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Pillsbury, S.H. (2019). MUTUAL EMPATHY: IMAGINED SYMBOL AND REALIZATION IN THE TREATMENT OF TRAUMA. Psychoanal. Self. Cxt., 14(3):247-255.

(2019). Psychoanalysis, Self, and Context, 14(3):247-255


Sarah H. Pillsbury, Ph.D.

My work with Laura, the daughter of Holocaust survivors, was challenging, since I am not Jewish. She didn’t think I could understand her, as her previous Jewish therapist had. At the beginning of treatment she had difficulty understanding her parents’ trauma and its impact on her inner world. She could relate their stories, but kept them at a distance, disavowing their affect and the ever-present specter of death. I could sense her strong need for connection. However, one day the connection was challenged, when I wore a tiny cross because of my serious concern about a close family member. The cross which was discreetly hidden, accidently became visible. We managed to work through this empathic disruption, and Laura began gradually to trust, by educating me about Judaism and the Shoah. A deeper sense of connection was made when Laura was especially vulnerable, lying on my couch in a fetal position, legs flaying, and screaming. I risked moving closer to sit beside her on the couch. Her sad, bony hand reached for mine, a hand I associated with her grandmother who died in the death camps. Our lightly holding hands calmed her and marked a crucial moment in the treatment, a turning point that opened the way for her to reach out to me later in a moment of my vulnerability. Empathy comes full circle, engendering mutual empathy between Laura and me, fully capturing the longed for and powerful empathy that I had first experienced between my analyst and me.

[This is a summary excerpt from the full text of the journal article. The full text of the document is available to journal subscribers on the publisher's website here.]

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