What Works in Counseling, Psychotherapy, and Psychoanalysis: Recognize it is an Intersubjective Process

An analyst’s or therapist’s lived experience inevitably invades the intersubjective space (where the Venn Diagram of the practitioner’s phenomenological/subjective, moment-to-moment experience intersects with patients). Years ago, this notion would be simply reduced to the ubiquity of what psychoanalysts first referred to as countertransference, the phenomenon that could be minimized by practitioners having spent hours on the “couch” themselves, so they could be “objective”, “scientific”, and be able to dust off the psychological detritus of the patient’s experience to illuminate truth in a sterile, surgically precise, and unbiased manner.

That interpretation of the intersubjective space is presumptuous, arrogant, professionally self-serving, and just flat scientifically inaccurate to believe such pristine “objectivity” is possible. I do not subscribe to this antiquated one-person psychology: humans exist together in an interpersonal field, and research in social psychology should put the notion of pure “objectivity” to bed once and for all. Make no mistake, professional training alerts analysts and therapists to be sensitive to possible personal biases or ways in which they may significantly distort the meaning intended by their patients’ communications, so that we can see our patients in different and more helpful light than they are able to do. Certainly, an analyst’s observations are filtered in a disciplined way, but cannot not be informed by their personal lived experiences; a therapist’s lived experience inevitably invades the patient-analyst intersubjective experience and can create heightened emotional slices of interactional time and opportunities to alter the template of the patient’s and analyst’s relational styles and perceptual filters; a moment of enhanced growth for both parties; an infrequently mentioned personal side benefit of my profession. While it is not my patient’s job to take care of me emotionally, an engaged psychotherapy/psychoanalytic relationship absolutely contributes to my growth, my ability to see alternative perspectives, and perhaps gain wisdom. In a phrase, patient and analyst are in the soup together.