Alice Miller, child abuse and mistreatment

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Is contemporary psychoanalytic thought just another wolf in sheep's clothing?
Saturday August 04, 2007

Alice:

As a student of contemporary psychoanalytic thinking, I was encouraged to read your work. I was surprised to learn that you believe "the reality of childhood as a sharp opposition to psychoanalysis which, in (your) opinion, remains in the old tradition of blaming the child and protecting the parents. For this reason, (you) renounced (your) membership to the International Psychoanalytical Association already in 1988."

I'm wondering if this continues to be your thinking about what is generally referred to as contemporary psychoanalysis? More specifically, the developing emphasis by some on the fundamental importance of
empathic attunement and the intersubjective nature of the therapeutic relationship being written about and developed by those who refer to themselves as self-psychologists, intersubjectivists and relationalists. I seem to be drawn to the work of James Fosshage in particular, who emphasizes the importance of witnessing and understanding the patients pain and suffering from within the experience of the patient. This seems to be much different from the classical psychoanalytic emphasis on interpretation and the all-knowing attitude of many psychoanalysts and psychotherapists.

If you have followed this development in the literature, and perhaps through direct contact with others, I would be interested in your thoughts about how these contemporary psychoanalytic concepts complement/or not your work. Has contemporary psychoanalytic thinking really understood and effectively responded to 'the old tradition of blaming the child and protecting the parents' ie. with it's emphasis on empathic attunement from within the experience of the other? Or, is contemporary psychoanalytic thought just another wolf in sheep's clothing? Have you changed your thinking about the value of psychoanalytic psychotherapy?

D.

AM: Thank you for your letter. You seem to be on the right track. No, I have not changed my opinion on psychoanalysts and self-psychologists and think today even more strongly than before that they avoid confronting the issue of child abuse, which confrontation I think is absolutely unavoidable if "empathy" should mean more than a nice word. Words are often used to pretend something that doesn't exist. The Church loves to use the word "compassion" but allows without any restriction that children are being beaten so that God could "find pleasure in them. For 2000 years NOBODY ever protested against this practice.
As most of us were beaten children, we NEITHER learned TO HAVE EMPATHY with ourselves nor with the plight of other children. We learned to deny our pain to survive. But this is a big handicap for a therapist. Kohut, whom I knew personally, tried at first to open our eyes and hearts for what a child has to endure, but he felt very isolated in the psychoanalytic community. So he returned to their concepts at the end of his life, the concepts that Freud invented when he himself suffered from the rejection of the whole society after he had disclosed the sexual abuse by parents. As soon as he declared that patients talk only about their fantasies and not about real events he found a huge amount of followers that still seem very stable in their denial of the reality of child abuse.
To answer sufficiently to your very important question I would need to repeat what I have written already extensively elsewhere. Try to read the article on indignation on this web site (Dr. Lachman whom I mention there is actually a self-psychologist) as well as the last articles on my concept of therapy. If you have more questions concerning this issue you can write us again.

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