Tuesday, January 8th, 2002, 8:00 PM


Author: Herbert J. Schlesinger, Ph.D.
Discussant: Paulina F. Kernberg, M.D.

Loss is the single universal and essential human experience. This stark realization is not pessimistic, for without the ability to appreciate loss it is not possible to experience gain. Loss, or more precisely, the ability to recognize loss, to accept it and to let go, is the necessary condition for growth and maturation. Appreciating loss is a corollary of being aware of separateness. It is also the essential discrimination for the testing of reality.

It is the argument of this paper that in analysis growth and change are invariably accompanied by a sense of loss and by mourning, though neither analyst nor patient may be fully aware of the co-occurrence. The analyst must be able to discriminate among several possibilities: the "natural" rhythm of the mourning process, the temporary defensive interruptions when it hurts too much to bear and the more serious interruptions that represent a stubborn refusal to give up the lost object and a settling into chronic grieving rather than permit mourning that would lead to the eventual surrender of the object. These diagnostic skills are not easy to learn, especially if the analyst has not yet suffered and worked through a significant loss in his own life. We will discuss the technical implications of these observations and point of view.