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Kernberg, O.F. (1996). The Analyst's Authority In The Psychoanalytic Situation.. Psychoanal Q., 65:137-157.

(1996). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 65:137-157

The Analyst's Authority In The Psychoanalytic Situation.

Otto F. Kernberg, M.D.


A significant trend in the development of the theory of psychoanalytic technique during the last two decades, present throughout the entire psychoanalytic community but particularly accentuated in the United States, has been the questioning of the authority of the psychoanalyst to formulate interpretations based upon “facts” in the psychoanalytic situation. From different psychoanalytic viewpoints with different theoretical underpinnings, a commonly shared question has been raised: To what extent is the analyst's stance toward the patient at risk of becoming an authoritarian imposition of the analyst's viewpoints? Or, to what extent is a highly desirable, respectful empathy with a patient's experiences brushed aside when the analyst treats divergences between the analyst's views and those of the patient as “resistances”? The analyst's assumed professional authority, in short, may contain authoritarian elements that run counter to the spirit of analytic work, and may perpetuate or even strengthen the emotional difficulties and pathology of the patient.

A major related critique has been the questioning of the “anonymity” of the psychoanalyst: the analytic emphasis on avoiding the patient's acquiring any realistic knowledge of the analyst's life and personality. It has been suggested that this may, in fact, cause the perpetuation of idealizations in the psychoanalytic relationship, transforming the analyst from a “person without personality” into an image of perfection that reinforces idealizations and the splitting off of the negative transference toward other authority figures.

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