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Bolognini, S. (2009). The Complex Nature of Psychoanalytic Empathy: A Theoretical and Clinical Exploration. Fort Da, 15(1):35-56.

(2009). Fort Da, 15(1):35-56

The Complex Nature of Psychoanalytic Empathy: A Theoretical and Clinical Exploration

Stefano Bolognini, M.D.

Empathy has been my major field of interest for more than 20 years now. So, I believe that briefly reporting the reasons for my clinical and theoretical interests as well as the historical and conceptual route I have traveled along is not a mere exercise in narcissism. I feel that many of you, in fact, may find something of yourselves and your training experience in this brief description and the scientific scenarios I will outline here.

When I was a young candidate in training, grappling with the traditional difficulties of my first analytic treatments, I was often struck by a kind of intra-session experience that was rather rare, absolutely unpredictable, as far as I could see, but nevertheless remarkable. What characterized the experience were effective emotional contact and a propitious representational clarity, during which the patient's conscious experience was shared and deeply felt, though patient and analyst retained their separateness and personal individuation.

It sometimes happened that not only the analytic “glance” (the intellectual understanding, the ability to explain, Jaspers's idea of erklaren), but also the total experience of “understanding and feeling” (in the well-integrated form of comprehension or verstehen) penetrated a little deeper into less egosyntonic areas. It was as if the links in the chainmail of the defensive ego were at these times temporarily enlarged, allowing our internal sensors to gain greater access to our own preconscious and that of the patient.

When I say “a little deeper,” I am not referring to heaven-knows-what heightened powers of introspection, a delirium of clarity, or a hypervisual phenomenon. I am merely reporting a state of overall good functioning, which unfortunately takes place all too rarely.

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