The Kinship between Self Psychology, Intersubjectivity, Relational Psychoanalysis, and the Client-Centered Approach


Kahn, Edwin


This paper presents for client-centered therapists, unfamiliar with recent developments in psychoanalysis, an overview of three contemporary psychoanalytic approaches: self psychology, intersubjectivity theory, and the relational approach. Despite very important differences, there is some overlap between client-centered therapy and the three psychoanalytic approaches summarized. For example, for both client-centered therapy and self psychology the emphasis is exclusively on the therapist’s empathic understanding, with minimal expression of the therapist’s idiosyncratic subjectivity in the relationship. Although relational psychoanalysts are much more likely to express their idiosyncratic subjectivity in the therapeutic relationship, through self-disclosures, enactments, confrontations, etc., they do so with a respect for the patient’s autonomy and freedom to take or leave what is offered. In contrast to orthodox Freudian psychoanalysis, this attitude of not imposing a therapist’s (or anyone’s) authority has always been a key value of the non-directive client centered approach. Some theoretical ideas of psychoanalysis (e.g. being aware of both the therapist’s and client’s organizing principles/transferences) have interested this author. Another purpose of this paper is a personal description of the author’s development as a psychotherapist. Keywords: relational psychoanalysis, self psychology, intersubjectivity theory, client-centered therapy.