The Importance of the First Psychotherapy Case in the Development of the Therapist's Professional Self as Viewed Through the Lens of Self Psychology
This paper explores the gap in the literature between what is herein referred to as the "first psychotherapy case" and its impact on the development of the trainee psychotherapist's professional self. The self psychology concepts of identity development, selfobject needs and fulfillment, narcissism, shame, countertransference, and structuralization are incorporated into the theoretical framework from which this developmental milestone is viewed. The theory's emphasis on early experiences and the development of self highlight the distinctiveness of the first case for the therapist. The beginning psychotherapy case poses a unique context for selfobject experiences and the developing self, involving both the therapist's presumably mature needs (assuming an existing cohesive nuclear self) and more infantile needs as the professional, peripheral self develops. As a result, the potential and important implications for the psychotherapist, the patient, training implications for the supervisor, and the ensuing treatment through termination are identified. The intent is to shed light on an area that is understudied thus far, and to begin a conversation as to why and how the impact of the first case on the psychotherapist should be examined. Implications, limitations, and ideas for future exploratory and qualitative research are also discussed.