On Saturday afternoon, January 15, 2011, Alan Kindler held an interactive workshop at Memorial Hospital with the Tampa Bay Psychoanalytic Society, Inc on staying close to what the patient was experiencing and reporting. [This was a lot harder than one would think, especially for experienced clinicians who may have found it hard to divest themselves from their theories and interpretations and simply reflect back what was heard instead of adding our own speculations.]
In an attempt to have workshop participants practice getting closer to the patient’s experience, Kindler used video clips of actors playing patients and asked audience participants to use empathic observation to access the specific feelings and experience (and the relationship between the two) of ‘patients’, and to make tentative (open to objections and corrections by the patient) responses to their subjective feelings in the context of what the ‘patients’ were relating. Kindler recommended really knowing the details of conscious experience before moving to the unconscious, fully aware that which details come to the foreground of the therapist’s attention are contingent upon the subjectivity of the therapist. Experience-near data, the details of the patient’s experience, passes by so quickly that much is missed in the listening.
Kindler used the following definition of empathy: a mode of observation and listening in which the therapist strives to apprehend the patient’s subjective experience, as reported by the patient in the present about the past. Empathic understanding is the recognition of the details of the patient’s experience at any moment within its context. Empathic understanding requires attention to detail and a life time of practice. [E.Vasquez noted that understanding may be the core of therapeutic action. W.Player noted that empathic understanding might be oxymoronic, since attunement is more implicit than cognitive, to which Kindler suggested empathic resonance.]
Kindler described the components of subjective experience, where affect is central and contextualized, which may include thoughts, fantasies, acts, intentions, memories, images, assumptions, and beliefs. Because affects are central components of the patient’s subjective experience, their accurate recognition is the essential first step. Kindler suggested that clinicians hone the nuanced language of affect to find the right word to help the patient give a name to the affective experience.