Development of the Object Relations Clinical Theory &
the Object Relations Institute
The Object Relations Institute for Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis was founded in 1991, at a time when the critical
clinical teachings of the British school of theory and clinical practice was greatly lacking in all psychoanalytic institute
curriculums in New York City, and in the U.S. as a whole. Some of the clinical and developmental “truths” that we
accept today, which were first articulated by the British Object Relations Theorists, were beyond the ken of American
Psychoanalysts, and were lacking in the education that was taking place in the psychoanalytic institutes. Some of these
“truths” pertain to the primacy of mother-infant relations and mother-infant internalizations in the shaping of each
individual personality, although the acceptance of Margaret Mahler’s work became one avenue to acknowledge this truth.
Unfortunately, Mahler’s work did not explore anything more primitive than the achievement of symbolic level internalizations,
called “introjects” by American theorists such as Mahler and Jacobson—neglecting the whole rich realm of internal world
relations, and especially in relation to dynamic visceral internal objects and part object visceral and cognitive enactments.
Another “truth” that was highlighted in the work of the British theorists was the critical role of trauma in the evolution
of character disordered individuals (also called “personality disorders”), who suffered arrests in development during the
first and three years of life, pre-dating the function of a differentiated, separate, and integrated self. The British theorists
each in their own way, responded to the more primitive mental states seen in character disorders, and in all those who fail
to achieve the symbolic level of functioning seen in neurotics (and “normal-neurotics”). This would include all those arrested
in Melanie Klein’s paranoid-schizoid position where projective-identification dominates over interpersonal or intersubjective
relations, or where D. W. Winnicott’s “false self” dominates over “mature dependence,” or Ronald Fairbairn’s “immature
dependence” dominates over “mature dependence." The British theorists worked actively with trauma, such as Ronald
Fairbairn, D. W. Winnicott, Michael Balint (“the basic fault” and “primary love,” not primary narcissism), John Bowlby,
Wilfred Bion, and Melanie Klein worked with the effects of trauma on preoedipal paranoid-schizoid position psychic arrests,
where part object angels and devils, and breasts and penises, dominate over whole objects, who are three-dimensional
people with perceived subjective and differentiated feeling states.
Another “truth” neglected by the more classical theorists was that of the profound involvement that is necessary on the
part of psychoanalytic clinicians in order to contain and actively process the split off initial self and object enactments
that have been frozen in time (from earliest infancy or toddlerhood within each individual), and which then are projected into
the analyst. When this happens, psychoanalytic psychotherapists experience reactions that need processing and assimilation.
Only by processing such reactions can the clinician bring the patient’s primal, reenacted, psychic arrests, into conscious
mental relief, through that which eventually can become symbolic level communications. And yet prior to interpretations,
when clinicians are dealing with split off psychic phenomena (related to parts of the self and parts of the primary attachment
object) clinicians need to know how to be a “container” in Wilfred Bion’s sense of the term. They need to be able to be
involved to the extent of actively experiencing what is being provoked them, while also gradually succeeding at containing
this phenomena within the treatment situation so that it can be consciously expressed and symbolized in the psychoanalytic
clinician’s mind. This leads to the clinician’s capacity to articulate and convey the nature of the patient’s split off internal
world enactment to the patient.
In other words, from Melanie Klein’s initial concept of projective-identification as a fantasy (or the British “phantasy”), grew
a whole realm of clinical technique in which clinicians countertransference experience of a patient’s projective-identifications
(or higher level projections), as spoken of by Melanie Klein’s follower, Paula Heinman, could be processed so as to inform the
patient of his compulsive primal re-enactments. Racker’s work on primary countertransference as split off self and object
components of the patient’s initial world thus come into play. D. W. Winnicott’s views of a “holding environment” also
comes into play in containing countertransference phenomena such as that referred to in Winnicott’s paper, “Hate in the
Countertransference.” Wilfred Bion’s more explicit views of the analyst as a psychologically active container, who is
processing the patient’s split off experience.
Given all this, a new curriculum was needed to help psychoanalytic clinicians to process what split off experiences of their
patients were being played out in the “transitional space” (or “potential space”) world between the analyst and patients, as
spoke of by D. W. Winnicott, and also within the psychoanalyst’s internal world and psychic experience (see Thomas Ogden,
1986). Deriving a curriculum from the British Theorists allows clinicians to appreciate the profound engagement that is
necessary with patients, even if this profound engagement is more internal than interpersonal. Such engagement stands
in stark contrast to the detached attitude of clinical psychoanalysts that could often use “neutrality” as an excuse for their
detachment. It also speaks to a model of psychic involvement that is distinctly different than any contrived psychoanalytic
stance, such as the “analytic attitude” or the “empathic stance” of self psychology.
The Object Relations Institute curriculum remains an in-depth course of education in the contributions of the British Object
Relations Theorists to the practice of psychoanalytic psychotherapy and object relations psychoanalysis. Along with studying
Freud, who was the first object relations theorist, when in 1917, in “Mourning and Melancholia,” he spoke of “the shadow of
the object falling upon the ego” (i.e., the shadow of the parent’s personality falling on the child who is forced to identify with
that parent and to internalize that parent), we study each of the major British theorists: Melanie Klein, D. Winnicott, Ronald
Fairbairn, Sandor Ferenczi, Wilfred Bion, Michael Balint, and Hanna Segal and Betty Joseph of the neo-Kleinians. Full courses
are devoted to studying the writings and clinical theory of each of these theorists, and in sharing how it applies to our current
clinical work. Then we have courses that include such current Object Relations theorists as Althea Horner, Thomas Ogden,
James Masterson, Margaret Mahler, Jeffrey Seinfeld, and the French theorists, Joyce McDougall. We also have courses on
dreams and infant researchers, such as Donald Stern, that highlight the object relations development of each individual
through the primary dyad of mother and infant. In addition, the Object Relations Institute teaches the work of the American
Object Relations theorist, Susan Kavaler-Adler, who has an international reputation for her books and articles that relate
to integrating British and American theory for clinical work, and which also relate to her unique theories of psychic change
through “Developmental Mourning” and psychic arrest in the form of the “Demon Lover Complex,” and its underlying
pathological mourning state. Dr. Kavaler-Adler draws on the psychoanalytic foundations of Sigmund Freud and Melanie
Klein in her understanding of how mourning is a fundamental process of psychic development and psychic change.
Freud spoke of “normal” mourning in relation to the pathological mourning state of the melancholic. In doing so he introduced
the importance of mourning as a critical psychological process, of “letting go of the old and opening to the new,” that
could be arrested when aggression was turned inward against the self, and repressed, creating a state of pathological mourning.
Freud was limited in his view of mourning as a psychological process, relating it to individual bereavement and disappointment,
without seeing it as fundamental to psychic change and development. But he did go beyond the grief of bereavement, seeing
mourning in relation to disappointment. However, Freud did not see how aggression could be consciously re-owned in order
to create a mourning process where aggression is processed rather than turned inward as an arresting factor. Melanie Klein,
however, in “Mourning and It’s Relation to Manic Depressive States” does clarify how aggression ca be a fundamental part of
the mourning process, allowing for developmental progress in psychic development as opposed to aggression remaining
repressed and split off, or turned inward, which blocks psychological development. Melanie Klein, also, unlike Freud, truly sees
the potential for personality development to evolve through mourning, and indicates how mourning is a fundamental clinical
and developmental process. Without Freud’s paper on “Mourning and Melancholia,” Klein’s paper on “Mourning and Its Relations
to Manic Depressive States” might never have been written. Klein’s contribution to the understanding of how significant the
capacity to tolerate the grief of loss, and guilt allows us today to see how self integration and separation-individuation
(Margaret Mahler) are simultaneously achieved, opening up the transitional space or “potential space” (D. W. Winnicott)
that allows for interpersonal relatedness, intersubjectivity, empathy, mutuality, interiority, intrapsychic dialectic and
interpersonal dialogue, and self reflection.
Dr. Kavaler-Adler’s theories of “Developmental Mourning” versus the pathological mourning of “The Demon Lover complex”
draws on this primary theory of Freud and Klein, while also demonstrating through extensive clinical cases, as well as through
the psychological study of women artists and writers, how mourning plays out as the critical psychic change process, when the
transformation of aggression is viewed as a critical part of that psychological transformation process. Her contributions to the
psychoanalytic literature in the field are extensive, and her teaching in the Object Relations Institute include portions of her
original clinical demonstrations of mourning as a developmental process versus splitting of aggressive self and other constellations
that cause psychological arrest.
Consonant with all these highly clinically relevant studies in the theory of clinical work in the object Relations Institute courses
are the Group Supervision classes that are experience by students (candidates in training throughout the course of their
studies at ORI). Group supervision is a continuing course with a teacher who takes an interest in each student throughout
their training at ORI. This accompanies individual supervision in the certificate programs in psychoanalytic psychotherapy
and in psychoanalysis. The group supervisor, which is fundamental to the one year program as well as to the psychoanalytic
candidates’ program, was first initiated as part of the core curriculum at ORI by Dr. Robert Weinstein, who helped Dr. Susan
Kavaler-Adler found the Object Relations Institute in 1991 (State chartered in 1993). Dr. Weinstein’s focus on objective and
subjective countertransference, and his use of the group supervision to hold and contain the development of the candidates
in training through group process, are still with us. Today, Harriet Wald’s and Susan Kavaler-Adler’s focus on each student’s
use of herself to process the experience of the patient as it is enacted on or with the analyst allows for our supervision groups
to focus on “The Analyst as Instrument.” Today the group supervision continues to be a place for the discussion of the
therapist’s experience of each patient through projection and projective-identification, and also is a place where containment
of the student’s anxieties and concerns are possible through group discussion along with the group supervision’s teacher.
Advisors assigned by the Training Committee also allow for the containment of the anxieties and needs of students through
individual discussion, focusing exclusively on each student.
The Object Relations Institute features an Annual Workshop Series and Conference, as well as Open House Meetings for
prospective candidates. Our faculty and founders are always available to answer any of your questions. We encourage
you to contact us at (212) 268-8638 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Click & Watch the 5-minute Professional Video of the ORI's 2010 Annual Conference on Psychoanalysis & Spirituality!
Click & Watch the 5-minute Professional Video of the ORI's 2009 Annual Conference on Eroticized Demonic Object!
New: Introduction to the Object Relations Clinical Theory and Technique with Dr. Kavaler-Adler (part 1)
Introduction to the Object Relations Clinical Theory and
Technique with Dr. Kavaler-Adler (part 2)
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