Theory: British Object Relations

Fourth Year Adult Psychoanalytic Training (APT)
2018-19, 1st Trimester — Fridays, 1:45-3:15pm
Sue Neell Carlson, MA
Rikki Ricard


Explanation and Requirements of Course:

British Object Relations is a theory born from creative and political controversy. It is also a living theory insofar as it continues to evolve with many branches born from the same trunk. There are many excellent thinkers within the larger Object Relations tradition that we will not be covering. Our intention with this short course is to provide you with the fundamental building blocks of the theory. Our rational is that if you have a working-sense of the fundamentals you can choose further studies from an informed position. Having taught this theory for many years we have come to the conclusion that it is best to go with a “less is more” approach. The theory is actually quite elegantly simple but when first encountered it can feel implausible, overwhelming and unruly.

It is our expectation that you will read the article(s) for each class at least two times, three times would be ideal. This allows for optimal learning and informed discussion.

Reflection Papers – Associates will be asked to write and turn in a one page reflection paper each week on the assigned readings. The purpose of this paper is to help facilitate integration of the material. It is NOT meant to be conclusive or academic but rather an opportunity to interact with the readings in a manner that is meaningful to you. Each student decides for him/herself what will be most useful, i.e. the paper could consist of questions that arise for you from the readings, or you may wish to elaborate your own thinking in regards to one of the themes, or you may want to write about a case that you think might illustrate some of the key points of that week’s topic. The Instructors will offer written reflections on each paper and will return the papers to each student the following week. Papers may also be used to inform our discussion during the seminar.

September 7, 2018 — Introduction to Melanie Klein’s Conception of Psychoanalytic Technique

Technique is a set of prescribed procedures for analyst and patient designed to facilitate making the unconscious conscious. Consistency and regularity of setting, time boundaries and frequency of sessions are emphasized, together with the importance of the analyst maintaining a receptive but discriminating attitude of mind. Klein took up Freud’s concept of transference, meaning the conscious but also unconscious expression of past and present experiences, relationships, thoughts, phantasies and feelings, both positive and negative, in relation to the analyst. She valued the importance of the negative transference, which she thought could be usefully worked with provided it was recognized and understood by the analyst. Klein emphasized the role in the transference of the ‘total situation’ of the patient’s past and present experiences. She also perceived the patient’s anxiety as the starting point for the analyst’s understanding of the patient’s unconscious phantasies and she regarded the analyst’s interpretation as the main tool of analytic therapy.

Klein, M., (2017) Lectures on Techniques by Melanie Klein, Ed. John Steiner, Ch1 “Guiding Principles”, pp29-41

Money-Kyrle, R., (1963) The Collected Papers of Roger Money-Kyrle, Ch30, “British Schools of Psycho-analysis: Melanie Klein and Her Contribution to Psycho-analysis”, pp408-415

September 14, 2018 — Unconscious Phantasy

  • Movie: Where the Wild Things Are

Isaacs, S. (1948). The Nature and Function of Phantasy. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 29:73-97.

Presented in 1943 as a pivotal contribution to the ‘Controversial Discussions’, this paper articulated a new and wider definition of phantasy (differentiated from ‘fantasy’ to specify its unconscious nature). Isaacs built on Klein’s clinical insights to construct a conceptual framework for the study of emotional and cognitive development. In a break with the Freudian tradition she claimed that phantasy was present from the beginning of life. In fact, emanating from earliest bodily experience, phantasies are seen as rudimentary thought processes, from which will spring object relations, language and self-awareness.

Points she made include:

  • The transference situation is almost entirely a construct of unconscious phantasy.
  • External realities are progressively woven into the texture of phantasy. And progressively elaborated. But the source of phantasy is internal, in the instinctual impulses.
  • Phantasy is taken to represent the subject’s psychic reality (not mere wish fulfilment). The inner world has a continuous reality of its own.
  • There is no impulse, no instinctual urge or response that is not experienced as unconscious phantasy.

September 21, 2018 — Paranoid-Schizoid Position and the Depressive Position

Melanie Klein has described the earliest stages of infantile psychic life in terms of a successful completion of development through certain positions. A position, for Klein, is a set of psychic functions that correspond to a given phase of development, appearing during the first year of life, but which are present at all times thereafter and can be reactivated at any time. There are two major positions: the paranoid-schizoid position and the depressive position. The earlier more primitive position is the paranoid-schizoid position and if an individual’s environment is adequate, she or he will progress through the depressive position. The two positions are comprised of a fundamental anxiety and its defense.

Leikermann, M. (2001) Melanie Klein: Her Work in Context, Ch10 “A Kind of Detached Hostility: The Paranoid Schizoid Position”, pp 144-155

Leikermann, M. (2001) Melanie Klein: Her Work in Context, Ch8 “Loss of the Loved Object: Ambivalence and Depressive States”, pp100-111

Britton, R. (1998) Belief and Imagination: Explorations in Psychoanalysis, Ch6 “Before and After the Depressive Position: Ps(n)>D(n)>Ps(n+1)”, pp69-81.

September 28, 2018 — Early Development

Winnicott starts by examining the first ‘not-me’ possession of the infant, and the wide variations in the infant’s relationship to this possession. Winnicott defines a transitional object as hallucination taken for granted because of the immaturity of the infant, and ‘transition’ to be a transition from one kind of experience to another. The phenomena occur at times of anxiety, at which time an object becomes vitally important for the infant for use in its defense. Winnicott summarizes the qualities of the object: among other things, that the infant assumes rights over it, that it is cuddled and mutilated, that it must never change, and that its fate is to be gradually decathected. Winnicott discusses these phenomena in relation to tension around the gratification of instincts, the pleasure-pain principle, introjection and projection, symbol formation, and the depressive position. He states that only if there are good internal objects can the infant use transitional objects, which are intermediate between internal and external. Winnicott’s formulations help the psychoanalyst understand the need for consistent “environmental” provisions such as a steady frame and times of “bearing witness” rather than interpretation.

Winnicott, D.W. (1975). Through Paediatrics to Psycho-Analysis, Ch17 “Transitional Objects and Transitional Phenomena”, pp229-242

October 5, 2018 — Projective Identification, Transference and Countertransference

In this paper Sue takes up a particularly disturbing and confusing countertransference experience she had in relation to a patient whom she saw in psychoanalysis four times per week. She wrote about this experience because it was unique in its intensity and lent itself to her goal of studying and thinking about an aspect of her development as a psychoanalyst. Sue wondered about the use of the analyst’s mind and sensory/somatic experience as a resonating instrument, one that might be relied upon with some degree of reliability to understand what was occurring in transference and countertransference. The concepts of projective identification and countertransference are defined. The evolving definitions of these theoretical concepts and how they informed changes in emphasis of technique within the Kleinian (post-Kleinian) school of thought were considered.

What does it mean to be impacted by a patient? Can the analyst’s use of her private thoughts and feelings be a means of detecting the transference?

Carlson, S.N. (2009). Whose Hate is it? Encountering Emotional Turbulence in the Crosscurrents of Projective Identification and Countertransference Experience. Psychoanal. Rev., 96(6):895-915.

October 12, 2018 — The Claustrum (Pathological Internal States of Mind)

Donald Meltzer was a significant if less recognized theorist in the Kleinian tradition. His original contributions to psychoanalysis grew particularly from his capacities for very detailed clinical observation and his involvement in child analysis. In his paper ‘The relation of anal masturbation to projective identification’ (1965) he set out a view of an intrusive form of projective identification that was related to a failure of authentic development and consequent identity confusion. These ideas were more fully revisited in The Claustrum, which elaborated his understanding of the functioning of anti-developmental forces in the mind, sometimes functioning in gang-like mode, and the sealed-off quality of a personality based on this avoidance of awareness of dependence on the object.

Miller, J.F. (2013) The Triumphant Victim, Ch7 “Projective Identification and the Claustrum”, pp45-58.

October 19, 2018

This paper is about Rikki’s work with a very difficult patient in analysis. It’s a paper of exploration and question. Questions about both the analyst’s and the patient’s experience as the relationship progressed. As the writing of this paper moved forward, the title changed from “Letting Sleeping Dogs Lie” to “When Sleeping Dogs Lie.” This change reflects the author’s realization that she found herself thinking about the experience of the lie as it shows up in the analytic setting with a particularly disturbed patient. It also became quite clear that there were dogs in the patient, angry dogs, and although they were seemingly asleep, there became a realization that the work was supporting that and the question of waking them up became central to the work. Was the analytic caution becoming a collusion that supported a very destructive state of mind?

With the help of many other minds who have travelled these terrains before – Rosenfeld, Bion, Caper, O’Shaunessey, and most particularly Meltzer and his notion of the Claustrum – the author began to gather her mind back and to at the very least find some understanding of the mental landscape that needed to be travelled.

The paper will bring a number of ideas forward around dealing with a patient that seems unable to tolerate help in any fashion. It will also explore what Meltzer means by the Claustrum and what it feels like to work with someone who may indeed be caught in this kind of mental space.

Ricard, R. (2008) “When Sleeping Dogs Lie: When Caution Becomes Collusion” (Presented at EBOR Conference 2008)

This Paper is Confidential and not to be distributed without Author’s permission.

October 26, 2018 — Working with Countertransference Experience

How does the analyst work with that which disturbs him/her? This paper addresses the task of coping with strong countertransference experiences and of maintaining the analytic technique of interpretation. The process of transformation within the analyst is considered and how the patient is consciously or unconsciously aware of whether the analyst evades or confronts the issues. The contention that the analyst is not affected by these experiences is false and would convey to the patient that his/her plight, pain, and behavior are emotionally ignored by the analyst. It is suggested that if emotions are kept out, the analyst is in danger of keeping out the love that mitigates the hatred, allowing the so-called pursuit of truth to be governed by hatred. How the analyst allows him/herself to have the experiences, work through them, and transform them into a useful interpretation is discussed.

Pick, I. B., (1985) Melanie Klein Today: Developments in Theory and Practice Vol. 2: Mainly Practice Ed. By Spillius, E. B., Ch3 “Working Through in the Counter-transference”, pp34-47.

November 2, 2018 — Trauma and Disassociation

The traditional Kleinian perspective would suggest that traumatic experience is traumatic to the degree that it activates the fear of annihilation and destruction that is always waiting within, the haunting presence of the death instinct. Fearing death, the traumatized person projects his/her fear outward into persecutory objects and people, who then come back to haunt him/her. We compare this view with the idea that through the use of countertransference, projective identification, and enactment the analyst may come to gain a deeper understanding of a patient’s disowned and disassociated experience. How does this view fit in with contemporary trauma theory?

Newirth, J., (2016) The Dissociative Mind in Psychoanalysis, Ed. by Howell & Itzkowitz, Ch9 “A Kleinian Perspective on Dissasociation and Trauma”, pp107-117.

November 9, 2018 — Considering Intersectionality in the Psychoanalytic Setting

Kleinian theory provides a nuanced view regarding an understanding of the human condition of hatred. What has been missing is the cultural significance and impact of being hated, of hating the self and of hating the other. This is a vitally important addition to consider in our work.

White, K. P. (2002). Surviving hating and being hated: Some personal thoughts about racism from a psychoanalytic perspective.. In Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 38, pp. 401-422

November 16, 2018 — Klein’s Theory Reviewed

This is Klein’s last paper, unpublished at her death in 1960. In this paper, Melanie Klein applies her theoretical thinking to the experience of loneliness. This paper demonstrates her mature thinking and allows for an integrating experience of the theory as applied to clinical issues.

Klein, M. (1975). Envy and Gratitude and Other Works 1946–1963: Edited By: M. Masud R. Khan, Ch16 “On the Sense of Loneliness”, pp300-313