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Lichtenberg, J.D. (1981). The Empathic Mode of Perception and Alternative Vantage Points for Psychoanalytic Work. Psychoanal. Inq., 1(3):329-355.

(1981). Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 1(3):329-355

The Empathic Mode of Perception and Alternative Vantage Points for Psychoanalytic Work

Joseph D. Lichtenberg, M.D.


(1)  The empathic vantage point does not overemphasize responsiveness to emotionality and underemphasize cognitive elements, either in the analyst's listening or interpreting. A misunderstanding of this nature could be eliminated by the recognition that the processes utilized by the analyst who takes an empathic vantage point are those usually described as empathy, intuition, and secondary process thought. Alternatively, this misunderstanding could be eliminated by a developmental view of empathy as both affective and cognitive from its inception in the mother-infant dialogue.

(2)  By providing new insight into psychopathology, Kohut's psychology of the self includes the basis for an extension of interpretation, in the secondary process sense, into the vicissitudes of regulation within the self-selfobject interaction.

I believe that regarding a regulatory theory as explanatory for one sector of the personality, and a theory of intrapsychic conflict as explanatory for another, invites a belief that one sector

is responded to by a technique tilted toward the experiential and the emotional, while the other is balanced between the emotional and the cognitive. I prefer to regard the concept of intrapsychic conflict as particularizing specific elements out of a developmental regulatory failure, and the sense of altered self-states and of an unempathic parent as generalizing the problem to the self-selfobject interactional unit. Looked at in this way, the theory of regulatory needs and the theory of intrapsychic conflict can be regarded as alternative shifting perspectives for organizing and conceptualizing different experiential data as it originates from the patient in the course of analysis.

(2)  The empathic vantage point, one in which the analyst orients his listening stance from within the perspective and state of mind of the analysand, is compared with the traditional natural science vantage point of the observer positioned outside, the vantage point that emphasizes transference based on intrapsychic conflict, and the vantage point of the analyst's personal introspection. Three different stances for the analyst—outside the analysand's state of mind, as an interested, sympathetic companion listener, and inside the analysand's mental state—are compared for their advantages and disadvantages as modes of perception of the patient's communications and as launching points for formulating and communicating interpretations. Through a general discussion and clinical example, reasons are given for considering the empathic vantage point as the optimal perspective for psychoanalytic work.

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