Object Relations, Transference and Containment

Term: Spring 2012

Subject Code: GPSY

Course Number: 6324

 Object relations theory explores various ways in which the development of the self emerges out of the internalization of relationships with significant others. Although the origins of object relations theory can be traced to the writing of Freud and such colleagues as Sandor Ferenczi and Karl Abraham, the true pioneers of object relations theory were British psychoanalysts such as Melanie Klein, Ronald Fairbairn and Donald Winnicott. Of these three, Klein has had perhaps the deepest and most widespread influence on clinical thinking. Klein began her work as a child analyst, and her early encounters with child patients ultimately led to a fascination with what she came to see as the powerful and primitive underpinning of all psychic life. She attempted to develop a vision of human experience which accounted for a range of mental states, from normality and health all the way to the more severe forms of depression and psychosis. As part of this process she addressed the common human miseries of depression, envy, rage, loneliness and suspiciousness. Klein’s thinking has a clinically rich and deeply intuitive quality to it but her writing can be obscure, unsystematic and dogmatic. Nevertheless, Klein and postKleinian thinkers as Herbert Rosenfeld, Elizabeth Spillius, Betty Joseph, John Steiner, and especially Wilfred Bion have made extremely important contributions our understanding of working with "hard to treat" patients and therapeutic impasses.

In the first portion of this seminar, we will work together to make theoretical and clinical sense of Klein’s work with the assistance of two different interpretations (or reinterpretations) of Klein. The first was published in the mid-eighties by the American analyst, Thomas Ogden. The second, and more recent interpretation was published in 2001 by the British analyst, Meira Likierman.

In the second portion of this seminar we will focus on the highly influential concept of containment that was developed by Wilfred Bion, arguably the most important postKleinian theorist. The concept of containment has proved to be extremely helpful for deepening our clinical understanding of working with therapeutic impasses, and managing unbearable states of mind which emerge for both patients and therapists. As is the case with many aspects of Kleinian and postKleinian thinking, however, discussions of concept of containment can tend towards obscurity. We will thus explore various ways of thinking about the process of containment that are consistent with mainstream psychological thinking and are and are both theoretically rigorous and clinically meaningful.


 Selected papers from Melanie Klein (to be e-mailed)

Ogden, T. (1990). The matrix of the mind: Object relations and the psychoanalytic dialogue. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson.

Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson.

Likierman, M. (2001). Melanie Klein: Her work in context. London: ContinnumLondon: Continnum

London: Continnum

Cartwright, D. (2010). Containing states of mind. Exploring Bion’s container model in psychoanalytic psychotherapy. New York: Routledge. New York: Routledge.

New York: Routledge.








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