The role of empathy in the development of self has not figured prominently in classical psychoanalytic theory; however, for interpersonal psychoanalysts, object relations theorists, and self psychologists, empathy has emerged as a central idea, especially in understanding the emotional link between a child and caregiver, and the efficacy of the therapist-client relationship. For Heinz Kohut, empathy refers to the ‘capacity to think and feel oneself into the inner life of another person’ (1974, p. 82) and is central to the method of psychoanalysis (i.e. empathy is the instrument used by psychoanalysts to collect and use data). For Kohut, while empathy accomplishes a kind of affective merger, identification or attunement, it is not clear how his understanding accounts for why one may also ‘laugh or cry with someone and yet have little understanding about why the other is laughing or crying’ (Hollan, 2008, p. 476). Ralph Green son, in the 1960s, considered the role of empathy in countertransference. After Green son an increasing emphasis was given to the role of empathy in therapeutic communication. Others (Buie, 1981) have looked at the specific psychological mechanisms at work in this dynamic form of intuitive communication, specifically empathy. ‘From the metapsychological perspective, the debate continues between those who assign empathy a decisive role in the discovery of the unconscious and the therapeutic activity of the psychoanalyst (Heinz Kohut) and those who deny that empathy can play a role in identifying the unconscious’ (Buie, 1981, p. 287).
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