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Ghent, E. (1994). Empathy—Whence and Whither?: Commentary on Papers by Kiersky and Beebe, Hayes, and Feiner and Kiersky. Psychoanal. Dial., 4(3):473-486.

(1994). Psychoanalytic Dialogues, 4(3):473-486

Empathy—Whence and Whither?: Commentary on Papers by Kiersky and Beebe, Hayes, and Feiner and Kiersky Related Papers

Emmanuel Ghent, M.D.

As a discussant of these three rich and stimulating papers, I found myself getting fired up to talk about any number of the fascinating aspects of our topic—the nature of empathy, its ontogeny, its relation to neurophysiological processes, its role in perception, its role in psychoanalysis as a practice, in what way or ways it contributes to therapeusis, its role in theory, its relation to counter-transference, its pitfalls and perversions, and its imaginative applications, not to mention the endless source of diversion to be found in arguing both sides of the controversy as to the superiority of the “inside” as against the “outside” stance. Almost all of these, and more, were alluded to in the papers; so I must choose!

I find the two-phase model of empathy, as put forward by Feiner and Kiersky, very cogenial to my way of thinking, and although I will propose some modifications to it, I would like to underline their difference of emphasis in relation to the view suggested by Basch (1983):

Because their respective autonomic nervous systems are genetically programmed to respond in like fashion, a given affective expression by a member of a particular species tends to recruit a similar response in other members of that species. As Freud (1921) suggested, this is done through the promotion of an unconscious, automatic, and in adults, not necessarily obvious, imitation of the sender's bodily state and facial expression by the receiver. This then


Emmanuel Ghent is on the faculty of the New York University Postdoctoral Program in Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis, where he is Clinical Professor of Psychology and was formerly Chairman of the Relational Track. He is also Supervising Analyst at the William Alanson White Institute.

© 1994 The Analytic Press

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