Empathy as core to the development of holding and recognition: the case of Garret


Heinz Kohut investigated empathy in psychoanalysis in the mid-1950s and found it to be a powerful way to connect to, and be with, his patients. Since then, relatively few recent clinical cases of empathy have emerged, while theoretical discussion of empathy seems to be the norm. Moreover, empathy has not been linked to the development of holding and recognition. The Winnicottian notion of the holding metaphor, which describes the mother holding her infant, has been controversial but continues to be used in therapy. Revised by relational theorists, holding is now viewed as co-created within the intersubjective space. Few recent clinical cases exist showing how and what holding looks like in therapy. The concept of recognition, also used in therapy, is defined as the ability to recognize and experience the other as a separate other. Clinical cases showing recognition in therapy are few in number. As far as I know, no clinical cases suggest that empathy is necessary before holding and recognition can emerge. In this paper, identifying these clinical case gaps in the literature, I describe a small verbatim section of a session with my patient, Garret, in which I attempt to; i) show the empathic process, thus adding to the scarcity of clinical cases, and, ii) show the experience of holding and recognition as they emerge in this case, and iii) suggest that empathy is a necessary core process to the development of the experience of holding and recognition.



PlumX Metrics


Download data is not yet available.


Aron, L. (1991). The patient’s experience of the analyst’s subjectivity. Psychoanalytic Dialogue, 1, 29–51.

Aron, L. (1992). Interpretation as expression of the analyst’s subjectivity. Psychoanalytic Dialogue, 2, 475–508.

Aron, L. (1996). A meeting of minds. Hillsdale, NJ: The Analytic Press.

Aron, L. (2019). Discussion of “Bread and Roses: Empathy and recognition”. Psychoanalytic Dialogue, 29,1, 92-102. DOI: 10.1080/10481885.2018.1560864

Atlas, G., & Aron, L. (2018). Dramatic dialogue: Contemporary clinical practice. New York, NY: Routledge.

Bacal, H. A. (1990). The elements of a corrective selfobject experience. Psychoanalytic Inquiry,
10, 347–372.

Balint, M. (1968). The basic fault. London, UK: Tavistock.

Bassin, D., M. Honey, & M. M. Kaplan (Eds). (1994). Representations of Motherhood. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Benjamin, J. (1995). Like subjects, love objects. New Haven. Yale University Press.

Benjamin, J. (1988). The bonds of love: Psychoanalysis, feminism and the problem of domination. New York, NY: Pantheon.

Benjamin, J. (2018). Beyond doer and done to: Recognition theory, intersubjectivity and the third. New York, NY: Routledge.

Bion, W. (1962). A theory of thinking. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 43, 306–310.

Bollas, C. (1978). The transformational object. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 60, 97–107.

Burke, W. F. (1992). Countertransference disclosure and the asymmetry / mutuality dilemma. Psychoanalytic Dialogue, 2, 241–271.

Chodorow, N. (1978). The reproduction of mothering. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Fosshage, J. (1997). Listening/experiencing perspectives and the quest for a facilitating responsiveness. In A. I. Goldberg, (Ed.). Progress in self psychology: Conversations in self psychology, (pp. 33–55). Hillsdale, NJ: Analytic Press.

Geist, R. A. (2007), Who are you, who am I, and where are we going: Sustained empathic
immersion in the opening phase of psychoanalytic treatment. International Journal of Psychoanalytic Self Psychology, 2, 1–26.

Geist, R. A. (2010), Connectedness, permeable boundaries, and the development of the
self: Therapeutic implications. International Journal of Psychoanalytic Self Psychology, 3, 29–152.

Geist, R. A. (2013). How the empathic process heals: A microprocess perspective. International Journal of Psychoanalytic Self Psychology, 8,3, 265-281. DOI: 10.1080/15551024.2013.800357

Grant, D and Harari, E. (2011). Empathy in psychoanalytic theory and practice. Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 31, 3 - 16. DOI: 10.1080/07351690.2010.512844

Hoffman, I. Z. (1991). Discussion: Toward a social-constructivist view of the psychoanalytic situation. Psychoanalytic Dialogue, 1, 74–105.

Kohut, H. (1959). Introspection, empathy, and psychoanalysis. Journal of American Psychoanalysis Association, 7, 459–483.

Kohut, H. (1981). On empathy. In P. H. Ornstein, (Ed.). (1978). The Search for the Self: Selected Writings of Heinz Kohut, 1978–1981, Vol. 4, (pp. 525–536). Madison, CT: International Universities Press.

Kohut, H. (1984). How does analysis cure? Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Loewald, H. (1960). On the therapeutic action of psycho-analysis. The International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 41,16–33.

Mitchell, S. A. (2000). Relationality: From attachment to intersubjectivity. Hillsdale, NJ: Analytic Press.

Ornstein, P. (2011). The centrality of empathy in psychoanalysis. Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 31, 437–447.

Pillsbury, S. (2019). Mutual Empathy: Imagined symbol and realization in the treatment of trauma. Psychoanalysis, Self and Context. 14(3), 247–255. DOI: 10.1080/24720038.2019.1602135

Slochower, J. (1996). Holding and psychoanalysis: A relational perspective. Hillsdale, NJ: The Analytic Press.

Slochower, J. (2006). Psychoanalytic Collisions. Hillsdale, NJ: The Analytic Press.

Slochower, J. (2011). Holding, collaborating, colliding: A cross theoretical conversation. Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 31, 501–512.

Slochower, J. (2014). Holding and psychoanalysis: A relational perspective, second edition. London, UK: Routledge.

Slavin, M. & Kriegman, D. (1998/2005). Why the analyst needs to change: Toward a theory of conflict, negotiation, and mutual influence in the therapeutic process. In L. Aron & A. Harris, (Eds.).
Relational Psychoanalysis; Volume II: Innovation and Expansion. New York, NY: Routledge.

Stern, D. (1997). Unformulated experience: From dissociation to imagination in psychoanalysis. Hillsdale, N.J: The Analytic Press.

Stern, D. (1992). Commentary on constructivism in clinical psychoanalysis. Psychoanalytic Dialogue, 3, 331–364.

Stolorow, R., Atwood, G. & Orange, D. (2002). Worlds of experience. New York, NY: Basic

Tansey, M. J. (1992). Psychoanalytic expertise. Psychoanalytic Dialogue, 2, 305–316.

Winnicott, D. W. (1955). Metapsychological and clinical aspects of regression within the psychoanalytic relationship. The International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 36, 16–26.

Winnicott, D. W. (1960). The theory of the parent-infant relationship. In D. Winnicott, (1965). The maturational processes and the facilitating environment, (pp. 37-55). New York, NY: International Universities Press.

Winnicott, D. W. (1971). Playing and reality. New York, NY: Basic Books.
Empathy, holding, recognition, clinical, relational
  • Abstract views: 70

  • PDF: 37
  • HTML: 0
How to Cite
Knight, Z. G. (2020). Empathy as core to the development of holding and recognition: the case of Garret. Research in Psychotherapy: Psychopathology, Process and Outcome, 23(2). https://doi.org/10.4081/ripppo.2020.457