Self Psychology

Third Year Adult Psychoanalytic Training (APT)
2022-23, 2nd Trimester — Fridays, 3:30-5:00pm
Donald Schimmel, PhD
Charlotte Malkmus, MA LMHC


Welcome to our course on Self Psychology. In this class, we will explore the central theoretical foundations of Self Psychology as originally conceived by its founder Heinz Kohut. In addition, we will discuss contemporary theories of Self Psychology and their application to current clinical practice. We will also apply these concepts to issues such as racism, social justice, and intergenerational trauma. Along with several of Kohut’s original writings, we will read articles by several modern Self Psychologists. In the final class, we will watch the film, “Reflections on Empathy,” Heinz Kohut’s final presentation. 

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, the clinical associate will be able to:

  1. list the central concepts of Self Psychology as originally conceived by Kohut and understand how Kohut’s ideas represent a paradigmatic shift from earlier theories of psychoanalysis.
  2. describe and define the following Self Psychological concepts: Empathy, empathic failures, vicarious introspection, optimal frustration; the secondary development of rage and aggression; description and diagnosis of disorders of the self; the “bipolar self” and associated transferences: mirroring, alter-ego, and idealizing; the “vertical and horizontal splits;” Selfobject transferences; how analysis cures through transmuting internalization, structure building, and the emergence of the nuclear self.
  3. apply Self Psychology to contemporary race and cultural issues, enhancing their capacity to work clinically with diverse groups of people.
  4. apply Self Psychological concepts to pathologies such as sociopathy, malignant narcissism, bigotry, and sadism.
  5. define the function and uses of empathy.

December 2, 2022 — Introduction

[55 pages]

This class will introduce the work of Heinz Kohut and the central concepts in Self Psychology. To help elucidate Kohut’s classic paper, and to make Kohut’s concepts more understandable, we’ll also read a chapter from Ernest Wolf’s book, Treating The Self. Wolf was a close collaborator of Kohut’s.

Kohut, H. (1968). The Psychoanalytic Treatment of Narcissistic Personality Disorders—Outline of a Systematic Approach. Psychoanal. St. Child, 23:86-113.

Wolf, E.S. (1988). Ch. 3, “Basic Concepts of Self Psychology” in Treating the Self, pp23-49.

December 9, 2022 — Selfobjects and Selfobject Transferences

[47 pages]

This class will provide an introduction to selfobjects, selfobject functions, and selfobject transferences.  Kohut’s understanding of patients’ needs to idealize the analyst, to be mirrored and admired, represented major shifts in technique as well as theory.

Kohut, H. (1971) “The Idealizing Transference” in The Analysis of the Self, Ch2, pp37-55

Kohut, H. (1971) “Types of Mirror Transferences: A Classification According to Developmental Considerations” in The Analysis of the Self, Ch5, pp105-132

January 6, 2023 — Disorders of the Self

[24 pages]

This class will cover the disorders of the self, including developmental considerations, etiology (primary and secondary disorders of the self), psychopathology and symptomatology, and treatment considerations. Again, Wolf’s paper is used to clarify the earlier article and bring us to a more contemporary understanding.

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

Wolf, E. (1994). Varieties of the Disorders of the Self. British Journal of Psychotherapy, 11(2):198-208

January 13, 2023 — Empathy

[37 pages]

This class will explore Kohut’s view of empathy as a treatment approach, a process of feeling oneself into the other’s experience, and as means of data collection, which Kohut referred to as vicarious introspection. Kohut’s paper explains to readers the paradigm shift from Freud’s “Guilty Man” to his own conception of “Tragic Man.” Tuch Gives provides a discussion of more recent conceptualizations of empathy.

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

Tuch, R.H. (1997). Beyond Empathy: Confronting Certain Complexities in Self Psychology Theory. Psychoanal Q., 66:259-282.

January 20, 2023 — The Vertical Split and Horizontal Split

[52 pages]

This class will explore and explain the vertical and horizontal split concepts. The discussion will focus primarily on the phenomenology of the vertical split and the functions of disavowal and dissociation.

Goldberg, A. (1999). “Introductory Remarks” in Being of Two Minds, The Vertical Split in Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy, ch1, pp3-6.

Goldberg, A. (1999). “The Problem” in Being of Two Minds, The Vertical Split in Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy, ch2, pp7-20.

Goldberg, A. (1999). “The Failure of Synthesis” in Being of Two Minds, The Vertical Split in Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy, ch3, pp21-42.

Goldberg, A. (1999). “Varieties of the Split” in Being of Two Minds, The Vertical Split in Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy, ch10, pp139-150.

January 27, 2023 — Treatment

[51 pages]

This class will explore Kohut’s view on how analysis cures. We will discuss the mobilization of narcissistic needs within the transference, psychic structure building, and transmuting internalization. The role of the empathic bond between therapist and patient in various therapeutic contexts will also be discussed. This will include the concept of optimal frustration, correct interpretations, and the formation of patients’ empathic acceptance of themselves.

Kohut, H. (1984). “The Curative Effect of Analysis: The Self Psychological Reassessment of the Therapeutic Process” in How Does Analysis Cure?, Ch6, pp80-110.

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

February 10, 2023 — Self Psychology in Societal Context

[20 pages]

Self Psychology has often been criticized by more classically trained analysts for “avoiding” aggression and rage. The paper by Strozier, et. al., explains the importance of aggression and rage in Self Psychological theory, especially when applied at the societal level. Riker’s paper uses the notion of the vertical split to critique the oppression inherent in modern economic society and the resulting psychic suffering of so many individuals.

Strozier, C.B. Strug, D.L. Pinteris, K. Kelley, K. (2017). Heinz Kohut’s Theory of Aggression and Rage. Psychoanal. Psychol., 34(3):361-367.

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.

February 17, 2023 — Race and Self Psychology

[22 pages]

This class will explore the application of Self Psychology to issues of race from both a theoretical and a clinical perspective. Kella presents a rich case study in which skin color becomes a fraught source of identification. Jacobs investigates the limitations inherent in white-centered theory and practice.

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.

Kella, R. (2015). Can I Wash Away My Skin Color? Compulsive Hand-Washing in a Ten-and-a-Half-Year-Old Girl. Int. J. Psychoanal. Self Psychol., 10(4):365-377.

February 24, 2023 — Other Important Self Psychological Theorists

[40 pages]

Anna Ornstein and Howard Bacal both studied under Kohut and have made important contributions to Self Psychological theory and practice since Kohut’s time.

Bacal, H. (1985). Optimal Responsiveness and the Therapeutic Process. Progr. Self Psychol. 1: 202-227.

Ornstein, A. (2015). Why Kohut’s Ideas Will Endure: The Contributions of Self Psychology to the Treatment of Children and the Practice of Psychotherapy. Int. J. Of Psychoan. Self Psych. 10: 128-141.

March 3, 2023 — Contemporary views on Self Psychology

[38 pages]

We will look at the evolution of Self Psychology from Kohut’s original one-person psychology into a two-person intersubjective theory. In addition, we will explore the development of the selfobject from being merely a function to part of a two-person psychology with a relational interaction.

Magid, B. and Shane, E. (2018) The Restoration of the Selfobject, Psychoanalysis, Self and Context, 13(3), 246-258.

Zimmermann, P., et al (2019). Chapter 1 in Intersubjective Self Psychology: A Primer, pp3-13.

Read pages 7-13 in Chapter 1.

Zimmermann, P., et al (2019). Chapter 4 in Intersubjective Self Psychology: A Primer, pp38-56.

Read up to page 55.

March 10, 2023 — Film: “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. “The Two Analyses of Mr. Z” is a provocative piece, describing the unsuccessful classical analysis of a patient followed, five years later, by the successful analysis of the same patient, by the same analyst, employing Self Psychological techniques.

Optional Reading

Kohut, H. (1979). The Two Analyses of Mr. Z. Int. J. Of Psychoanal. 60: 3-27.