Relational Freedom: Emergent Properties of the Interpersonal Field, 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

Relational Freedom

Emergent Properties of the Interpersonal Field, 1st Edition

By Donnel B. Stern


256 pages

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Relational Freedom: Emergent Properties of the Interpersonal Field addresses the interpersonal field in clinical psychoanalysis and psychotherapy, especially the emergent qualities of the field. The book builds on the foundation of unformulated experience, dissociation, and enactment defined and explored in Stern’s previous, widely read books.

Stern never considers the analyst or the patient alone; all clinical events take place between them and involve them both. Their conscious and unconscious conduct and experience are the field’s substance. We can say that the changing nature of the field determines the experience that patient and analyst can create in one another’s presence; but we can also say that the therapeutic dyad, simply by doing their work together, ceaselessly configures and reconfigures the field. "Relational freedom" is Stern’s own interpersonal and relational conception of the field, which he compares, along with other varieties of interpersonal/relational field theory, to the work of Bionian field theorists such as Madeleine and Willy Baranger, and Antonino Ferro. Other chapters concern the role of the field in accessing the frozen experience of trauma, in creating theories of therapeutic technique, evaluating quantitative psychotherapy research, evaluating the utility of the concept of unconscious phantasy, treating the hard-to-engage patient, and in devising the ideal psychoanalytic institute.

Relational Freedom is a clear, authoritative, and impassioned statement of the current state of interpersonal and relational psychoanalytic theory and clinical thinking. Itwill interest anyone who wants to stay up to date with current developments in American psychoanalysis, and for those newer to the field it will serve as an introduction to many of the important questions in contemporary psychoanalysis. Psychoanalysts and psychotherapists of all kinds will profit from the book’s thoughtful discussions of clinical problems and quandaries.

Donnel B. Stern, Ph.D.., a psychoanalyst and psychotherapist in private practice in New York City, serves as Training and Supervising Analyst at the William Alanson White Institute, and Adjunct Clinical Professor and Consultant at the NYU Postodoctoral Program in Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis. He is the founder and editor of "Psychoanalysis in a New Key," a book series published by Routledge.


"Stern has the delightful skill of writing with an elegance that enables a reader such as me, who is not steeped in the psychoanalytical tradition, to readily grasp quite elusive and complex ideas and apply them to our own thinking as a therapist…I am left feeling that it has definitely been a worthwhile read." - Steve Page, Therapy Today

"Donnel Stern’s Relational Freedom is a welcome contribution to the field of psychotherapy and psychoanalysis in which he reinvents the concept of emergence as the experiential component of the interpersonal field, and brings the concept to life in his many, in depth, clinical discussions. What I find truly remarkable about this book is that it offers a way of encompassing relational theory, field theory, Bionian concepts, and modern Freudian thinking, while so many others deal with these perspectives as if they are at war with one another." - Thomas Ogden, M. D., Personal and Supervising Analyst, Psychoanalytic Institute of Northern California

"Stern's great ability to make very complex concepts comprehensible is once again in evidence in this marvelous book of rare depth. This is the book every "insider" will want to read and secretly wish they had written….It is replete with delightful clinical vignettes that reveal the author's method of working: free, creative, unconstrained by preconstructed models, and always open to whatever emerges in psychoanalytic session (or as Bion would put it to whatever 'evolves' in the session). Rarely have I felt my heart race whilst reading clinical material and such an urge to read on as though these were the final pages of a thriller. If a book may be described as food for thought, this one is a veritable banquet!" - Antonino Ferro, MD, President of the Italian Psychoanalytic Society

"In this exciting and wide-ranging new book, Donnel Stern takes the reader on an exhilarating tour of the contemporary psychoanalytic landscape. For many years, a leading figure in the theoretical articulation of the Interpersonal dimension of Relational theory, Stern here compares and contrasts his own way of viewing the psychoanalytic process to those of Contemporary Freudians, Object Relationists, Bionian Field Theorists and others. Stern’s capacity to articulate complex theory is remarkable, and his discussions are always punctuated with powerful clinical examples that further explicate his perspective. He is the consummate teacher and anyone interested in understanding where psychoanalysis is heading today must read this book…maybe several times over!" - Jody Messler Davies, Ph.D. Editor in Chief Emeritus of Psychoanalytic Dialogues: The International Journal of Relational Perspectives; Faculty and Supervisor New York University Postdoctoral Program in Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis.

Table of Contents

Introduction. Emergent Properties of the Interpersonal Field. The Interpersonal Field: Its Place in American Psychoanalysis. Field Theory in Psychoanalysis, Part I: Comparing Madeleine and Willy Baranger, and Harry Stack Sullivan. Field Theory in Psychoanalysis, Part 2: Comparing Bionian Field Theory and Contemporary Interpersonal/Relational Psychoanalysis. Relational Freedom and Therapeutic Action. Witnessing Across Time: Accessing the Present from the Past and the Fast from the Fresent. Unconscious Fantasy and Unconscious Relatedness: Comparing Contemporary Freudian and Interpersonal/Relational Approaches to Clinical Practice. Implicit Theories of Technique and the Values that Inspire Them. Psychotherapy is an Emergent Process: Hermeneutics and Quantitative Psychotherapy Research. The Hard-to-Engage Patient: A Treatment Failure. Curiosity: Dealing with Divergent Ideas in the Ideal Psychoanalytic Institute.


About the Author

Donnel B. Stern, Ph.D.., a psychoanalyst and psychotherapist in private practice in New York City, serves as Training and Supervising Analyst at the William Alanson White Institute, and Adjunct Clinical Professor and Consultant at the NYU Postodoctoral Program in Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis. He is the author of Unformulated Experience: From Dissociation to Imagination in Psychoanalysis (The Analytic Press, 1997) and Partners in Thought: Working with Unformulated Experience, Dissociation, and Enactment (Routledge, 2010). He is the founder and editor of "Psychoanalysis in a New Key," a book series published by Routledge.

About the Series

Psychoanalysis in a New Key Book Series

When music is played in a new key, the melody does not change, but the notes that make up the composition do: change in the context of continuity, continuity that perseveres through change. Psychoanalysis in a New Key publishes books that share the aims psychoanalysts have always had, but that approach them differently. The books in the series are not expected to advance any particular theoretical agenda, although to this date most have been written by analysts from the Interpersonal and Relational orientations.

The most important contribution of a psychoanalytic book is the communication of something that nudges the reader’s grasp of clinical theory and practice in an unexpected direction. Psychoanalysis in a New Key creates a deliberate focus on innovative and unsettling clinical thinking. Because that kind of thinking is encouraged by exploration of the sometimes surprising contributions to psychoanalysis of ideas and findings from other fields, Psychoanalysis in a New Key particularly encourages interdisciplinary studies. Books in the series have married psychoanalysis with dissociation, trauma theory, sociology, and criminology. The series is open to the consideration of studies examining the relationship between psychoanalysis and any other field – for instance, biology, literary and art criticism, philosophy, systems theory, anthropology, and political theory.

But innovation also takes place within the boundaries of psychoanalysis, and Psychoanalysis in a New Key therefore also presents work that reformulates thought and practice without leaving the precincts of the field. Books in the series focus, for example, on the significance of personal values in psychoanalytic practice, on the complex interrelationship between the analyst’s clinical work and personal life, on the consequences for the clinical situation when patient and analyst are from different cultures, and on the need for psychoanalysts to accept the degree to which they knowingly satisfy their own wishes during treatment hours, often to the patient’s detriment.

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
PSYCHOLOGY / Movements / Psychoanalysis
PSYCHOLOGY / Mental Health