Live from Division 32 (the Humanistic Psychology Conference, Chicago)! Empathy and Existential Psychotherapy

And here is the presentation delivered Sunday April 17, 2011:


Empathy is fundamental to an account of the dynamics of emotions in that empathy is responsible for a person’s emotional equilibrium, homeostasis, balance. Speaking in the first person, without another’s empathic regard for me, I cannot get my emotional bearings. We see this most clearly when, for whatever reasons, a person’s emotional equilibrium has been upset or lost. Without the other’s empathic regard for the person, he or she cannot get back the emotional balance that has been lost. The individual may, indeed will, “crash and burn” emotionally until she is able to comfort herself enough to regain her composure. The person being emotional is whip-sawed from one overwhelming affect and instance of emotional behavior to another. It is the other’s intervention, which consists not just in saying “There, there, I understand,” but in really understanding, in being open to the experience as a vicarious experience that hits one palpably, albeit less powerfully than it impacts the other, that makes the difference in recovering emotional composure.

Since this is a blog post, I end on a personal note. As I write this, I do so as someone who has been on both sides of the therapist/patient interface as well as the therapist/client one. It is going to sound a tad like bragging here at the backend but people might really be wondering …  In addition to substantial work on Heidegger, the phenomenologists, and existentialists, qualifications for commenting on what to look for is that my works on empathy are footnotes in the self psychologists Goldberg, Wolf, and Basch (see bibliography below).  This list of what factors are on the critical path is not complete nor is my knowledge and experience; all the usual disclaimers apply; so your feedback, criticism, experiences, impertinent remarks, and comments are hereby requested. Please let me hear from you.


Agosta, Lou. (2010). Empathy in the Context of Philosophy.London: Palgrave/ Macmillan.

__________. (1984). “Empathy and intersubjectivity,” Empathy I, ed. J. Lichtenberg et al.Hillsdale,NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Press.

__________. (1980). “The recovery of feelings in a folktale,” Journal of Religion and Health, Vol. 19, No. 4, Winter 1980: 287-97.

__________. (1976). “Intersecting language in psychoanalysis and philosophy,” International Journal of Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy, Vol. 5, 1976: 507-34.

Basch, Michael F. (1983). “Empathic understanding: a review of the concept and some theoretical considerations,” Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, Vol. 31, No. 1: 101-126. (See p. 114.) .

Gehrie, Mark (2011). “From archaic narcissism to empathy for the self: the evolution of new capacities in psychoanalysis,” Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, Vol. 59, No. 2: 313-333.

Goldberg, Arnold. (2011). “The enduring presence of Heinz Kohut: empathy and its vicissitudes,” Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, Vol. 59, No. 2: 289-311. (See  pp. 296, 309.) .

Kohut, Heinz. (1984). How Does Analysis Cure? Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Wolf, Ernest S. (1988). Treating the Self.New York: TheGuilford Press. (See pp. 17, 171.)

This post and all contents of this site (c) Lou Agosta, Ph.D. and the Chicago Empathy Project

Categories: Emotions, Empathy, Feeling, Psychoanalysis, psychotherapy, Self, talk therapy

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