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Hutzier, J.C. Pinta, E.R. (1977). False-Acknowledgment Phenomenon in Psychotherapy. Am. J. Psychoanal., 37(2):167-170.

(1977). American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 37(2):167-170

False-Acknowledgment Phenomenon in Psychotherapy

Jeffery C. Hutzier, M.D. and Emil R. Pinta, M.D.

It is a common occurrence in psychotherapy for a patient to erroneously acknowledge someone other than the therapist as the source of a psychotherapeutic interpretation or observation. This misidentified source is usually given as a friend, relative, book, or movie. The patient typically reports that he has made an important discovery about himself after reading a book, talking with a friend, etc. This “discovery” is readily recognized by the therapist as a past interpretation or observation he had presented to the patient. In this paper the term “false-acknowledgment phenomenon” will be used to refer to the unconscious mechanism of misidentifying, or falsely acknowledging the source of a psychotherapeutic interpretation or observation.

Although most psychotherapists are familiar with this phenomenon, little definition or clarification of the dynamics involved is available in the psychotherapy literature. It is described in only one of the standard psychotherapy texts reviewed (An Introduction to Psychotherapy), and one interpretation is offered. In this text Tarachow discusses the difficulties that obsessive-compulsive personalities have in being “appreciative.” The authors are of the opinion that the false-acknowledgment phenomenon is frequently experienced as threatening to inexperienced therapists and that even experienced therapists find it difficult to interpret this phenomenon to their patients. Many psychotherapists questioned by the authors had not seriously considered its potential therapeutic implications.

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