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Schlesinger, H.J. (1981). The Process of Empathic Response. Psychoanal. Inq., 1(3):393-416.

(1981). Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 1(3):393-416

The Process of Empathic Response

Herbert J Schlesinger, Ph.D.

Summary

The capacity to communicate empathically with patients is the basis of psychoanalysis and psychodynamic psychotherapies. Empathy is not part of the content of therapeutic communication; we rarely talk to patients about empathy. Rather, it is an aspect of the process of communication itself. Viewing empathic communication as a process implies that the analyst's position with regard to the patient changes as the patient's position changes. This empathy is thus not a uniform trait of analysts, or a class of therapeutic communications. The interventions we call “empathic” are those which are accurately attuned to what the patient is feeling and expressing at each moment.

The term “empathic,” as it describes the analyst's responses to the patient, specifically refers to the position from which the analyst responds. Usually this will be one of looking over the patient's shoulder at the transference figure, while sharing the surface emotion expressed. “Empathic” can also describe the position of looking over the shoulder of the transference figure toward that aspect of the patient making the projection.

Essential to empathic communication is the ability of the analyst to maintain the therapeutic split. Interferences with empathizing generally involve a loss of therapeutic split, usually when the analyst's own defensive needs become excessive.

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