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“Impatience of the Heart”: Parenting counter-transference and its neurobiological roots

Author(s): Aleksandrowicz, Dov R.

Journal: Archives of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy
ISSN 1509-2046

Volume: 15;
Issue: 2;
Start page: 63;
Date: 2013;
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Keywords: psychotherapy | counter-transference | compassion | parenting response

“Impatience of the Heart” (“Beware of pity” in English translation) is a novel by Stefan Zweig about the relationship between an Austrian cavalry officer and a paraplegic Hungarian girl. The officer tries to comfort the girl but his misdirected compassion leads to a tragic result. This paper discusses the instinctive urge to relieve distress (which the author compares to the “parenting response” of the caregiver to an infant) and its potentially harmful manifestations in counter-transference. Such counter-transference and its negative manifestations may not necessarily be an expression of the therapist’s unresolved problems, but an over-expression of that innate urge. That urge is not merely a social value, but a part of our mammalian heritage and the author presents evidence from animal studies to that effect. Finally, the author discusses the implication of his conclusions for the training and supervision of psychotherapists.
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