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Seiden, H.M. (1996). The Healing Presence: Part I: The Witness as Self-Object Function. Psychoanal. Rev., 83(5):685-693.

(1996). Psychoanalytic Review, 83(5):685-693

The Healing Presence: Part I: The Witness as Self-Object Function

Henry M. Seiden, Ph.D.

Among Heinz Kohut's important contributions to the psychoanalytic dialogue has been the concept of self-object: another person (originally, a parent) whose presence is sufficiently internalized that that presence is experienced as part of the self. A self-object completes, stabilizes, soothes and otherwise integrates the experience of self.

Kohut, of course, emphasized the self-object role played by the analyst in the transference. Kohut at first (1971, 1977) distinguished two, and then, later in his writings (1984), three primary self-object imagoes: the mirror, the ideal and the twin. Subsequently, students of his, focussing on self-object function rather than on imago have greatly extended his list of the ways in which experiencing another person or presence as part of the self stabilizes the self. For example, recently Stolorow and Trop (1990) have described the “self-delineating” self-object transferences and mentors and muses, spouses and children, clowns and even such value sustaining “presences” as memories and works of art can be seen to have self-object functions. (See, for example, Baker, 1990; Galatzer-Levy & Cohler, 1990; Kainer, 1990; Seiden, 1989.)

In what follows I hope to add to the list. I will deal with the witness as a self-object function.

The Function of the Witness

It seems safe to say that coherent experience — to perceive what is and to think straight about it —requires, sometimes explicitly, sometimes implicitly, the confirming presence of other people.

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