A Rumor of Empathy: Resistance, narrative and recovery in psychoanalysis and psychotherapy, 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

A Rumor of Empathy

Resistance, narrative and recovery in psychoanalysis and psychotherapy, 1st Edition

By Lou Agosta


217 pages

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Empathy is an essential component of the psychoanalyst’s ability to listen and treat their patients. It is key to the achievement of therapeutic understanding and change. A Rumor of Empathy explores the psychodynamic resistances to empathy, from the analyst themselves, the patient, from wider culture, and seeks to explore those factors which represent resistance to empathic engagement, and to show how these can be overcome in the psychoanalytic context. Lou Agosta shows that classic interventions can themselves represent resistances to empathy, such as the unexamined life; over-medication, and the application of devaluing diagnostic labels to expressions of suffering. Drawing on Freud, Kohut, Spence, and other major thinkers, Agosta explores how empathy is distinguished as a unified multidimensional clinical engagement, encompassing receptivity, understanding, interpretation and narrative. In this way, he sets out a new way of understanding and using empathy in psychoanalytic theory and clinical practice. When all the resistances have been engaged, defences analyzed, diagnostic categories applied, prescriptions written, and interpretive circles spun out, in empathy one is quite simply in the presence of another human being.

Agosta depicts the unconscious forms of resistance and raises our understanding of the fears of merger that lead a therapist to take a step back from the experience of their patients, using ideas such as "alturistic surrender" and "compassion fatigue" which are highlighted in a number of clinical vignettes. Empathy itself is not self-contained. It is embedded in social and cultural values, and Agosta highlights the mental health culture and its expectations of professional organizations. This outstanding text will be relevant to psychoanalysts, psychotherapists who wish to make a contribution to reducing the suffering and emotional distress of their clients, and also to trainees who are more vulnerable to the professional demands on their capacity for empathic listening.


Lou Agosta, Ph.D. teaches empathy in systems and the history of psychology at the Illinois School of Professional Psychology at Argosy University. He is the author of numerous articles on empathy in human relations, aesthetics, altruism, and film. He is a psychotherapist in private practice in Chicago, USA. See www.aRumorOfEmpathy.com


"Always equally challenging and accessible, Dr Lou Agosta's text, A Rumor of Empathy, succeeds in presenting empathy from the unified perspective of cognition and affect. In doing so, our understanding of, and feeling for, empathy is both substantially enhanced and transformed. A Rumor of Empathy is a major contribution to the debates surrounding empathy, as well as to its uses and mis-uses, within psychotherapy." - Professor Ernesto Spinelli, Ph.D., ES Associates, London UK.

"Having defined and explicated the ‘deep history’ of empathy in earlier work, Agosta in the present book draws out the clinical yield of his earlier studies by tracking empathy and its failures, and the resistances to empathy, as these show up on in both participants in the psychoanalytic encounter. In this Insurance-Company-Driven Age of Scientism and the Quick Fix, he seeks nothing less that the restoration of empathy to its rightful place as the foundation of authentic human relationships. In so doing, he offers a much needed, philosophically informed, non-pathologizing approach to emotional disturbances and human suffering guided by humanist values. I recommend A Rumor of Empathy to psychoanalytic therapists at all levels of training and experience."—Robert D. Stolorow, Ph.D., author, World, Affectivity, Trauma: Post-Cartesian Psychoanalysis (Routledge, 2011)

"A Rumor of Empathy by Lou Agosta melds philosophy, psychology, and psychoanalysis together in a remarkable inquiry into empathy as a multi-dimensional process extending from empathic receptivity, through empathic understanding, to empathic interpretation and responsiveness in empathic language and listening. Agosta demonstrates that the innovations of Freud and Kohut in psychoanalysis and Paul Ricoeur in Philosophy come alive and enliven in Agosta’s provocative and penetrating engagement with empathy as the foundation of human relatedness. The author surfaces a subtle resistance to empathy that has previously not been engaged and shows how to overcome it through engagement with countertransference, micro-narrative, and introspection, thus validating a rumor of empathy. Working his way through resistance to empathy the author surfaces a rumor of empathy, which he applies as a stalking horse in a diversity of psychodynamically relevant contexts to demonstrate that empathy lives. As Agosta writes at the end of his Preface, empathy means that "after all the diagnostic labels have been applied, all the prescriptions written, all the cognitive behavioral scripts implemented, all the distinctions of meaning between manifest and latent fantasies called out, all the id made ego, all the transference and countertransference explored, every hermeneutic circle spun out, all the narratives and micro-narratives transformed, one is simply and unavoidably in the presence of another human being." Focusing on empathy, Dr. Agosta explores the resistances to empathy in a personally risky and ultimately productive fashion." - Paul C. Holinger, M.D., M.P.H.

"The value of Lou Agosta’s A Rumor of Empathy lies not only in its academic and theoretic contribution, which, as might be expected from a scholar such as Agosta, is top notch. For a clinical psychologist such as myself, running a multidisciplinary clinic, the value lies in the lesson that when all the diagnostic categories are applied, all the cognitive behavior methods deployed, all the transferences and countertransferences analyzed, all the medications prescribed, in empathy, one is simply in the presence of another human being. Remarkably enough, Agosta succeeds in making empathy present, in bringing it to life, amidst the struggle for wholeness, integrity and completeness and in the face of human emotional pain, empathy LIVES." - Aarnon Rolnick, Ph.D., Clinical Director, Ramat Gan Psychotherapy Center.

to be heard by those entering the field.

Table of Contents

Dedication. Acknowledgements. Disclaimer. List of Figures. Preface. Introduction: Basic Distinctions. Empathy and Its Resistances. A Rumor of Empathy. Plato Not Prozac! Treatment of Domestic Violence. Regerences. Index

About the Author

Lou Agosta, Ph.D. teaches empathy in systems and the history of psychology at the Illinois School of Professional Psychology at Argosy University. He is the author of numerous articles on empathy in human relations, aesthetics, altruism, and film. He is a psychotherapist in private practice in Chicago, IL, USA. See www.aRumorOfEmpathy.com

About the Series

Psychoanalytic Inquiry Book Series

Like its counterpart, Psychoanalytic Inquiry: A Topical Journal for Mental Health Professionals, the Psychoanalytic Inquiry Book Series presents a diversity of subjects within a diversity of approaches to those subjects. Under the editorship of Joseph Lichtenberg, in collaboration with Melvin Bornstein and the editorial board of Psychoanalytic Inquiry, the volumes in this series strike a balance between research, theory, and clinical application. We are honored to have published the works of various innovators in psychoanalysis, such as Lachmann, Fosshage, Stolorow, Orange, Sander, Wurmser, Grotstein, Jones, Brothers, Busch, and Lichtenberg, among others. 

The series includes books and monographs on mainline psychoanalytic topics, such as sexuality, narcissism, trauma, homosexuality, jealousy, envy, and varied aspects of analytic process and technique.  In our efforts to broaden the field of analytic interest, the series has incorporated and embraced innovative discoveries in infant research, self psychology, intersubjectivity, motivational systems, affects as process, responses to cancer, borderline states, contextualism, postmodernism, attachment research and theory, medication, and mentalization. As further investigations in psychoanalysis come to fruition, we seek to present them in readable, easily comprehensible writing.

After 25 years, the core vision of this series remains the investigation, analysis and discussion of developments on the cutting edge of the psychoanalytic field, inspired by a boundless spirit of inquiry.

Learn more…

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
PSYCHOLOGY / Movements / Psychoanalysis
PSYCHOLOGY / Psychotherapy / General
PSYCHOLOGY / Mental Health