Abnormal Psychology: Mental Health and Mental Illness


What is the difference between a one-person and a two-person model of psychoanalysis?

In the last few decades, newer schools of psychoanalysis, such as the interpersonal and relational schools, have moved from a one-person to a two-person psychology. This means that contemporary psychoanalytic therapists no longer believe in the blank screen model of psychoanalysis. In this model, the patient’s experience within the therapy is seen solely as a product of the patient’s mental processes. The therapist is simply a blank screen onto which the patient projects his or her own feelings and thoughts. The therapist makes no contribution to the patient’s experience.

Contemporary psychoanalytic thinkers now believe that both therapist and patient contribute to the therapeutic relationship. The therapist is a living, feeling, and reacting human being. No matter how controlled the therapist’s behavior may be, it is impossible to remove the human element from a therapist’s technique.

Moreover, the emotional experience of the therapist can be a very valuable source of information, both about the interpersonal process within the therapy and the patient’s emotional experience. For example, if the therapist starts feeling annoyed and irritated during the session, this might reflect passive-aggressive behavior on the part of the patient. Likewise, if the therapist starts feeling sad, this may reflect unacknowledged sad feelings on the part of the patient. Clearly the therapist’s counter-transference needs to be interpreted with caution, so the patient is not unfairly held accountable for the therapist’s emotional state. Consequently, both psychoanalysis and psychodynamic therapy require years of training.


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