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Sartre and Kohut: Existential and Self-Psychological Approaches To the Phenomenon of Conflict

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Both Sartre and Kohut use the idea of conflict in a positive sense to explain how authentic relations and viable therapy are possible, although there are important differences between the two thinkers on this topic. For Kohut it will be shown that optimal frustration is conceived of as a mechanism through which the healthy child, or the well-managed patient, learns to react in a calming and loving way to internal drive demands. Concomitantly, this individual learns to cope with a world that is obdurate, one that will thwart his desires. By contrast, in the authentic case the child for Sartre is taught to accept the gulf between him/herself and the adult. Positive conflict becomes something the child not only accepts but also enjoys as he/ she learns to cope enthusiastically in the face of his environment's inevitable obduracy. Sartre's sense of joy and volition will be shown to go beyond Kohut's more guarded optimism in the face of the challenge of contingency. The above ideas of both Sartre and Kohut will also be used to criticize views of therapy in which understanding and empathy on the part of the therapist are taken to be the sine qua non of the therapeutic process.

Affiliations: 1: California State University; 2: The Permanente Medical Group


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