The person with understanding does not know and judge as one who stands apart and unaffected; but rather, as one united by a specific bond with the other, he thinks with the other and undergoes the situation with him.”—Hans-Georg Gadamer
Traditional notions of therapeutic empathy have been pervaded by the Cartesian doctrine of the isolated mind. This doctrine bifurcates the subjective world of the person into outer and inner regions, reifies and absolutizes the resulting separation between the two, and pictures the mind as an objective entity that takes its place among other objects, a “thinking thing” that has an inside with contents and looks out on an external world from which it is essentially estranged. Within this metaphysical vision, human beings can encounter each other only as thinking subjects, and something like empathic immersion—what psychoanalytic innovator Heinz Kohut famously calledvicarious introspection—is required to bridge the ontological gap separating their isolated minds from one another.
In a post-Cartesian philosophical world, no such bridging is required, as we are all always already connected with one another in virtue of our common humanity (including our common finitude and existential vulnerability) and our co-disclosive relation to a common world.
by Robert D. Stolorow, Ph.D.