Self Psychology & Intersubjective Systems Theory

2-Year Certificate Program (2YCP)
2023-24, 1st Term — Mondays, 8:00-9:15pm
Peter Weiss, PsyD, LMHC
Jason Jost, PsyD


Welcome to our course on Self Psychology and Intersubjective Systems Theory! We are excited to facilitate discussions around what we feel are central and vital components of contemporary psychoanalytic theory. In this class, we will explore the central theoretical foundations of Self Psychology as originally conceived by its founder Heinz Kohut, as well as Intersubjective Systems Theory, with writings from some of the movement's founders. In addition, we will discuss contemporary theories of Self Psychology and their application to current clinical practice and cultural issues.

Unless otherwise stated, all articles are accessible on PEP-Web. Any article or chapter not on PEP Web will be made available as a PDF file prior to the first class.

Learning Objectives

At the end of this course, participants will be able to:

  1. Describe how the conceptions from Kohut, Stolorow, and Orange present a paradigmatic shift from earlier theories of psychoanalysis.
  2. Describe and define the following Self Psychological concepts: Empathy, empathic failures, vicariousintrospection, optimal frustration, mirroring, idealizing; the “vertical and horizontal splits; selfobject transferences; how analysis cures through transmuting internalization, structure building, organizing principles, emotional dwelling, and the emergence of the nuclear self.
  3. Apply Self Psychology to contemporary race and cultural issues, enhancing the capacity to work clinically with diverse groups of people, while simultaneously acknowledging the limitations self-psychological and IST literature hold in not exploring how these concepts address issues of power and oppression.

September 11, 2023 — Self Psychology Part I

[13 pages]

Kohut found an entry point toward novel thinking in psychoanalysis by reconceptualizing and normalizing narcissistic processes.

Kohut, H. & Wolf, E.S. (1978). The Disorders of the Self and their Treatment: An Outline. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 59:413-425.

September 18, 2023 — Self Psychology Part II

[13 pages]

Often, in Kohut’s writings, he is responding to critique from colleagues and the psychoanalytic community, expressing frustration that readers are missing his message. We will begin to consider in this class —what was Kohut’s point? What was he working hard to articulate that his contemporaries were losing sight of?

Kohut, H. (1982). Introspection, Empathy, and the Semi-Circle of Mental Health. Int. J. Psycho-Anal. 63:395-407.

October 9, 2023 — Self Psychology Part III

[20 pages]

In Class: Watch film of Kohut’s final presentation“Reflections on Empathy”, with comments from Strozier. This film was Kohut’s last presentation, given a few days before his death. He reflects on the importance and relevance of empathy, taking him back to the beginning of the development of Self Psychology.

Kohut, H. (1984). “The Role of Empathy in Psychoanalytic Cure” in How Does Analysis Cure?, Ch9, pp172-191.

October 16, 2023 — Self Psychology Part IV

[22 pages]

In class, we will explore the following question: Does self psychology have anything to offer (clinically or culturally) in the realm of cultural power and privilege? What limitations are inherent in Self Psychology that impede inclusivity?

Riker, J. (2015). What Do Humans Need To Be Human? Self Psychology and The Problem of Social Justice. Int. Journal of Self Psych. 10: 192-204.

Jacobs, L. (2016). Racializing Kohut’s “Guilty Man” and “Tragic Man”: Serious Play in the Service of Inclusiveness. Int. J. Psychoanal. Self Psychol., 11(4):340-348.

October 23, 2023 — Intersubjective Systems Theory Part I - Robert Stolorow

[16 pages]

In this class, we will introduce the writing of Robert Stolorow and some of the basic concepts of IntersubjectiveSystems Theory (IST), or what he now calls “Phenomenological Contextualism”.

We will cover terms such as prereflective organizing principles, relational home, and emotional dwelling.

Stolorow, R.D. (2015) A Phenomenological-Contextual, Existential, and Ethical Perspective on Emotional Trauma. Psychoanalytic Review 102:123-138

October 30, 2023 — Intersubjective Systems Theory Part II - Donna Orange

In this class, we will explore Donna Orange’s thoughts on the integration of continental philosophy and contemporary psychoanalysis. Hermeneutics will be defined and posited as a framework for bridging subjectivities, or in other words,as a structure to understand and connect with the other’s experience, in spite of the impossibility of this effort leading to a complete end.

Orange, D.M. (2011). The Suffering Stranger: Hermeneutics for Everyday Clinical Practice. Routledge, pp1–35.

November 6, 2023 — Intersubjective Systems Theory Part III - Robert Stolorow

[16 pages]

In this class, we will explore Stolorow’s integration of two themes: that our experience of emotional trauma is context-dependent and that emotional trauma is built into the basic foundation of our existence. He reflects on his own personal experience of tragedy.

Stolorow, R.D. (2007). Trauma and Human Existence: Autobiographical, Psychoanalytic, and Philosophical Reflections. The Analytic Press, pp1-16.

November 13, 2023

In this class, we grapple with the question: What is the Self? And how do we frame, understand, access, support, mobilize, encourage, and vitalize the Self as clinicians, patients, and humans?