2nd Edition

The Embedded Self
An Integrative Psychodynamic and Systemic Perspective on Couples and Family Therapy

ISBN 9780415992428
Published August 27, 2009 by Routledge
304 Pages

USD $52.95

Prices & shipping based on shipping country


Book Description

First published in 1996, The Embedded Self was lauded as "a brilliant and long overdue rapprochement between psychoanalysis and family therapy conceived by a practitioner trained and experienced in both modalities of treatment." Mary-Joan Gerson’s integrated presentation of psychodynamic and family systems theory invited therapists of either orientation to learn the tools and techniques of the other, to mutual benefit. Firmly grounded in detailed case presentations, her focus on family therapy examined its history, organizing concepts, and developmental approaches, and addressed practical questions of diagnosis, clinical interaction, and referrals.

A dozen years later, the psychoanalytic community is more open to integrating perspectives, and the growth of analysts working with couples and families necessitates an update of the material presented in The Embedded Self. Similarly, the family therapy community has deepened its interest in individual dynamics within systemic patterning. From a new and revised perspective on the possibilities of integration, Gerson covers the latest research in neuroscience and the transmission of affect within intimate relationships, with a new chapter on attachment theory and emotionally focused therapy. Sections on narrative therapy and psychoanalytically-oriented family therapy are expanded as well.

The Embedded Self was a sterling introduction to family systems theory and therapy, and enhanced the work of analysts and family and couples therapists alike. The second edition proves no different in its context but wider in its scope, further enhancing the work of the family therapist interested in individual dynamics, and preparing the psychodynamically-oriented therapist who seeks to extend her craft from the dyad to the triad, and beyond.

Table of Contents

Introduction: New Possibilities for Integration. Theoretical Overview. An Orientation to Family Systems Theory. Controversies and Conundrums. Context and Culture. Family Patterns. Attachment Theory: A New Frontier. Development from a Family Perspective. Diagnosis from a Family Perspective. How to Intervene: Technique and Timing. The Therapeutic Relationship. Playfulness, Authority and Authenticity. Referrals: Who? When? Where? Epilogue

View More



Mary-Joan Gerson, Ph.D., ABPP, is Director of the Advanced Specialization in Couples and Family Therapy at the NYU Postdoctoral Program in Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis, where she is also Clinical Professor and Supervisor of Psychoanalysis. She is the Founding President of Section 8 (Couples and Family Therapy) of Division 39 (Psychoanalysis) of the American Psychological Association.


"Mary-Joan Gerson speaks to psychoanalysts from the perspective of family therapy and to family therapists from the perspective of psychoanalysis. Now updated in breadth of coverage, extended clinical illustrations, and new possibilities of integration, this dual approach brings novely to familiar concepts and phrases. Like a book of Borges' poetry that I read in both Spanish and English, The Embedded Self brings intellectual challenge and esthetic pleasure. Any clinician, whether system or psychodynamic, will find this book an enriching and thought-provoking experience." - Salvador Minuchin, M.D., Research Professor of Psychiatry, NYU Medical Center

"This was a marvelously comprehensive and integrative book when it first came out. In this new edition it is even better! It adeptly integrates new developments in fields such as attachment theory and neurobiology, thus extending its already impressive synthesis of systemic and psychodynamic thought. A powerful and important book." - Paul Wachtel, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor, City University of New York

"Mary-Joan Gerson's masterful synthesis of psychoanalytic and systems perspectives on couples treatment has stood the test of time. The second edition retains the impressive breadth, emotional depth and intellectual heft of the original volume, while adding crucial new material on adult attachment and neurobiology. It shows how an understanding of the complex linkage between romantic partners can free up stalemated treatments, creating empathy and responsiveness where there was only harshness and withdrawal. Couples work is hard to do. It's important to have a book like this one at the ready." - Virginia Goldner, Ph.D., Faculty Emeritus, Ackerman Institute for the Family

"This beautifully written book is a gift to therapists working with couples and families. At one time, the underlying premises of psychoanalysis and family therapy were considered incompatible, but times have changed. Mary-Joan Gerson, steeped in both traditions, expertly illustrates how each perspective can be enriched and vitalized by the other." - Marcia Sheinberg, LCSW, Director of Training and Clinical Services, Ackerman Institute for the Family

"Although I would have thought it impossible, the second edition of Dr. Gerson’s book surpasses the remarkable first edition of The Embedded Self. The new edition is one of the finest books in our field, an accolade I do not offer lightly. Dr. Gerson preserves and improves upon the outstanding quality of the first edition. Her book is at once an excellent piece of scholarship, a probing theoretical analysis, and a clinical treasure trove of stimulating ideas and insights. It also offers a new, comprehensive, illuminating chapter on attachment theory in relation to couples and family dynamics as well as new, extensive case material. Dr. Gerson writes beautifully and her words reflect the clinical astuteness of a highly talented therapist who appreciates the intimate links between the intrapsychic and the interpersonal perspectives in relation to individuals, couples, and families. It will be savored with great profit by clinicians of all stripes." - David Wolitzky, Ph.D., series editor, Psychological Issues book series

"This is a book that really gets it because Mary-Joan Gerson has the ability to simultaneously shuttle between two worlds: she is equally adept at articulating couples therapy from both a systems world and a psychoanalytic world...Gerson's book has achieved the position of the text for developing couples therapists who want a thorough grounding in clinical history and techniques in working with relationships. However, this is no book for beginners alone; it is also a book for clinicians who have been around the block a few times, clinicians who love to ground their clinical technique in solid theoretical underpinnings... There is so much to like about this book that it is hard to limit one's praise to a few items. Of foremost importance is that the quality of both clinical and theoretical conceptualizations is outstanding. The writing is descriptive and evocative...As soon as one begins to wonder how a given theoretical principle would unfold in the context of a couple, a clinical example appears. Finally, Gerson steadfastly maintains a personal point of view throughout the book - that the self develops and is challenged to grow in a context. We are social beings: needing another, finding the other, protecting ourselves from the other, and often growing because of the other." - Daniel Goldberg, The Psychoanalytic Quarterly

"the book is timely...the author engages our attention by a balance of precise, theoretical overviews and a rich flow of clinical illustrations. We are encouraged to reflect, to widen our perspective, and to become more creative in our own therapeutic approaches. Gerson juxtaposes with great clarity the family or couple therapy positions to the psychoanalytic, adding a sense of drama to our reading journey...I highly recommend this book to all psychotherapists of whatever persuasion!" - Marianne Horney Exkardt, M.D., American Academy of Psychoanalysis and Dynamic Psychiatry