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Schimel, J.L. (1980). Psychotherapeutic Conversations:—A Linguistic and Semantic Analysis. Contemp. Psychoanal., 16:367-384.

(1980). Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 16:367-384

Psychotherapeutic Conversations:—A Linguistic and Semantic Analysis

John L. Schimel, M.D.

The Physician

A MAJOR CONCERN OF HARRY STACK SULLIVAN was to capture in language the world that is there, the palpable world, the world that one can hear, the world that one can touch, taste and smell, a world that one can imitate and point to and repeat. It should be a world in which the behavior of his patient evokes in the psychoanalyst that which he himself has experienced, come to recognize and understand, and eventually to forgive and even love in himself. There are other worlds, worlds that are not here or there or anywhere, created by the misuse of thought and language, worlds occupied by some psychoanalysts and certainly by their patients, whose misuse of thought and language must be a matter of central concern, since the patient's thought and language are not only pathognomonic in regard to his emotional disturbance but also because change in the patient's thought and language is the best index of favorable change in his emotional condition and functioning. Sullivan's focus on the here and now transactions of patient and psychoanalyst, necessarily interactional and primarily conversational, attests to his concern with the observable and classifiable and ultimately the scientific appraisal of the immediately available data. In this he was following the principle of parsimony, assembling his data and making the most economical of explanations that could embrace the available information. From this guiding principle there emerged the only rational theory of psychotherapy, as opposed to theories of personality, that is available to psychoanalysts. In the course of this paper, I will try to demonstrate why I believe this is so. I sometimes think of Sullivan's approach as the application of formal logic and epistemology to the realm of human affairs.

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