Modern Psychoanalysis

Modern Psychoanalysis is a treatment for relieving mental and emotional distress. Its simple technique heals through the talking interaction between patient and therapist. Join us to learn more or post your own thoughts.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Building the Therapeutic Relationship

Building the Therapeutic Relationship

It as axiomatic that individuals seeking psychoanalytic treatment are not prepared to be patients simply because they show up at our offices. In fact, one of the most important tasks for the modern psychoanalyst is to teach the patient how to be a patient. Ideally, this begins to take place from the very first contact made.

Frequently, the prospective patient will make this first contact through a telephone call, or through a third person; and as Dr. Hyman Spotnitz (1985, p. 116) has noted:
Before a firm appointment is made and honored, they may oscillate for a protracted period between an intense desire to be relieved of their misery and what seems to be an unconscious need to defend themselves against the anticipated stress of the analytic situation.
Yet, this initial phase of coming together (including the first tentative contacts between analyst and patient) is not regarded as a mere preliminary, but is “governed by the general plan of treatment,” and is thought to “influence all subsequent contacts between them.” (Spotnitz, 1985, p. 113).

It should be obvious that these first contacts will often include resistances, perhaps even treatment destructive resistances, just as in the therapeutic relationship that is eventually developed. (See e.g., Fennessy, 2006).

If an initial interview does take place, the modern analyst “… needs to gather only enough information to help decide whether he could treat that individual effectively and wants to work with him.” (Spotnitz, 1985, p. 118).

In this respect, many modern analysts prefer not to review previous diagnostic records for their patients. Their thinking is that they do not want to be influenced by the diagnostic impressions of others and that they want to use their own feelings in evaluating their patients. As a rule, no pressure is placed on individuals to disclose information that they may have withheld during the interview.

One of the few questions asked during the initial interview might be “why do you want treatment?” (See e.g., Spotnitz, 1985, p. 120; Spotnitz, 1976a, p. 140). Questions such as this help the modern analyst begin to explore the patient’s attitudes and willingness to cooperate.

Practical arrangements may also be brought up in the first interview. Towards the end of the interview, questions such as “have you thought about how much you’d like to pay?” or “have you thought about how often you’d like to come?” are not uncommon.

The discussion of these and similar items may also be viewed as a part of the treatment itself; i.e., in talking about all of these practical matters “(a)rrangements and rules are flexibly formulated as dynamic tools of therapy.” (Spotnitz, 1976a, p. 141).

If an agreement can be reached, the therapeutic relationship will be based upon
… what can reasonably be expected of the patient at the emotional level at which he enters treatment. Provided that he agrees verbally to participate to that extent, the analyst assumes all responsibility for the treatment process… This changes, of course, as the patient makes progress, he becomes more and more capable of assuming an increasing degree of responsibility. Eventually he assumes full responsibility for the success or failure of the treatment. (Spotnitz, 1985, p. 122).
The therapeutic relationship in modern psychoanalysis is therefore built “from the ground up,” similarly to “the mother-child relationship.” (Spotnitz, 1985, p. 113).

This modern approach is particularly useful for those who would have been deemed “unanalyzable” by classical analysts. As Dr. Spotnitz (1985, p. 115, emphasis omitted) says:

The schizophrenic patient who can cooperate… [to a great extent]… in the early stage of treatment is rarely encountered. Nevertheless, the patient becomes capable of making that contribution if the analyst accepts the responsibility for developing an effectual alliance with him.

If the analyst accepts the responsibility and the patient begins talking, the analyst then needs to consider all those other matters in the interest of the patient, such as whether and when interventions might be necessary, whether and how a transference might develop, and what the resulting therapeutic relationship will be.


Fennessy, J. (2006). Free Association and Resistance. (Online at:, August 03, 2006).

Spotnitz, H. (1976a). Psychotherapy of Preoedipal Conditions, N.Y., Jason Aronson.

Spotnitz, H. and Meadow, P. (1976b). Treatment of the Narcissistic Neuroses, NY, Man. Center For Advanced Psychoanalytic Studies.

Spotnitz, H. (1985). Modern Psychoanalysis of the Schizophrenic Patient: Theory of the Technique, Second Edition, NY, Human Sciences Press.

© 2006, James G. Fennessy, M.A., J.D.
Matawan, New Jersey 07747