Psychoanalysis and Motivational Systems

A New Look

By Joseph D. Lichtenberg, Frank M. Lachmann, James L. Fosshage

© 2011 – Routledge

156 pages

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pub: 2010-08-24
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About the Book

Introduced in Psychoanalysis and Motivation (1989) and further developed in Self and Motivational Systems (1992), The Clinical Exchange (1996), and A Spirit of Inquiry (2002), motivational systems theory aims to identify the components and organization of mental states and the process by which affects, intentions, and goals unfold. Motivation is described as a complex intersubjective process that is cocreated in the developing individual embedded in a matrix of relationships with others.

Opening by placing motivational systems theory within a contemporary dynamic systems theory, Lichtenberg, Lachmann, and Fosshage then respond to critics of motivational systems theory. The authors present revisions to their approach to the original five motivational systems, adding two more: an affiliative and a caregiving motivational system. The authors go on to suggest, using ideas garnered from complexity theory and fractals, that motivational systems theory can help us understand how a continuity of self can be maintained despite near-constant fluctuations in interpersonal relations. They then consider how the making of inferences, explicitly and implicitly, is shaped by motivation, before applying their theory to an actual human experience - love - to demonstrate the interplay of multiple shifting motivations within an individual. Last, they present new looks at the clinical applicability of their research.

Grounded in observational research of infants but relevant to psychoanalysis at any stage of life, motivational systems theory has evolved via the combined experiences of these three analysts for more than 20 years, and remains an important contribution to our understanding of the driving forces behind human experience.


"The motivational systems theory advanced by Lichtenberg, Lachmann, and Fosshage has provided clinicians with invaluable tools for tracking the unfolding of affects, intentions, goals, and mental states within the therapeutic relationship. The present volume offers a welcome new look at this theory and its clinical implications from the perspective of nonlinear dynamic systems theory. Complex psychological phenomena - such a love and hatred, selfhood and identity, and creativity - are shown to emerge from the fluidly shifting interplay of multiple motivational systems, always complexly embedded in a nexus of relational contexts. Psychoanalytic therapists at all levels of experience will find this guiding framework to be immensely helpful in their clinical work." -Robert D. Stolorow, Ph.D., author, Trauma and Human Existence (Routledge, 2007)

"As psychoanalysis moved from an exclusively one-person model to that of an irreducible intersubjective relational model, it became necessary to construct a new metatheory to encompass this change and replace that of the former. The formulations put forward in this new work by Lichtenberg, Lachmann, and Fosshage convincingly fills that void. The metatheory they propose centers around the newer concept of 'intention' replacing 'need' as 'first cause' and as the activation of a 'motivational system.' The development of the motivational system follows the unique, unpredictable pattern of 'emergence,' a component of complexity, a nonlinear dynamic theory. Their metatheory consists of five points of view: influences, intentions, inferences, communications, and regulations. Their invocation of the concept of fractals to comprehend the experience of continuity of identity along different scales of mind is both innovative and exciting. The authors have constructed a metatheory within a larger and smaller theory - like Russian dolls - all regulated both spontaneously from within and under the influence of an overarching metatheory, all based on human experience. I found the authors' work to be exciting, innovative yet pragmatic, and refreshing. It is a most welcome advance to the psychoanalytic literature and holds great promise for the future." - James S. Grotstein, M.D., Training and Supervising Analyst, Psychoanalytic Center of California

Table of Contents

Dynamic Systems Theory and Five Areas of Inquiry. Revisions and Elaborations of Motivational Systems Theory: Response to Critiques. Beyond and Beneath the Motivational Systems: A Clinical Story. The Experience of Continuity and Self-sameness despite Multiple Motivational States: An Explanation by Analogy: Fractal Theory. Inferences in Clinical Process. Love: A Motivational Systems Perspective. Applying the Theory to Clinical Exploration.

About the Authors

Joseph D. Lichtenberg, M.D., is Editor-in-Chief of Psychoanalytic Inquiry, Director Emeritus of the Institute of Contemporary Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis, past President of the International Council for Psychoanalytic Self Psychology, and member of the Program Committee of the American Psychoanalytic Association. He has authored and edited numerous books and articles, including Craft and Spirit: A Guide to the Exploratory Psychotherapies (Analytic Press, 2005) and Sensuality and Sexuality across the Divide of Shame (Analytic Press, 2007).

Frank M. Lachmann, Ph.D., is a founding faculty member of the Institute for the Psychoanalytic Study of Subjectivity, Training and Supervising Analyst, Postgraduate Center for Mental Health, and Clinical Assistant Professor at the NYU Postdoctoral Program in Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis. He has contributed over 100 articles to the journal literature, and is author of Transforming Aggression (Aronson, 2000), and co-author of Self and Motivational Systems (Analytic Press, 1992), The Clinical Exchange (Analytic Press, 1996), and Infant Research and Adult Treatment (Analytic Press, 2002).

James L. Fosshage, Ph.D., is past President of the International Association for Psychoanalytic Self Psychology; Cofounder, Board Director, and faculty member, National Institute for the Psychotherapies, NYC; founding faculty member, Institute for the Psychoanalytic Study of Subjectivity, NYC; and Clinical Professor of Psychology, New York University Postdoctoral Program in Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis. He has authored over 90 psychoanalytic publications, including 6 books. His most recent book, co-authored with Joseph Lichtenberg and Frank Lachmann, is A Spirit of Inquiry (2002).

About the Series

Psychoanalytic Inquiry Book Series

Like its counterpart, Psychoanalytic Inquiry: A Topical Journal for Mental Health Professionals, the Psychoanalytic Inquiry Book Series presents a diversity of subjects within a diversity of approaches to those subjects. Under the editorship of Joseph Lichtenberg, in collaboration with Melvin Bornstein and the editorial board of Psychoanalytic Inquiry, the volumes in this series strike a balance between research, theory, and clinical application. We are honored to have published the works of various innovators in psychoanalysis, such as Lachmann, Fosshage, Stolorow, Orange, Sander, Wurmser, Grotstein, Jones, Brothers, Busch, and Lichtenberg, among others. 

The series includes books and monographs on mainline psychoanalytic topics, such as sexuality, narcissism, trauma, homosexuality, jealousy, envy, and varied aspects of analytic process and technique.  In our efforts to broaden the field of analytic interest, the series has incorporated and embraced innovative discoveries in infant research, self psychology, intersubjectivity, motivational systems, affects as process, responses to cancer, borderline states, contextualism, postmodernism, attachment research and theory, medication, and mentalization. As further investigations in psychoanalysis come to fruition, we seek to present them in readable, easily comprehensible writing.

After 25 years, the core vision of this series remains the investigation, analysis and discussion of developments on the cutting edge of the psychoanalytic field, inspired by a boundless spirit of inquiry.

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Subject Categories

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