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Interpersonal-- Relational Theories. Geoff Goodman, Ph.D. I. The Relational Orientation. Psychoanalytic encounter co-constructed between two active participant (mutuality) Humans are motivated by sucking objects, not discharging drives

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i the relational orientation
I. The Relational Orientation
  • Psychoanalytic encounter co-constructed between two active participant (mutuality)
  • Humans are motivated by sucking objects, not discharging drives
  • Patients perceive and interpret “real” as well as “distorted” aspects of therapist in transference
  • Therapist self-disclosures produce more openness and trust in therapeutic relationship

E. Authoritarianism is replaced with an approximation of egalitarianism

F. Focus of treatment shifts from exploration of patient’s fantasies to exploration of mutual enactments (1-person to 2-person psychology)

G. Both transference and countertransference are mutually constructed (perspectivism, not absolutism)


H. Recent evidence for 2-person psychology from time-- series analysis conducted by Jones and Josephs

I. Focus on here and now in transference rather than reconstruction of past through retrieval of memories

J. Attention paid to both interpersonal and intrapsychic realms of human experience (i.e., intersubjective)


K. Sexuality and aggression are inherently relational constructs- response to external and internal objects

L. Reciprocal influence between interpersonal processes and intrapsychic relational processes (transactional model)

ii theory of development
II. Theory of Development
  • Lack of emphasis on development because of focus on here and now rather than there and then
  • Organizational schemes emerging sequentially (Ogden, 1989)

1. autistic- contiguous

2. paranoid- schizoid


3. historical modes which vary according to four domains

a. articulation of self-- other boundaries

b. split vs. whole object relations

c. quality of reality testing

d. awareness of irreversibility of time repetition compulsion

c four basic modes of relationality mitchell 2000
C. Four basic modes of relationality (Mitchell, 2000)
  • non- reflective presymbolic behavior-- reciprocal behavioral influence and mutual regulation
  • affective permeability-- shared experience of intense affect across permeable boundaries
  • organization of experience into self-- other configurations
  • intersubjectivity-- mutual recognition of self-reflective agents
D. Major theoretical formulations placed among these four basic modes of relationality

1. attachment theory-- mode 1

2. object relations theory of Fairbairn/ Kernberg-- mode 3

3. relational theory of Ogden and Bollas-- mode 2

4. intersubjective and psychoanalytic feminist theory-- mode 4

iii theory of psychopathology
III. Theory of Psychopathology
  • Attachment to “bad” (i.e., unsatisfying or unavailable) objects (see Fairbarn)
  • Psychopathology is the product of defense, not developmental arrest

1. relationship conflict-- babyish self considered safety strategy

2. not unconflicted arrested self-- babyish self considered lacking in recognition and mirroring

3. developmental arrest privileges needs of earliest developmental periods over current relationship needs


C. Mental health-- flexibility to experience different relationships in different ways

D. Familiarity causes people to cling to pathological patterns

E. Modes of engagement become adaptive and maladaptive relationship templates for subsequent encounters

1. effectiveness in avoiding anxiety

2. fear of loss of contact with self and others if surrendered

3. conflicts arise between specific relational configurations and predominant self-shaping relational patterns

iv theory of treatment
IV. Theory of Treatment
  • Entering into the subjective world of the patient and becoming part of his or her relational world
  • Broadening the structure of the patient’s relational world beyond confines of childhood constraints

C. Therapeutic change 1. not through interpretation

2. through expanded participation of the analyst in the patient’s experiential world

3. therapist participation takes place whether interpreting or remaining silent

4. therapy is the experience cure, not the talking cure

5. observation is always contextual, not objective

v pioneers of relational theory
V. Pioneers of Relational Theory
  • Sandor Ferenczi
    • broke from Freudian tradition near the end of his life.
    • first developed the idea of mutual participation of analyst and patient
    • returned to Freud’s first theory of psychopathology-- seduction theory
      • psychopathology originates in abuse and its denial
      • technical neutrality of analysis repeats the trauma of parental code of silence (denial)

4. modifications of analytic technique

a. engage in “real” relationship with patients to counteract phoniness of parental relationships

b. make up for deficits in loving by loving patients more authentically then parents did

c. privilege of experience over interpretation and remembering of early experience

d. experiments with mutual analysis

1) mutuality--different roles

2) symmetry--same roles

b otto rank
B. Otto Rank
  • also broke from Freudian tradition
  • first developed the idea of birth trauma
    • separation from mother traumatic
    • fundamental conflict falls along a continuum
      • wish for separation, autonomy, life, individuality (Bowlby’s exploratory system)
      • wish for merger, dependence, death, loss of self, return to womb (Bowlby’s attachment system)

c. therapist encourage psychological birth through acts of will

d. restoration of confidence activates will and produces individuality

e. acts of merger can produce creativity

3. both Ferenczi and Rank represent two ends of continuum

a. Ferenczi- mutuality, merger, and intimacy

b. Rank- autonomy, separation, and individuality

vi critique of relational theory
VI. Critique of Relational Theory
  • No theory or preexperiential needs that motivate relationships
  • Psychopathology occurs only out of impingements upon a maturational pathway
  • No taxonomy of diagnostic classification of psychopathology
  • A perspectivist position cannot simultaneously privilege relational interventions over others
  • Relational therapist sacrifices his or her position as an older, wiser secure base