysis twenty-five years before because he felt that the introduction of the psychobiological concept of the drives (as well as various social psychological concepts) had not led to a true integration of psychoanalysis with biology or medicine but to a psychological and moral view of 'Guilty Man' that worked to distort the analyst's perception in the clinical and applied field. Kohut asserts that by defining itself operationally, psychoanalysis can accept itself as psychology, a psychology that studies man in terms of a self attempting to realize the programme laid down in his depth during the span of his life.

The final section of the paper is devoted to a re-examination of man's intergenerational relationships in light of the shift Kohut advocates from psychobiology to psychology. The Oedipus complex is not to be understood as the end product of the uninfluentiable conflict of basic opposing instincts but as the result of interferences that impinge on man's development. Acknowledging the mythic power of Freud's formulation of the Oedipus complex, the author offers a dose of mythical counter-magic (to which the 'semi-circle of mental health' in the paper's title refers) and a re-interpretation of the story of King Oedipus. Kohut believes that the essence of human experience is not to be found in the biologically inevitable conflict between generations but in intergenerational continuity. Access to this essential nucleus of man's self can best be gained if psychoanalysis shifts from psychobiology to psychology. In this way, Kohut concludes, psychoanalysis can return to its own nuclear self, can realize its own essential programme of action.

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