Sensing into the Mind-States of Another
The approach Greenson described varies in the difficulty a therapist encounters in following it with any particular patient or with the same patient at different times. Veronica, a young attractive professional, described being so upset when the senior partner yelled at her that she could hardly continue to think and wanted to stay in her office avoiding everyone. As she related details of their verbal interchange, I thought it unlikely that her soft-spoken, controlled senior partner had "yelled," but he had been critical when she had hoped for praise. Sensing the experience from her perspective, I could easily understand her portrayal of a critical comment as yelling and the reason she was undone by it. Veronica, when a graduate student, had begun treatment because of anxiety attacks following her calling home to get the name of the family auto insurance company to report a minor accident. As luck would have it, her mother was out and she got her father, who rarely answered the phone. He immediately started screaming that she had never learned to drive properly, that she was always doing foolish things, and that he didn't need her to upset him. Over many subsequent sessions, Veronica described many other incidents of her father's frightening, angry outbursts and of his fragility, his inability to tolerate the least upset to his plans or routine. He would come to Veronica's athletic events, and if she made what he thought was a mistake or a poor play, she would hear his voice screaming at her over the din of the other sounds. From knowledge of these experiences, I could readily understand from her vantage point how the criticism of the senior partner was experienced as a mind-shattering yell.