What is Intersubjective Psychoanalysis?


The term “intersubjectivity” was introduced to psychoanalysis by George Atwood and Robert Stolorow (1984), who consider it a “meta-theory” of psychoanalysis. Intersubjective psychoanalysis suggests that all interactions must be considered contextually; interactions between the patient/analyst or child/parent cannot be seen as separate from each other, but rather must be considered always as mutually influencing each other. This philosophical concept dates back to “German Idealism” and phenomenology.

In philosophy, psychology, sociology, and anthropology, intersubjectivity is the relation or intersection between people’s cognitive perspectives.

The Myth of Isolated Mind

Trends in intersubjective psychoanalysis have accused traditional or classical psychoanalysis of having described psychic phenomena as “the myth of isolated mind” (i.e. coming from within the patient). Psychoanalyst and philosopher Jon Mills, has criticized this accusation as a misinterpretation of Freudian theory. However, the intersubjective approach emphasizes that psychic phenomena are contextual and an interplay between the analyst and analysand.

Key Figures

Heinz Kohut is commonly considered the pioneer of the relational and intersubjective approaches. Following him, significant contributors include:

  • Stephen A. Mitchell.
  • Jessica Benjamin.
  • Bernard Brandchaft.
  • James Fosshage.
  • Donna M.Orange.
  • Arnold Modell.
  • Thomas Ogden.
  • Owen Renik.
  • Harold Searles.
  • Colwyn Trewarthen.
  • Edgar A. Levenson.
  • J.R. Greenberg.
  • Edward R. Ritvo.
  • Beatrice Beebe.
  • Frank M. Lachmann.
  • Herbert Rosenfeld.
  • Daniel Stern.

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