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Hirsch, I. (1999). Commentaries. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 47(2):371-381.

(1999). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 47(2):371-381


Irwin Hirsch

Arnold Goldberg chooses a very apt clinical fragment to highlight the ubiquity of personal judgment in all human interaction, including, of course, clinical work that once was thought to be objective science. Conscious and unconscious judgments (in the name of pure science) about the inherently pathological nature of all homosexuality has been one of the most egregious sins of psychoanalysis. Goldberg, perhaps classical self psychology's most prolific and articulate spokesperson, uses his clinical illustration to criticize presumptive theory masking as objective science, to reinforce his belief in the value of empathic immersion, and to add that judgments cannot be entirely parsed out of empathy. His last point represents a radical, albeit graduated, shift in his thinking about empathy. Goldberg attempts to integrate some of the more serious criticisms of the concept of empathy and of selfobject transference from within and without the self psychology tradition. His current conception of empathy reflects an acknowledgment that pure immersion in the experience of another is impossible; the person of the observer is always a variable, and the observer is always a person (not simply a “function” or an “intrapsychic object”). He posits a dialectic between the selfless notion of empathy and the inevitability of a more selfish otherness. Indeed, it is ironic that self psychologists ever believed in analysts’capacity for relatively selfless empathy, since Heinz Kohut's original conceptions were developed from his work with narcissistic patients. For some time it had seemed that Kohut and his colleagues had given all of the narcissism in the dyad to the patient, somehow allowing an almost nascent state of altruism for the analyst. This excellent plenary address, though with some conflict and contradiction, situates Goldberg's self psychology closer to efforts to integrate relational and traditional classical models in contemporary psychoanalysis (e.g., Greenberg 1991; Gabbard 1995; Hirsch 1998; Wallerstein 1998). For him, analysts’judgments have become part of an interactional mix. The patient is no longer conceptualized as an isolated mind to be studied by the objectified empathic instrument.

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