Tuesday, December 2nd, 2003, 8:00 PM


Jessica Benjamin, Ph.D.

This paper reviews how thinking about the development of intersubjectivity, especially within the clinical encounter, is enhanced by the idea of “thirdness”, a mental space “inside” and “between us”. The analyst keeps an eye on the presence or absence of this space, noting its absence in the “twoness” of impasses or power struggles. I refer to these as doer-done to relationships in which each person feels the other is making demands they can only comply with or resist. In the space of thirdness, one gets beyond the feeling of being the object of another’s action, or being the sole actor, and is able to grasp that there is mutual influence. So often when we are caught in analytic impasses we lose this sense of being an actor and simply feel “done to” or else have a guilty sense of being the sole cause of things going “wrong”. This occurs time and again despite or knowing “better” or knowing otherwise, because instead of having access to a true third, we are in the grip of subjugation to an ideal. We may, for instance, have an ideal of the analytic relationship, to which we believe our colleagues also subscribe, and find ourselves falling short. I believe we are working toward a collaborative view in which we see the analyst and patient struggling together to re-establish thirdness. On the one side, it is not solely the analyst who is an agent of change, and on the other, the analyst is often changed by this struggle to respond to the patient. The third has to be shared between patient and analyst to be effective, though their contribution to it is usually equal or symmetrical.