By Naomi L. Quenk
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Extra resources for In the Grip: Our Hidden Personality
If we were both to see a patient we would probably take notice of more or less the same things and arrive at more or less the same impressions. We would certainly agree that the neurotic patient, as Schlesinger says, suffers from the burden of unresolved internal conflicts. Still, our respective ideas of the exact nature of those conflicts are different. That difference shows itself in connection with the concept of transference and transference objects. Transference objects are conceived to be present figures, mainly the therapist, who stand for figures of the (unremembered) past.
You would be only partially correct. For, if the therapist were able to immunize himself against being moved by the patient’s efforts, he would in effect tune out much of the patient’s message and would become therapeutically useless. Becoming immune to the patient’s blandishments, temptations or accusations is not the point. The therapist has an even harder lesson to learn; he has to both allow the patient to influence him, to allow the transference to settle on him, as it were, and at the same time observe the patient doing it and his own reactions from some distance away.
This distinction helps students make sense of the confusing behavior of patients who seem to be living in two places at the same time, and so make demands they “sort of know” are unrealistic, but persist truculently nevertheless. Elsewhere, I have spelled out for the therapist a way of distinguishing between the transference object and therapeutic ally (Schlesinger 1981). I don’t like this categorizing of what in reality is a rather fuzzy and vacillating distinction, but it seems to help students and so I swallow my distaste.