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Ullman, C. (2006). Bearing Witness: Across the Barriers in Society and in the Clinic. Psychoanal. Dial., 16(2):181-198.

(2006). Psychoanalytic Dialogues, 16(2):181-198

Bearing Witness: Across the Barriers in Society and in the Clinic

Chana Ullman, Ph.D.

This article explores witnessing from two different angles: bearing witness as a social process that exposes a disavowed reality of evil and suffering and witnessing as a distinct function of the therapist and as a curative element in psychoanalytic treatment. In the first part of the article I examine the meaning of witnessing as a social process that affects the collective memory of a social community and describe its psychological implications for the witness as well as other participants in the testimony. This part draws primarily on my experiences as a witness at Israeli army checkpoints in the Israeli occupied territories of the West Bank. The second part draws on the description of social witnessing in order to examine the analyst as a witness. I describe the contexts in which witnessing appears to be a central process in psychoanalytic treatment. I argue that witnessing is predicated on recognizing “otherness.” Following Poland (2000), it is suggested that along with holding, containment and interpretation witnessing is a distinct and curative function in which the analyst's involved otherness enables recognition of a denied or dissociated reality of suffering and evil.

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