Empathy, Tact and the Freedom to Be Natural

Taken together empathy, tact and being natural speak of the analyst’s freedom to use himself beyond the level of consciousness in the process of analysis: his bodily self in empathy; his unconscious as a receiving instrument for the patient’s unconscious; his evenly suspended attention as complimentary to the patient’s free association. Together they form the basis for elasticity and the analyst’s readiness to “yield like an elastic band to the patient’s pull … without ceasing to pull in his own direction” (Ferenczi, 1928, p. 95), especially in the realm of transference where the analyst has to be willing to be pulled toward occupying a particular transference role so as to be able to recognize it whilst pulling back from it sufficiently so as not to occupy it.

Can one possibly teach tact, empathy? Both Ferenczi and Freud thought it possible. They recognized that it is more likely that “tact” and empathy, and with them naturalness, flexibility and a bearing that is both personal and professional will be learned not from reading papers but will be passed on from analyst to analyst. If we accept the account of the process of learning in a community as a basis for radical progress we might also wish to reflect on how well our own societies and institutions foster an atmosphere in which candidates through rigorous training can find their own way and become inward with their task as analysts, free from authoritarian pressure to conform, so that they may drop any pose and be free to be natural within their role as an analyst.

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The American Journal of Psychoanalysis

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