De-Idealizing Relational Theory: A Critique From Within, 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

De-Idealizing Relational Theory

A Critique From Within, 1st Edition

Edited by Lewis Aron, Sue Grand, Joyce A. Slochower


240 pages

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pub: 2018-06-05
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Self-examination and self-critique: for psychoanalytic patients, this is the conduit to growth. Yet within the field, psychoanalysts haven’t sufficiently utilized their own methodology or subjected their own preferred approaches to systematic and critical self-examination. Across theoretical divides, psychoanalytic writers and clinicians have too often responded to criticism with defensiveness rather than reflectivity.

De-Idealizing Relational Theory attempts to rectify this for the relational field. This book is a first in the history of psychoanalysis; it takes internal dissension and difference seriously rather than defensively. Rather than saying that the other’s reading of relational theory is wrong, distorted, or a misrepresentation, this book is interested in querying how theory lends itself to such characterizations. How have psychoanalysts participated in conveying this portrayal to their critics? Might this dissension illuminate blind-spot(s) and highlight new areas of growth?

It's a challenge to engage in psychoanalytic self-critique. To do so requires that we move beyond our own assumptions and deeply held beliefs about what moves the treatment process and how we can best function within it. To step aside from ourselves, to question the assumed, to take the critiques of others seriously, demands more than an absence of defensiveness. It requires that we step into the shoes of the psychoanalytic Other and suspend not only our theories, but our emotional investment in them. There are a range of ways in which our authors took up that challenge. Some revisted the assumptions that underlay early relational thinking and expanded their sources (Greenberg & Aron). Some took up specific aspects of relational technique and unpacked their roots and evolution (Mark, Cooper). Some offered an expanded view of what constitutes relational theory and technique (Seligman, Corbett, Grossmark). Some more directly critiqued aspects of relational theory and technique (Berman, Stern). And some took on a broader critique of relational theory or technique (Layton, Slochower).

Unsurprisingly, no single essay examined the totality of relational thinking, its theoretical and clinical implications. This task would be herculean both practically and psychologically. We're all invested in aspects of what we think and what we do; at best, we examine some, but never all of our assumptions and ideas. We recognize, retrospectively, how very challenging a task this was; it asked writers to engage in what we might think of as a self-analysis of the countertransference. Taken together these essays represent a significant effort at self-critique and we are enormously proud of it.

Each chapter critically assesses and examines aspects of relational theory and technique, considers its current state and its relations to other psychoanalytic approaches. De-Idealizing Relational Theory will appeal to all relational psychoanalysts and psychoanalytic psychotherapists.


"Born as a vibrant and radical reaction to the perceived deficiencies and rigidities of classical theory, relational theory has now grown and matured to the point where it can begin to re-examine the biases inherent in the way it developed. In this unique book, some of the best relational minds engage in a self-examination of their theory, a loving self-critique designed to reveal both its limits and its potential. The book is a major contribution to our understanding of relational theory and it will be fascinating to psychoanalysts of all theoretical persuasions."-Sheldon Bach, Ph.D., Adjunct Clinical Professor, New York University Postdoctoral Program in Psychotherapy & Psychoanalysis

"In recent decades, relational psychoanalysis has become a prevailing international paradigm. With relational psychoanalysis reaching a maturational milestone, the Editors invited eminent Relationalists to engage in a creative, self-reflective, internal self-examination. This text offers a penetrating self-critique that goes both wide and deep. In it, many of the key thinkers in relational thinking look searchingly at relational theory's gaps, omissions, and weaknesses as well as its strengths. In so doing, relational thinking opens up to new ideas and goes well beyond defining itself vis-a-vis other approaches. Any student of the psychodynamic therapies will be enriched by the wisdom and scholarship that pervade this clinically valuable anthology."-Nancy McWilliams

Table of Contents

Introduction Lewis Aron, Sue Grand, and Joyce Slochower 1. Going too far: Relational heroines and relational excess Joyce Slochower 2. The emergence of the relational tradition: Lewis Aron interviews Jay Greenberg Jay Greenberg and Lewis Aron 3. Relational psychoanalysis and its discontents Emanuel Berman 4. Forms of equality in relational psychoanalysis David Mark 5. Needed analytic relationships and the disproportionate relational focus on enactments Steven Stern 6. Inaction and Puzzlement as Interaction: Keeping Attention in Mind Stephen Seligman 7. The analyst’s private space: Spontaneity, ritual, psychotherapeutic action, and self-care Ken Corbett 8. The unobtrusive relational analyst and psychoanalytic companioning Robert Grossmark 9. The things we carry: Finding/creating the object and the analyst’s self-reflective participation Steven H. Cooper 10. Relational theory in socio-historical context: Implications for technique Lynne Layton

About the Editors

Lewis Aron, Ph.D., ABPP is the director of the New York University Postdoctoral Program in Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis. He is the author and editor of numerous articles and books on psychotherapy and psychoanalysis and well known for his study and reading groups around the world. His most recent book, co-authored with Galit Atlas, is the Routledge title Dramatic Dialogue: Contemporary Clinical Practice.

Sue Grand, Ph.D., is faculty at the NYU Postdoctoral Program in Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis. She is the author of The Reproduction of Evil: A Clinical and Cultural Perspective and The Hero in the Mirror, and co-edited two books on the trans-generational transmission of trauma. She practices in NYC and in Teaneck, NJ.

Joyce Slochower, Ph.D., ABPP is Professor Emerita at Hunter College and Graduate Center, the City University of New York. She is on the faculty of the New York University Postdoctoral Program, the Steven Mitchell Center, the National Training Program of NIP, the Philadelphia Center for Relational Studies, and the Psychoanalytic Institute of Northern California in San Francisco. She is the author of Holding and Psychoanalysis and Psychoanalytic Collisions. Second editions of both books were released in 2014. She is in private practice in New York City, where she sees individuals and couples, and runs supervision and study groups.

About the Series

Relational Perspectives Book Series

The Relational Perspectives Book Series (RPBS) publishes books that grow out of or contribute to the relational tradition in contemporary psychoanalysis. The term relational psychoanalysis was first used by Greenberg and Mitchell (1983) to bridge the traditions of interpersonal relations, as developed within interpersonal psychoanalysis and object relations, as developed within contemporary British theory. But, under the seminal work of the late Stephen Mitchell, the term relational psychoanalysis grew and began to accrue to itself many other influences and developments. Various tributaries—interpersonal psychoanalysis, object relations theory, self psychology, empirical infancy research, and elements of contemporary Freudian and Kleinian thought—flow into this tradition, which understands relational configurations between self and others, both real and fantasied, as the primary subject of psychoanalytic investigation.  

We refer to the relational tradition, rather than to a relational school, to highlight that we are identifying a trend, a tendency within contemporary psychoanalysis, not a more formally organized or coherent school or system of beliefs. Our use of the term relational signifies a dimension of theory and practice that has become salient across the wide spectrum of contemporary psychoanalysis. Now under the editorial supervision of Lewis Aron and Adrienne Harris with the assistance of Associate Editors Steven Kuchuck and Eyal Rozmarin, the Relational Perspectives Book Series originated in 1990 under the editorial eye of the late Stephen A. Mitchell. Mitchell was the most prolific and influential of the originators of the relational tradition. He was committed to dialogue among psychoanalysts and he abhorred the authoritarianism that dictated adherence to a rigid set of beliefs or technical restrictions. He championed open discussion, comparative and integrative approaches, and he promoted new voices across the generations.  

Included in the Relational Perspectives Book Series are authors and works that come from within the relational tradition, extend and develop the tradition, as well as works that critique relational approaches or compare and contrast it with alternative points of view. The series includes our most distinguished senior psychoanalysts along with younger contributors who bring fresh vision.

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
PSYCHOLOGY / Movements / Psychoanalysis