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The Psychoanalysis Concepts of Intersubjectivity, The Analytic Third and Relational Psychoanalysis Psychotherapy

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Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Psychoanalytic Theory
  3. Intersubjectivity
  4. The Analytic Third
  5. Relational psychoanalysis psychotherapy
  6. Conclusion


There are many ways to conduct therapy, in this essay I will start off by giving insight on what is Psychoanalytic theory and then critically discuss a few ways of conducting therapy which are relational psychoanalysis psychotherapy, intersubjectivity and the analytic third. I will also discuss how these concepts assist the therapist in working with clients.

Psychoanalytic Theory

Psychoanalytic theory was coined by Sigmund Freud in the during the late 19th century between 1939 and 1956. His theory was based on the idea that a human behaviour can be established through interactions between the Id, Super ego and the ego. He focused on finding ways to treat mental health problems by establishing the connecting between the conscious mind and the unconscious. Freud began psychoanalysis when he worked together with his mentor Dr Josef Breuer to try and diagnose and provide treatment for their patient Anna O. She had problems with hallucinations, speech problems, visual disturbances etc. Her case was very important and led to the development of psychoanalysis. The word unconscious can be described as a person not being aware of their surroundings or their environment. The unconscious expresses how we feel, our emotions and thoughts. Psychoanalysis has a number of techniques that can be used to understand a person’s behaviour which are dream analysis, free association, interpretation and transference. Dream analysis can be used to express unconscious thoughts. Free association is where clients talk about random things that come to mind and this technique helps with repressed memories.

Interpretation is when the client and the therapist have a conversation and then the therapist looks for the client to slip up and reveal something important when having that conversation. Transference occurs between the therapist and the client, where the client expresses how they feel about someone from the past towards the therapist. Psychoanalysis has its advantages and disadvantages. The benefits of it is that it gets to the root of the problem, gives us a broader view of why we feel a certain way, our behaviour and our thoughts. It can sometimes help people who don’t respond that well to conventional therapy. There’s also research evidence supporting a portion of Freud’s theory. There is criticism about theory psychoanalytic theory is that it doesn’t give too much attention to the role of the environment and focus more on sexual drive, it very expensive and takes a lot of time which requires you to be fully committed and the cure rates are very low.


There are many definitions of intersubjectivity, a term which was introduced by Edmond Husserl which simply refers to an interaction between two subjects which can be me and another person. When we break down the word, inter refers to between or among and then subjectivity refers to how an individual’s judgement is based on personal beliefs, opinions, feelings and desires as opposed to outside influences. Intersubjectivity is a concept that has been used a lot by researchers to discuss the early ways of communication between an infant and the mother. Meltzoff and Moore came up with experiments to study the correspondence of movements between infants and mothers. They argue that infants respond better to movements or actions that correspond with their own and also infants develop that at an earlier stage which is at about 6 weeks. Meltzoff (1985, 1990) argues that the matching of movements between the infant and the mother is a form of intersubjectivity.

Christopher (2015) argues that several theorists have used early infant-parent communication studies to explain the analytic procedure in work with adults. Furthermore, the earliest type of interaction between mother and child plays a significant part in nonverbal communication in adult therapy. Christopher (2015) argues that the analysand’s inner state can be registered by the analyst in the form of sensations, images, confused state of minds etc. According to Christopher (2015, p. 618), “the view of intersubjectivity as the interplay between verbal and nonverbal modes of communication between patient and analyst, and the interaction of transference and countertransference in the analytic couple, is a notion that has been widely accepted.” Benjamin (2005, 2010) argues that the mind cannot be understood as a distinct unitary body, and the position of the analyst is not to assist the affected person understand how his or her mind works. Auerbach (2001) argues that the intersubjectivity theory holds that children become independent subjects only if he or she acknowledges his or her caregiver’s autonomous subjectivity – independence and separation in a more familiar language. According to Povinelli & Prince (1998) the cognitive-affective capacity, which is also an end results of the evolutionary improvement of the human brain, enables an infant in turn to come to recognize their parent’s mind and in that recognition between the infant and the mother it constitutes an intersubjective situation.

The Analytic Third

Analytic third is a concept that was coined by Thomas Ogden (1994) which refers to “the intersubjectivity of the analyst – analysand” (1994). He argued that the mother-infant unit as well as the intersubjectivity of the analyst- analysand coexist in dynamic tension with the mother and the infant in their separateness. According to Ogden (1994) “neither the intersubjectivity of the mother-infant nor that of analyst-analysand (as separate psychological entities) exists in pure form. The intersubjectivity and the individually subjective create, negate, and preserve the other.” Ogden (2001) argues that the analyst and analysand’s experience in the analytic third represents an experiential base, a pool of unconscious experience to which analysts and analysand contribute and from which they draw on their own experience of analytic relationship. Morton (2003) proposed that like other types of the unconscious, the analytic third derivatives to the conscious in disguise metaphorically linked to the unconscious material, which is disclosed and revealed in the process. Reveries was the term used by Ogden to refer to the conscious derivatives. Reverie can be defined as the process or stage where one is lost in their own thoughts like daydreaming for example.

In this setting, reverie was used to talk about a mother’s ability to contain an infant’s projections. Morton (2003) argues that the analyst and the patient don’t know the analytic third directly, so they depend on metaphors to give them a sense of what the unconscious is like. Analysts based on their personality and history will experience the analytic third separately. Ogden (1994) argues that the analytical third inflects the experience of the analyst is such a manner as to induce extremely private connections that nevertheless represent the nature of the intersubjective between the analyst and the patient. According to Morton (2003) “the analytic third cannot be described, because it does not exist within the realm of categories accessible to consciousness. The analyst must be able to talk to herself in order to conduct analytical work meaning she should be able to talk about her feelings regarding her the patient even though such experiences are unconscious. Project identification was also a dimension of the analytic third which made it possible to understand transference and countertransference and these terms also play a very huge role in Ogden’s theory or technique.

Relational psychoanalysis psychotherapy

Relational psychoanalysis was a term coined by Stephen A. Mitchell (1983) who wrote the book called Object Relations in Psychoanalytic Theory which was regarded as an introduction to relational psychoanalysis with the help of Jay Greenberg who co-wrote the book. He was considered as one of the most influential relational psychoanalyst. According to Hoffman (2012) “relational psychoanalysis emphasizes one’s relatedness to others, mutual recognition, the importance of early attachment, interpersonally mediated subjective experience, that is, intersubjectivity.” In relational psychoanalysis the mother and infant relationship or early stages of any relationship creates personality. Social constructionism is a field that is closely related to relational psychoanalysis. Relational psychoanalysis is very different from Freud’s psychoanalysis in a few ways, relational argues that the urge to be in relationships with other is the motivation of the subconscious.

There has been criticism from Jon Mills who is a psychoanalyst regarding relational psychoanalysis. Mills obviously believes that the “paradigm shift” to relational psychoanalysis is due not only to theoretical distinctions with classical psychoanalysis, but also to a certain group mentality and set of interests. He also brings up the fact that in relational psychoanalysis the importance of the unconscious is lost or disappears. Mills criticises the relational analyst for never thinking fully through the contradictions instead they uncritically adopted postmodern concepts.

How do these concepts assist the therapist in working with clients?

With the concept of intersubjectivity children are able to reflect better on their traumatic memories and experiences without being poorly regulated when in a therapeutic relationship, they eventually develop the ability to tolerate growing amounts of affect. The child will reach a point where they are able to self-regulate after a while. Intersubjectivity has made it possible in therapy for children to be able to make sense of their feelings and memories. It has led to better parenting skills with the clients and understanding how children function. The analytic third also played a role in the improvement of therapy, Ogden showed how therapists should avoid acting on countertransference and also provided a theoretical model for therapists to be able to comprehend it. According to Ogden (1994) “the concept of the analytic third provides a framework of ideas about the interdependence of the subject and object, of transference and countertransference, that assist the analyst in his efforts to attend closely to, and think about, the myriad of intersubjective clinical facts encountered by the analyst, whether they be the apparently self-absorbed ramblings of his mind, the analyst’s bodily sensations that seemingly have nothing to do with the analysand, or any other “analytic object” intersubjectively generated by the analytic pair.”

Relational psychoanalysis psychotherapy has helped the therapists to be able to build strong collaborative relationships with their clients that can go on for forever. It has helped therapists to better understand and assess family issues, issues in the workplace. With relational psychoanalysis the therapist has to keep in mind the gender, race, class and culture to better understand the problem of the client. It also helps assess mental health disorders like depression, anxiety and figure out how these disorders affect the social relationships of the client. The therapist will be able to strengthen the sense of the self.


The aim of this essay was to critically discuss, analyse, interpret or evaluate certain concepts in the Psychoanalytic field which include the intersubjectivity, the analytic third and relational psychoanalysis psychotherapy and end by discussing how those terms have assisted therapists in dealing with their clients. Intersubjectivity to my understanding is the interaction between two subjects, it is used by many researchers and played a big role in understanding the mother and infant relationship or interaction better. The field also got a lot of criticism of which I agree with because there can be false intersubjectivity, there is a lot of contradiction in intersubjectivity which makes it not to be accurate all the time. The analytic third simply refers to the intersubjectivity of the analyst and analysand and it is a term which I strongly believe in because of the assess dreams and thoughts. Relational psychoanalysis psychotherapy also is a very important in therapy as it has helped people better their relationships and it is probably the kind of therapy I would opt for.

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