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The Therapist as a Person:  How Our Early Experiences Determine Our Theory and Technique (Karen Maroda, Ph.D., Milwaukee)

  • 19 Feb 2023
  • 11:00 AM - 1:00 PM
  • Virtual
  • 21


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It has long been accepted that our becoming therapists is influenced by having served as emotional caregivers in our respective families of origin. Yet we have never taken up an in-depth exploration of how the inevitable feelings of guilt, shame, suppressed hostility, and loss, impact our work. Building on

the work of Searles, Olinick, Jacobs, Stolorow & Atwood, Eagle, Sussman and others, this presentation presents the picture of not only the adult therapist’s overdetermined choice of vocation, but also a preference for passivity, an overemphasis on the client as an innocent and tortured child, and a

preference for avoiding conflict. Having failed to “cure” our depressed mothers or other family members, do we retain rescue fantasies ultimately determined by our own need for redemption?

Because we were powerless as children and rewarded for being soothing and self-sacrificing, we bring the resultant traits into treatment without conscious awareness of where they originated. Therefore, we are not sufficiently able to examine the extent to which they are therapeutic. Having incorporated

Winnicott’s notion of the “good enough mother,” have we extended his concept to the point of expecting perfection, unconditional acceptance, or even love? Has enactment become the preferred approach to tapping into the joint emotional experience, at least in part, because it allows us to be passive, rather than actively facilitating the treatment?

Learning Objectives

At the end of this presentation, participants will be able to:

1. Describe how early experiences in therapists’ families of origin helped create our preferred ways of interacting with our clients.

2. Identify how guilt, shame, fear, and avoidance of conflict and loss motivate us as therapists.

3. Identify the role of therapist gratification in the work with each client in order to sustain the relationship.


Karen J. Maroda, Ph.D., ABBP, is Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at the Medical College of Wisconsin and is in private practice in Milwaukee. She is board certified in psychoanalysis by the American Board of Professional Psychology and is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association and the American Board and Academy of Psychoanalysis. In addition to numerous journal articles and book reviews, she has authored four books: The Power of Countertransference; Seduction, Surrender, and Transformation;

Psychodynamic Techniques; and The Analyst’s Vulnerability. She also sits on the editorial boards of Psychoanalytic Psychology and Contemporary Psychoanalysis. She gives lectures and workshops both nationally and internationally.


Maroda, K. (2020). Deconstructing enactment. Psychoanalytic Psychology, 37(1), 8-17.

Righetti, F., & Impett, E. (2017). Sacrifice in close relationships: Motives, emotion, and relationship outcomes. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 11(10), Article e12342.

Crastnopol, M. (2019). The analyst’s Achilles’ heels: Owning and offsetting the clinical impact of our intrinsic flaws. Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 55(4), 399-427.

Jacobs, T. J. (2018). Theodore J. Jacobs on “On countertransference enactments.” PEP/UCL Top Authors Project, 1(1), 25.

Allison, E. & Fonagy, P. (2016). When is truth relevant? Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 85(2), 275-303.

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