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Frie, R. Reis, B. (2001). Understanding Intersubjectivity: Psychoanalytic Formulations and Their Philosophical Underpinnings. Contemp. Psychoanal., 37(2):297-327.

(2001). Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 37(2):297-327

Understanding Intersubjectivity: Psychoanalytic Formulations and Their Philosophical Underpinnings

Roger Frie, Ph.D., Psy.D. and Bruce Reis, Ph.D.

Intersubjectivity has become a topic of considerable interest among psychoanalysts and psychologists. The term intersubjectivity refers in the most basic sense to the interaction between two subjects: myself and another person, or self and other. The intersubjective field is an area of common engagement in which my individual subjectivity is articulated and communicated. This article seeks to help the psychoanalytic practitioner and theoretician to come to terms with the current discussion and debate on intersubjectivity by elaborating its basic psychoanalytic tenets, and by examining the philosophical premises on which they are based. In so doing, we aim to fill a gap in the psychoanalytic literature of intersubjectivity relating to the philosophical basis and history of the concept.

The introduction of philosophy into the discussion on intersubjectivity may strike some readers as odd. What is frequently overlooked by psychoanalysts and psychologists alike, however, is that intersubjectivity is a concept from European philosophy with a two-hundred-year-old history. Moreover, as clinicians involved in the daily vicissitudes of the analytic process, we tend to disregard the fact that theory always and inevitably influences the way we work and effects the underlying assumptions we hold about the nature of human relating.

As such, the study of intersubjectivity has broad implications for psychoanalytic theory and practice. It suggests that the work of analysis is located in understanding the nature of interaction between two subjectivities, thus highlighting the importance of the analyst's own subjectivity within the analytic process. Whereas most psychoanalysts would agree with this denotion of intersubjectivity as relating to the dyadic relationship between the two individual subjectivities, there is less consensus about the definition and implications of the concept.

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