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Lytton, S.M. (1986). Meeting of the New York Psychoanalytic Society. Psychoanal Q., 55:707-708.

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(1986). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 55:707-708

Meeting of the New York Psychoanalytic Society

Sidney M. Lytton

November 13, 1984. ON HEARING AND LISTENING. Maurice S. Nadelman, M.D.

Dr. Nadelman distinguished between hearing and listening in order to more clearly understand social interactions, the analytic process, and the development of the individual. Although the dictionary does not make this distinction clearly, Dr. Nadelman noted, our use of language does. "A father called his son's attention to the beautiful music on the radio, and the son replied, 'I wasn't listening.'" Thus, listening is defined more in terms of volitional attention and requires a quota of work. Hearing has more to do with a passive, though sometimes emotional, experience. Freud observed that children hearing a familiar voice can lose the feeling that they are in the dark.

In analysis, this focus is particularly useful. We depend on the patients to listen to themselves and to the analyst. At times patients seem to hear only what they themselves say and listen only when something is repeated by the analyst. Dr. Nadelman discussed the fact that we have no cover for our ears, such as we do for our eyes. We hear all the sounds around us, but we listen to only a few. An example was given of Freud, who heard bells in his sleep, but in the dream found a reason for not listening to them. Dr. Nadelman compared the hearing in such dreams with Freud's distinction between ostensible thinking (the subject matter of the dream thoughts) and thinking which deals with the relations between the dream thoughts. Absence of listening is also an aspect of day dreaming. Dr. Nadelman suggested that the tendency people in deep sleep have to hear sounds first as far away, yet somehow within themselves, and only later as emanating from without is parallel to the Isakower phenomenon, a blurring of what is internal and what is external. "Slips of the ear" in paying attention to certain factitious sounds in the consultation room are related to the inner state of the person. This is particularly enhanced in analysis as opposed to psychotherapy because of the absence of visual stimulation.

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