The Unseen Spouse: Pitfalls and Possibilities for the Individual Therapist

Therapists/analysts often develop strong impressions or beliefs about an individual patient’s spouse or significant other, despite having never met that person or witnessed the patient and partner interacting. Through the vicissitudes of the transference-countertransference field, therapists can lose touch with the fact that their (often quite negative) impressions of the unseen other are based on limited transference-colored information, not veridical truths.  They can then make statements or comments about the spouse or patient-spouse relationship that can do a significant disservice to the patient, his or her partner and their relationship.   What factors contribute to the development of this problematic phenomenon, and how can individual therapists/analysts respond empathically and helpfully to patients’ relationship complaints in ways that avoid or reduce it while furthering the patient’s analytic work?

This presentation will address these questions through summary and discussion of Dr. Leone’s recent paper of the same title, which will be distributed to registrants prior to the workshop.  Dr. Leone will summarize and highlight the paper’s key points, facilitate a discussion of  participants’ experiences of this common transference- countertransference dynamic, and present additional illustrative case material.

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

  1. List several factors that can contribute to the phenomenon in which individual therapists/analysts develop a negative impression of a patient’s (unseen) significant other and seem to forget that their opinions have emerged from the transference-countertransference field.
  2. Describe at least three things the individual therapist can do when patients complain about their spouses or significant others that can minimize this problematic dynamic while still responding empathically and helpfully.


Carla Leone, Ph.D., is the Director of North Suburban Family Psychologists, a group private practice in Lincolnwood, Illinois and on the faculty of the Institute for Clinical Social Work in Chicago.  She is an elected member of the governing council of the International Association of Psychoanalytic Self Psychology (IAPSP); chair and co-founder of  that organization’s Couples Therapy Interest Group; and co-chair of the organization’s 2017 annual conference, entitled Empathic Depths and Relational Leaps:  Creating Therapeutic Possibility, to be held in Chicago October 19th-22nd, 2017.  She is the author of several published papers on couples and family therapy and one on the “unseen spouse” of patients in individual therapy, and is currently working on a book on couples therapy to be published by Routledge, tentatively titled Rebuilding Connections, Repairing Ruptures:  A Self Psychological Couples Therapy Casebook.  She has presented nationally and internationally on these topics.

When & Where

Wednesday, November 29, 2017
6:00 – 8:30 pm

At ICSW: Downtown Chicago
401 S. State St.
Suite 822
Chicago, IL 60605

Registration & CEUs

Registration: $25.00

THIS EVENT WILL ALSO BE AVAILABLE VIA LIVE STREAM – for more information about joining through synchronous session, please email Elizabeth Oller (

Three Continuing Education Credits Available for LSW/LCSWs, LPC/LCPCs, et al.


For questions or more information contact Andrea Dunbar or 312-935-4245.