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O'Connell, M. (2000). Subjective Reality, Objective Reality, Modes of Relatedness, and Therapeutic Action. Psychoanal Q., 69(4):677-710.

(2000). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 69(4):677-710

Subjective Reality, Objective Reality, Modes of Relatedness, and Therapeutic Action

Mark O'Connell, Ph.D.

This paper describes a dialectic believed to be at the heart of therapeutic interaction within a relational model. The dialectic consists of the interrelationship of two modes: the dyadic and the triadic. In the dyadic mode, the analyst responds with aspects of his or her self that singularly reflect the patient's subjectivity. This mode of attunement is uniquely suited to bringing the patient's experience into a place where it can then be seen and known. In the triadic mode, realities are recognized that are important to, but still outside of, the subjectivity of the patient. The analyst invites the patient to see him- or herself not only from inside his or her own space, but also from a point outside, through the perspective of others.

The analyst is charged with asymmetric but not exclusive responsibility for negotiating and sustaining a fluid and flexible relationship between these modes. Optimally, this occurs through spontaneous and authentic engagement informed by intuition, empathy, and clinical judgment. However, when this dialectic loses its robust and kinetic quality (as frequently occurs in approaches ranging from the classical to the postmodern), an impermeable dyad is formed by extruding potentially triangulating aspects of reality (and subjectivity). This can result in curiosity and the openness of uncertainty being replaced by closed-mindedness and proclamation.

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