Spotlight on Psychoanalytic Psychology, V. 28 No. 2

For the Spotlight of Volume 28, Issue Number 2 of Psychoanalytic Psychology, I have chosen to comment on Dan Gilhooley’s paper entitled "Mistakes."  The term brings to mind something having gone wrong. In regard to scholarly journals, what goes wrong is usually considered a negative finding, and not submitted for publication. The activity of “keeping it under your hat” is well known across scientific societies as the file drawer phenomenon. When compared to the normalcy of Morbidity and Mortality meetings held within hospital practice, the file drawer phenomena looks rather odd if not phobic and would appear to be detrimental to a scientific endeavor. Gilhooley’s paper warrants attention because of his willingness to write on his mistakes in a manner that bridges the spirit of morbidity and mortality meetings and scholarly papers; a migration from spoken to written word.

Reading a professional exclamation of, "I make a lot of mistakes," does capture the attention of most readers! What becomes even more interesting is Gilhooley's notion that as he becomes more comfortable as a practitioner, therefore more emotionally available in session, he makes more, not fewer mistakes. One might ask, is this simply the foundation of a new level of competency in a manner similar to what is said to newly minted black belts in the marital arts: you have learned enough to be teachable, or is his position that this mistake prone stance is mastery acceptable?

Gilhooley's position is that mistakes happen, and that the ability to repair them is where expertise is found. The particular understanding that working with mistakes can make for good therapy may be considered part of a climate that situates enactments in and as part of a clinical process, and thereby views consciously or unconsciously dodging mistakes as a great way for therapy to run off the rails (cf., Dimen, 2011).

In addition to the hazard of being emotionally accessible, Gilhooley argues that asymmetric superiority is another cause of error (cf., Fiscalini , 2004). Drawing on Ferenczi, Searles, and Groddeck's focus on the manner in which a patient tunes into the therapist leads Gihooley to focus on the here and now relationship of the analytic dyad in a manner that favors self disclosure as a way to help a patient find a capacity to speak about what is unspeakable (cf., Gaudilliere, 2010).

Although Gilhooley also draws on Winnicott and Kohut in his survey of the psychoanalytic literature on mistakes, his particular focus is with the work of Hyman Spotnitz and the "modern psychoanalytic" movement. For those unfamiliar with Spotnitz, Gilhooley provides an interesting history of the tradition of the movement. He states that his aim is to extend Spotnitz’s relational roots with intersubjective technique (p. 324).

I recommend taking the time to read this paper. It affords some interesting clinical material. And you can evaluate for yourself how successful Gihooley is in his attempt to place "modern psychoanalysis" within the relational field.


  • Dimen, M. (2011). Lapsus Linguae, or a slip of the tongue? A sexual violation in an analytic treatment and its personal and theoretical aftermath. Contemporary Psychoanalysis, Vol. 47, No. 1. 35-79.

  • Fiscalini, J. (2004). Coparticipant psychoanalysis: Toward a new theory of clinical inquiry. New York, NY: Columbia University Press.

  • Gaudilliere, J. M. (2010). Men learn from history that men learn nothing from history. In A. Haarris & S. Botticelli (Eds.), First do no harm: The paradoxical encounters of psychoanalysis, warmaking, and resistance. New York, NY: Taylor and Francis, pp. 15-28.