Object Relations Theory

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OBJECT RELATIONS THEORY

Instructor: Michael J. Gerson, PhD

Copyright © 1996 by the Institute of Advanced Psychological Studies. All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the United States Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced or distributed in any form or by any means, or stored in a data base or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

Introduction The following presentation is aimed at explicating the basic principles of psychoanalytic theory and presenting the various descriptive models or paradigms used. I also hope to clarify some misconceptions about psychoanalysis and provide a basis for the logical extension of psychoanalytic thought into psychotherapeutic work. Since about 1900 psychoanalytic thinking has been influential in defining a branch of psychology, a method for investigating and describing human behavior, and a treatment modality for mental disorders. Some critics might further add that psychoanalysis has also formed a quasi-religious culture. This course is not intended to create "believers," "converts," or to proselytize a belief system. In fact, any thorough reading of Freud would clearly suggest the mind of a critical, pragmatic, eclectic, and scholarly intellectual who was constantly questioning and challenging his own and other peoples' beliefs. We cannot escape, however, the historical legacy of science, medicine, and psychology which is often traced to magical and/or religious predecessors (Fenichel, 1945). While psychoanalysis is also fraught with a good deal of jargon that further supports an esoteric mysterious context, I will make every effort to reduce the jargon to relatively simple definitions that are actually in keeping with Freud's own tradition. For those students who have not read much of the original writings of Freud, I would strongly urge you to do so. Not only is there a great breadth of material covered in the 24 volumes of the Standard Edition of Freud's writings, but his style of writing is clear, succinct, and, often, enjoyable. It is also refreshing to read the original source as opposed to the many interpretations and criticisms offered. I am frequently struck by the many sides to Freud that are revealed in his work; his self-disclosures in the Interpretation of Dreams; his humanity in his case studies; his pragmatism in his criticism of his own thinking and the corrections to his conceptual errors; his social and cultural passions; and, even at times, his humility at not understanding the psychology of women. In spite of whether one agrees with a Freudian perspective or not, this view of humanity has had dramatic consequences for Western civilization. It has been said that Freud dealt us the third greatest narcissistic injury of modern times. The first was Copernicus who told us we were not the center of the universe; the second was Darwin who said we were descended from apes, and the third was Freud who said we are not in total control of our thoughts

and actions. With this challenge to free will, it is little wonder that psychoanalysis has been the object of so much controversy. Basic Concepts of Psychoanalysis Before we embark on a detailed journey through the various conceptual models of classical psychoanalysis, it is helpful if we first review some of the basic concepts or presuppositions of psychoanalytic thinking. Psychological Determinism Perhaps the single most representative concept of psychoanalysis is that of determinism. By this I mean a fundamental belief that human behavior, consciousness, and experience are ultimately determined or explainable. Freud followed in a scientific tradition that was dedicated to uncovering the laws and mysteries of life and hopefully leading toward a comprehensive theory of the mind. Such an approach would never be satisfied with a conclusion that suggested that a certain action was "accidental" or "random" or that a thought occurred strictly...
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