The American Journal of Psychoanalysis

, Volume 78, Issue 4, pp 350–360 | Cite as

Thoughts on the limits of a mutual technique*

  • Jay Frankel


Ferenczi’s appreciation of the inherently mutual nature of the analytic encounter led him, and many who followed, to explore the value of mutual openness between patient and analyst. Specifically, Ferenczi saw the analyst’s openness as an antidote to his earlier defensive denial of his failings and ambivalence toward the patient, which had undermined his patient’s trust. My own view is that, while the analyst’s openness with the patient can indeed help reestablish trust and restore a productive analytic process in the short term, it also poses long-term dangers. In certain treatments it may encourage “malignant regression”, where the patient primarily seeks gratification from the analyst, resulting in an unmanageable “unending spiral of demands or needs” (Balint, 1968, p. 146). I suggest that an analyst’s “confessions”, in response to the patient’s demand for accountability, can sometimes reinforce the patient’s fantasy that healing comes from what the analyst gives or from turning the tables on his own sense of helplessness and shame by punishing or dominating the analyst. In such situations, the patient’s fantasy may dovetail with the analyst’s implicit theory that healing includes absorbing the patient’s pain and even accepting his hostility, thus confirming the patient’s fantasies, intensifying his malignant regression and dooming the treatment to failure. When malignant regression threatens, the analyst must set firmer boundaries, including limits on her openness, in order to help the patient shift his focus away from expectations of the analyst and toward greater self-reflection. This requires the analyst to resist the roles of rescuer, failure, or victim—roles rooted in the analyst’s own unconscious fantasies.


mutuality countertransference disclosure malignant regression rescue fantasies 


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Copyright information

© Association for the Advancement of Psychoanalysis 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jay Frankel
    • 1
  1. 1.New YorkUSA

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