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Seiden, H.M. (1997). The Healing Presence, Part ii: What the Analyst Says. Psychoanal. Rev., 84(1):17-26.

(1997). Psychoanalytic Review, 84(1):17-26

The Healing Presence, Part ii: What the Analyst Says

Henry M. Seiden, Ph.D.

In a recent paper on witness as a self-object function (Seiden, 1996) I argued that “… whatever else we do, or say or think we do, psychoanalysts are above all witnesses. We witness the internal life of our patient and in this way participate in it … it is the presence of the analyst-as-witness which is the primary condition under which whatever else goes on in the analysis takes place” (p. 687). In what follows I want to consider some of the “whatever else” that goes on in psychoanalytic psychotherapy—in particular, to consider the verbal activity and the analyst's role in the verbal exchange.

We have been in the habit, since Freud put it that way, of calling the verbal activity of the analyst “interpretation.” This, I think, is a misleading metaphor, implying as it does that what the analysand says needs to be translated into the language of truth and that the analyst's role is that of a translator, or of a cryptographer, or (in a favorite metaphor of Freud's) a reconstructing archaeologist, who makes manifest content into latent truth.

It is also an outmoded metaphor. Kohut (1977) has pointed out at length and persuasively that for Freud psychoanalysis was based, both as method of cure and as human science, on the assumption that a positive and knowable truth waited to be discovered—for individuals in treatment and collectively for human beings as a species. But few serious modern psychological thinkers any longer think that a there is a bedrock underlying Truth (like a universal Oedipus complex), much less that the psychoanalyst knows that truth.

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