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The Humanities Conference 2003

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Subjective Experiences and Poetic Moments in the Therapeutic Encounter

Ionas Sapountzis.

In presenting cases in the literature, psychoanalysts often rely on poetic language and highly evocative images to convey the experiences and emotions that are evoked in the treatment. Even in cases where the patient is described in very "objectified" or clinical terms, the therapists often rely on powerful metaphors to convey the patient’s dilemmas and struggles.
In this paper it will be argued that the poetic and metaphoric terms that are used to describe a treatment, or to conceptualize a case, reflect the therapist’s identification with the patient’s psyche. Once they are allowed to exist, they can facilitate a hopeful exchange. With fragmented or alienated patients, the therapist often has to go beyond his conscious and unconscious reactions to the material that the patient brings in the session. He has to be willing to reach deep down into himself in order to capture the experience that is evoked in the room, in order to find an anchoring point and to avoid feeling impotent and confused. He has to search for and locate, deep within himself, aspects of his life that resonate with the patient’s experiences. It is a deeply poetic and therefore, uniquely personal, experience that is needed in order to offset the nothingness, confusion and terror that very conflicted patients project in the room.
To highlight the issues raised in this paper, three brief case vignettes will be presented of individuals in varying states of withdrawal, social alienation and emotional turmoil. With all three cases an objective understanding was not sufficient to connect with them, to engage them in the treatment. All three required not only the therapist’s identification and empathy with the state they were in, but also the experience that the therapist was himself moved in the process, was transformed through their presence. The deeply resonant moments that were experienced in the room, whether conveyed with words or experienced in the interaction, transformed the therapeutic process from a paranoid exchange to a mutually subjective and unfolding encounter.


Ionas Sapountzis  (United States)
Associate Professor, Long Island University
School of Education Program of School Psychology
Long Island University

Ionas Sapountzis, Ph.D., Member, Division 39
Associate Professor, School Psychology Program
Long Island University,
Faculty and Supervisor, Postdoctoral Program in Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy, Derner Institute

  • Subjective experiences,
  • Psychoanalysis
  • Poetic moments

(30 min Conference Paper, English)