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Listening must be distinguished from audition. Audition is the function and exercise of the sense of hearing, whereas listening is much more global. Listening is simultaneously being sensitive to words, the voice that carries them, and the broader context of human communication. The relationship that links patient and psychoanalyst can be understood as listening, each listening to the other.

The psychoanalyst's relation with the patient is different from that of ordinary life. The psychoanalyst listens in silence (silence is an opening into the unconscious), listens without according priority to the content of the words, listens to the voice and the body and the affects expressed through them. The analyst's sensitivity to the effects of the voice is amplified by being in a state of free-floating attention, unaffected by the requirements of dialog, the need to respond, the interplay of ideas, and considerations of politeness. Intonation is a subtle vocal posture and expression, and tone creates a music that influences the analyst's counter-transfer and warns the analyst against repression. Analytical listening is accompanied by a benevolent, receptive attitude that abstains from all critical evaluation and judgment. Such listening affords patients a space in which, free from visual confrontation, they can deploy their imagination in free association. The psychoanalyst's listening is the patient's guarantee that the Other is present, referring the patient back to the primordial Other and all its successive representations. By listening to what the patient says, the analyst becomes sensitive to the former child, animated by the "instinct to listen" (Bernard This, Piera Aulagnier) to the sounds of the primal scene, among other things.

For patients, the psychoanalyst's listening enables them first to hear a voice that refers them back to the benevolent voice of the first stages of life and that they can progressively introject while engaged in free-floating listening, and then to hear words enabling them to bring their histories to life by deploying their own unconscious forces. Patients have a special dialog with the analyst that requires reworking their energies in as complete and free a way as possible. Listening to the analyst's words shatters thought systems and promotes change, the analyst's reflections being brief, incomplete, and ambiguous interventions rather than explanatory interpretations. The two types of listening thus promote the elaboration of a powerful synergy.

Marie-France CastarÈde

See also: Cathartic method; Evenly-suspended attention; Face-to-face situation; Fundamental rule; Initial inter-view(s); Music and psychoanalysis; Psychoanalytic treatment; "Recommendations to Physicians Practicing Psycho-Analysis".


Gillibert, Jean, and Wilgowicz, Pérel (Eds). (1993). L'ange exterminateur. Brussels:Éditions Universitaires de Bruxelles.

M'Uzan, Michel de (1994). La bouche et l'inconscient. Paris: Gallimard.

Vasse, Denis. (1974). L'ombilic et la voix. Paris: le Seuil.

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