On the Wall or in the Ointment? The Psychoanalytic Community as a Third Presence in the Consulting Room
Timothy J. Zeddies, Ph.D.
THERE has been recent emphasis in the psychoanalytic literature on how the wider analytic community informs, validates, defines, and even authorizes the therapeutic process (e.g., Spezzano, 1998; Aron, 1999; Greenberg, 1999). We have begun to appreciate with more depth and sensitivity that even in the privacy of the consulting room, interactions between therapists and patients always involve, to a greater or lesser degree, a third presence represented by the wider psychoanalytic community. “The Third,” as Greenberg (1999) puts it, is a continual presence and source of influence throughout the course of the analytic relationship: “the [psychoanalytic] community not only creates the dyad, it also remains a powerful force in shaping the way both participants see themselves, how they see each other, and how they see the possibility of relational engagement” (p. 30). In a very real and immediate way, therapists and patients are never really alone with each other. On the edge of everything between them that is spoken and unspoken, enacted or restrained, imagined or suppressed, is the broad and encompassing canvass of the psychoanalytic community. This suggests that the scope of what can be discussed and explored, as well as the possibilities for growth and development, reflect both the analytic relationship in all of its particularity and intimacy and the wider psychoanalytic community that contains, inspires, and defines the analytic dyad. To paraphrase a classic philosophical thought experiment, if a proverbial tree falls in the consulting room with no one present, it still makes a sound.
For the most part, the psychoanalytic community provides a positive kind of “authorizing influence” and “third presence” that allows therapists to work in ways that would not be possible otherwise. In their dealings with patients, therapists are guided (consciously and unconsciously) by the standards, ideals, and practices of a diverse and vibrant community of analytic writers and clinicians.
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