Contemporary Relational Psychoanalysis
Key Figures: Stephen Mitchell, Lew Aron, and others
Key Concepts: Two-Person / Asymmetrical Mutuality / Enactment / Dialectical Constructivism / Multiple Self States / Mutual Regulation / Mutual Influence / Negotiation of Paradox / Self Disclosure / Intersubjective Analytic Third / Use of Countertransference / Interface Between Interpersonal & Intrapsychic / Analyst’s Subjectivity / Beyond Doer-Done To / Transference / Countertransference Matrix / Bi-Personal Field
We will explore the emergence of relational theorizing within the weltanschauung of the 1970’s-1980’s. Mitchell and Greenberg’s first shot over the bow of the American psychoanalytic establishment came in 1983 with the publication of “Object Relations in Psychoanalysis.” Mitchell’s scholarly brilliance was evident in his close readings of Freud and British Object Relations theory. Coming from a background in Interpersonal Psychoanalysis, Mitchell engaged the critique that Interpersonal theory focused on interpersonal experience at the expense of the intrapsychic. They introduced the term “relational” as a way to bridge what they saw as the shortcomings and strengths of Interpersonal and Object Relations theories. They believed relational thinking was not an add-on to traditional theories, i.e. that it was looking at different phenomena than other theories, but that it was an alternate understanding of the same phenomena. They believed drive/defense theories obscured how sexuality and aggression, for example, take on meaning for an individual in relational contexts.
Like the rest of American society in the 1970’s, where established sources of power were questioned, the previously unquestioned dominance of American Ego Psychology was being challenged by the development of self psychology (which became a separate “school”), and by the various “rights” movements and the replacement of modernism with postmodernism, ushering in intellectual and scientific shifts. American analytic feminism, led by Dinnerstein, Chodorow, Gilligan, Benjamin, Goldner, Harris and Dimen were challenging traditional views about essentialist beliefs and the way traditional psychoanalysis was entrenched in these essentialist myths.
We will explore the impact of introducing a 2-person model of understanding the psychoanalytic situation. Hoffman’s groundbreaking paper “The Patient as Interpreter of the Analyst’s Experience” analyzes what he called the “conservative” and “radical” critiques of the blank screen concept. Aron’s work positions the analyst in a relationship of mutual influence that is asymmetrical. We will explore the difference between the idea of the analyst as a subject that is always self-disclosing vs self-disclosure as a kind of “wild analysis” where the analyst is free to say anything she thinks. As relational thinking developed, the concept of enactment, which occurs within the transference/countertransference matrix, was formulated. The work of Philip Bromberg on dissociation and multiple self-states furthered the understanding that analytic dialogue is enacted non-verbally. He wrote “Patients in fact do not reveal their unconscious fantasies…: they ARE their unconscious fantasies and live them with the analyst through the act of psychoanalysis, which includes the analyst’s subjectivity as well as the patient’s.” Bromberg’s work brought attention of the effects of trauma back into analytic theorizing. Relational clinicians’ practice focuses on process, on what is co-created between analyst and patient, which is a distinctly different approach from the analyst interpreting the patient’s unconscious from an uninvolved distance, i.e. as projection. Working relationally means the analyst’s personal experience and her own unconscious is deeply implicated and involved in the process. This requires the analyst to be able to use her own countertransference arousal as a guide to de-coding enactments and finding ways to not just repeat old relational patterns. Together, we will explore what this way of working requires of the therapist, of how to be in the process without drowning in it. We will use readings to familiarize ourselves with basic concepts and use clinical examples to see how it works.
Instructor Sally Bjorklund, LMHC is a psychoanalyst, supervisor and consultant. She is co-founder and faculty member of Relational Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy Seattle (RPPS). She is on the editorial board of the journal Psychoanalytic Perspectives and Supervisor for the National Training Program at the National Institute for the Psychotherapies. She was a contributor to “Clinical Implications of the Psychoanalyst’s Life Experience: When the Personal Becomes Professional,” and has written and presented on topics including sex and gender, adoption, aging, working with hard to reach patients, treatment by telephone, and erotic transference.
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**Program content has been submitted for approval for 4.0 CEUs per lecture for Licensed Social Workers, Mental Health Counselors, and Marriage and Family Therapists by the Washington State Society for Clinical Social Work.