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Pao, P. (1983). Therapeutic Empathy and the Treatment of Schizophrenics. Psychoanal. Inq., 3(1):145-167.

(1983). Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 3(1):145-167

Therapeutic Empathy and the Treatment of Schizophrenics Related Papers

Ping-Nie Pao, M.D.

The Tao that can be told of is Not the Absolute Tao; The Names that Can be Given are not Absolute Names

Nameless is the Origin of Heaven and Earth; Naming is the Mother of all Things

—Lao-tze, Tao-te-ching

Lao-tze points to a basic human dilemma—in essence, that processes and changes are difficult to describe precisely. In talking about them, names must be assigned but those assigned names often do not fully or absolutely describe what we intend to describe.

In the analytic situation it is imperative that the analyst understand the patient. It is generally accepted that the analyst comes to understand the patient through the use of empathy. What, then, is empathy? Obviously, empathy denotes a process. And, as the name of a process, “empathy” may have the limitations Lao-tze articulated; it may not fully or absolutely describe what we intend to describe. Fliess (1942), one of the first analysts who attempted to define empathy, envisioned it as a process in which the analyst makes a “trial identification” with the patient. But does trial identification really occur? If it does, how does the analyst make this trial identification with the patient? While listening to a patient, does an analyst say to himself: “If my father did this or that to me, as the patient's father has done to him, I would experience such and such.

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