Brief History of British Object Relations

The beginning of psychology centers around Sigmund Freud and Drive Theory. At the time of Sigmund Freud, there was much contention within the medical establishment to substantiate psychology as a legitimate medical practice. Freud’s theory was based significantly on the innate nature of the mind, specifically the “drives” that interact with the world: Id, ego, and superego. Freud worked mainly with adults, and projected his observations of the adult mind to the development of the child.

One of Freud’s students was Salvador Ferenczi, a brilliant psychoanalyst, who later began treating a depressed mother named Melanie Klein. At the time, she was a psychotherapist that was interested in learning more about Freud’s theories. Ferenczi encouraged Klein to begin to engage her thoughts, theories, and experiences with her own children. Klein then began to pursue her own analytic education, and began to write on her observations of children’s play as observations on the development of the mind. It was out of her first observations of child development that the theory of Object Relations was born.

As Klein’s theory of development began to take shape there was considerable backlash within the medical establishment because they conflicted with Freud’s Drive Theory. At the same time Melanie Klein’s theory was gathering interest, Anna Freud, the daughter of Sigmund Freud, was also releasing her theory of development, which was very much correlative to her father’s ideas. Over time, this created division within the medical establishment leading to three separate schools of thought: Kleinian theory, Freudian theory, and the Independents.

Prominient Figures in the Development of Object Relations

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Melanie Klein

She is called the mother of Object Relations Theory. Melanie Klein (1882-1960) was a Jewish, Austrian-born psychoanalyst who began analysis with Salvador Ferenczi and then later with Karl Abraham. She had originally sought psychoanalysis due to suffering depression following the birth of her children, and it was Ferenczi who encouraged her to further pursue a career in psychoanalysis. She was one of the first analysts to begin working with children, and it was out of her observation of children that offered the underpinnings of the mechanisms within Object Relations.

Some concepts of Klein:

  • Paranoid/Schizoid Position and Depressive Position
  • Projective Identification
  • Splitting

Further Exploration of Klein:

“Although Psychology and Pedagogy have always maintained the belief that the child is a happy being without any conflicts, and have assumed that the suffering of adults are the results of the burdens and hardships of reality, it must be asserted that the opposite is true. What we learn about the child and adult through psychoanalysis shows that all sufferings of later life are for the most part repetitions of those earlier ones, and that every child in the first years of life goes through an immeasurable degree of suffering.”

– Melanie Klein

Writings of Melanie Klein

Love, Guilt and Reparation: And Other Works 1921–1945, London: Hogarth Press.

The Psychoanalysis of Children, London: Hogarth Press.

Envy and Gratitude, London: Hogarth Press.

Narrative of a Child Analysis, London: Hogarth Press.

Wilfred Bion

Wilfred Bion, DSO (1897-1979), was a British Psychoanalyst, and considered by many to be one of the most revolutionary thinkers and contributors to psychoanalytic theory. He served in World War I as a tank commander, and in World War II as a psychiatrist working in groups of individuals with what at the time was called “Shell Shock”, now referred to as PTSD. He describes both of these experiences of war as formational to his understanding of psychic suffering and his thoughts on the structure of the human mind. He completed several analyses, the most notable being with Melanie Klein.

Some Concepts of Wilfred Bion:

  • Basic Assumptions in Group Dynamics
  • The Development of Thought
  • The “Grid” as a Model of Thinking
  • Alpha Elements, Beta Elements, and Alpha Function
  • Container/Contained
  • Love, Hate, and K

“Every session attended by the analyst must have no history and no future. What is ‘known’ about the patient is of no further consequence: it is either false or irrelevant. If it is ‘known’ by patient and analyst, it is obsolete….The only point of importance in any session is the unknown. Nothing must be allowed to distract from intuiting that. In any session, evolution takes place. Out of the darkness and formlessness something evolves.”

Wilfred Bion

Writings of Wilfred Bion

Bion has an extensive bibliography, beginning in 1940s (when Bion was in his 40’s), and extended until the 1980s, past his death. His most prominent writings were in the 1960s and 1970s, toward the end of his career but at the peak of his creative thought. Some of those prominent writings are listed here:

Bion, W. R. (1961). Experiences in Groups, London: Tavistock

Bion, W. R. (1962a). A theory of thinking, International Journal of Psycho-Analysis

Bion, W. R. (1962b). Learning from Experience, London: William Heinemann.

Bion, W. R. (1963). Elements of Psycho-Analysis, London: William Heinemann.

Bion, W. R. (1965). Transformations. London: William Heinemann

Bion, W. R. (1967a). Second Thoughts, London: William Heinemann.

Bion, W. R. (1967b). Notes on memory and desire, Psycho-analytic Forum, vol. II n° 3 (pp. 271 – 280).

Bion, W. R. (1970). Attention and Interpretation. London: Tavistock Publications.

Bion, W.R. (1982). The Long Weekend: 1897-1919 (Part of a Life).

Herbert Rosenfeld

Herbert Rosenfeld (1910-1986) was a Jewish, German-born Psychoanalyst who immigrated to the United Kingdom in 1936 due to Nazi persecution. First attempting to practice as a medical doctor, he was denied due to UK regulations limiting the number of foreign doctors, but was told there was a need for psychotherapists. He then began training at the Tavistock Clinic in London. He completed his training analysis with Melanie Klein, and went on to work alongside Wilfred Bion, Hanna Segal and others in developing post-Kleinian thought. His specialty was in working with Schizophrenic patients, and this experience was foundational in developing concepts for working with hard to reach patients.

An interesting note, one of the founding members of COR, Austin Chase, completed his training analysis with Herbert Rosenfeld.

Some Concepts of Rosenfeld:

  • States of Depersonalization and Confusion
  • The role of Trauma in Narcissistic Organization
  • Destructive Narcissism

Writings of Herbert Rosenfeld

Rosenfeld, H. (1947) ‘Analysis of a schizophrenic state with depersonalisation’, International Journal of Psychoanalysis. 28: 130-139; republished in Psychotic States. Hogarth Press (1965).

Rosenfeld, H. (1950) ‘Note on the psychopathology of confusional states in chronic schizophrenia’, International Journal of Psychoanalysis. 31: 132-137; republished in Psychotic States. Hogarth Press (1965).

Rosenfeld, H. ( 1964) ‘On the psychopathology of narcissism: A clinical approach’, International Journal of Psychoanalysis. 45: 332-337; republished in Psychotic States. Hogarth Press (1965).

Rosenfeld, H. ( 1971a) ‘A clinical approach to the psycho-analytical theory of the life and death instincts: An investigation into the aggressive aspects of narcissism’, International Journal of Psychoanalysis. 52: 169-178; republished in E. Spillius (ed.) Melanie Klein Today, Vol. 1., Routledge (1988).

Rosenfeld, H. (1971b) ‘Contribution to the psychopathology of psychotic states: The importance of projective identification in the ego structure and the object relations of the psychotic patient’, in P. Doucet and C. Laurin (eds.) Problems of Psychosis. Amsterdam: Excerpta Medica.

Rosenfeld, H. (1987) Impasse and Interpretation. Tavistock.

Hanna Segal

Hanna Segal (1918-2011) was a Jewish, Polish-born Psychoanalyst who immigrated to the United Kingdom in 1940 to escape Nazi persecution. While in the UK, she began her medical training and met Ronald Fairbairn. It was Fairbairn who introduced Segal to Melanie Klein. She began her medical training working at Paddington Children’s Hospital as well as working with Polish soldiers suffering from mental illness during World War II. She completed her training in psychoanalysis at the Tavistock Clinic when she was 27 years old, and had her training analysis with Melanie Klein. She later came to develop foundational concepts in the field of child psychoanalysis, work with psychotic patients, and in the area of aesthetics.

Some Concepts of Hanna Segal:

  • The Psychoanalytic aspects of Aesthetics
  • Psychotic Process

Further Exploration of Hanna Segal:

“All creation is really a re-creation of a once loved and once whole, but now lost and ruined object, a ruined internal world and self. It is when the world within us is destroyed, when it is dead and loveless, when our loved ones are in fragments, and we ourselves in helpless despair—it is then that we must re-create our world anew, reassemble the pieces, infuse life into dead fragments, re-create life.”

Hanna Segal

Writings of Hanna Segal

Segal, H. (1964) Introduction to the Work of Melanie Klein. Heinemann; republished by Hogarth Press.

Segal, H. (1979) Klein. Fontana.

Segal, H. (1986) The Work of Hanna Segal: Delusion and Artistic Creativity and other Psycho-analytic Essays. Free Association Books.

Segal, H. (1991) Dream, Phantasy and Art. Routledge.

Segal, H. (1997) Psychoanalysis, Literature and War. Routledge.

Segal, H. (2007) Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow. Routledge.

Donald Meltzer

Donald Meltzer (1922-2004) was born in New Jersey, later studying medicine at Yale University, and then Albert Einstein College. He entered into the United States Air Force as a Child Psychiatrist, and was able to arrange his posting to London, UK because of his interest in Melanie Klein, with whom he began an analysis. He later had his adult cases supervised by Herbert Rosenfeld, and child cases supervised by Betty Joseph, Ester Bick, and Hanna Segal.

Meltzer loved horses, where he bred and tended them at his family farm near Oxford.

Some Concepts of Donald Meltzer:

  • Describing the Analytic Process
  • Aesthetic aspects of Psychoanalysis: Psychoanalysis as an Art
  • Working with Autism and autistic states of mind

Further Exploration of Donald Meltzer:

Writings of Donald Meltzer

Meltzer, D. (1967) The Psychoanalytical Process. Heinemann.

The relation of anal masturbation to projective identification’, International Journal of Psychoanalysis. 47:335-342.

Meltzer, D. (1975) Explorations in Autism. Clunie Press.

1976 Harris, M. and Meltzer, D. ‘A psychoanalytical model of the child-in-the-family-in-the-community’, first published by United Nations Organization of Economic and Cultural Development. First published in English in Hahn, A. (ed.) Sincerity: Collected papers of Donald Meltzer. Karnak, 1994.

Meltzer, D. (1978) The Kleinian Development. Clunie Press.

Harris Williams, M. and Meltzer, D. (1988) The Apprehension of Beauty: the role of aesthetic conflict in development, art and violence. Clunie Press.

1992 Meltzer, D. (1992) The Claustrum. Clunie Press.

Ester Bick

Ester Bick (1902-1983) was a Jewish, Polish-born Psychoanalyst who had first gained a doctorate in Vienna prior to the beginning of World War II. Facing Nazi persecution, she became a refugee to the United Kingdom. Subsequently, nearly all of her extended family died in concentration camps during the war. While in London she began an analysis with Michael Balint (famous for the Balint Group), and then later had an analysis with Melanie Klein. Along with John Bowlby, she started the child psychotherapy training program at the Tavistock Clinic, and it was here that her practice of Infant Observation became central to analytic training in British Object Relations.

Contributions of Ester Bick:

  • Originated Infant Observation as a part of analytic training
  • Known for being an exceptional observer of child dynamics and as a very engaging teacher

Writings of Ester Bick

“Notes on Infant Observation in Psycho-Analytic Training”, The International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 1964, vol. 45, no. 4, p. 558–566.

Bick, E. (1968) Experience of the skin in early object relationships. In International Journal of Psychoanalysis, Vol 49. pp. 484-486.

Betty Joseph

Betty Joseph (1917-2013) was an Anglo-Jewish Psychoanalyst who was from Birmingham, United Kingdom. She began her career as a social worker, and then developed an interest in psychoanalysis, going into analysis with Michael Balint. Known for being a dynamic and engaging teacher and supervisor, she paid particular focus on the area of psychic reality, and the analyst’s struggle and evasion of bearing reality.

Contributions of Ester Bick:

  • The Analysis of the Psychoanalytic Process
  • Psychic Equilibrium

Further Exploration of Betty Joseph:

I have never understood how I moved from being a really, really bad analyst, to being a decent enough analyst…I feel the most important thing [in becoming an analyst] is to have a sense for the truth. To have a real sense for the truth, in relation to yourself.”

Betty Joseph

Writings of Betty Joseph

Joseph, B. (1999) Psychic Equilibrium and Psychic Change: Selected papers of Betty Joseph. Routledge.

Harold Searles

Harold Searles (1918-2015) was an American Psychoanalyst, born in the mountains of New York, who became known for advances in the analytic treatment of schizophrenia. Attending Cornell and then Harvard, where he received his doctorate in medicine, he then served as a Captain in World War II, and then subsequently coming to work at Chestnut Lodge, a residential psychiatric institution near Washington D.C. It was here that he made many of his observations in the analytic work with schizophrenic patients.

Contributions of Harold Searles:

  • The role of countertransference in analytic interpretations, particularly negative countertransference
  • The role of nonhuman environment in analytic treatment

Further Exploration of Harold Searles:

“My hypothesis has to do with something far more fundamental…I am hypothesizing that the patient is ill because, and to the degree that, his own psychotherapeutic strivings have been subjected to such vicissitudes that they have been rendered inordinately intense, frustrated of fulfillment or even acknowledgement, and admixed therefore with undue intense components of hate, envy, and competitiveness. They have thus been subjected to (or maintained under, from the outset of consciousness) repression. In transference terms, the patient’s illness is expressive of his unconscious attempt to cure the [therapist].”

Harold Searles

Writings of Harold Searles

Searles, Harold F. (1960): The Nonhuman Environment in Normal Development and in Schizophrenia. New York

Searles, Harold F. (1965): Collected papers on schizophrenia and related subjects. New York: International Universities Press, ISBN 0-8236-0980-4

Searles, Harold F. (1979): Countertransference and Related Subjects; Selected Papers. New York: International Universities Press, ISBN 0-8236-1085-3

Searles, Harold F. and Langs, Robert (1980): Intrapsychic and Interpersonal Dimensions of Treatment. A Clinical Dialogue. New York: Jason Aronson

Searles, Harold F (1986): My Work With Borderline Patients, New York: Jason Aronson, ISBN 1-56821-401-4

Ronald Fairbairn

Ronald Fairbairn (1889-1964) was a Scottish Psychoanalyst widely considered to be the “father” of Object Relations theory. Coming from a Christian family background, he first began his education studying Divinity and Greek. With the start of World War I, he served as an engineer and served in an artillery unit, and with the end of the war decided to pursue psychiatry as a career. His first analysis was with E. E. Connell, also a Christian. He then began his own analytic practice and and engaged the writings of Freud and Jung. A contemporary of Klein, he was very interested in her thinking, and both Fairbairn and Klein influenced each other in the development of an object relations perspective. Practicing for many years removed from British social circles, he began to cultivate his own ideas that diverged from the Drive Theory model, and described a model that held the human drive for relationship as central to psychic development.

Contributions of Ronald Fairbairn:

  • Relational/Structural Model for the development of the mind
  • Schizoid personality
  • The Independent School of thought in psychoanalysis

Some Writings of Ronald Fairbairn

Fairbairn, William Ronald Dodds (1952). Psychoanalytic Studies of the Personality. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. ISBN 0-7100-1361-2.

Donald Winnicott

Donald Winnicott (1896-1971) was a British Pediatrician and Psychoanalyst who came to widely influence the development of Object Relations Theory as a part of the Independent school of thought. Studying medicine prior to World War I, he served on a battleship as a medical officer. Following the war, he returned to his medical training, completing his medical degree in 1920. He then began working as a pediatrician at a children’s hospital while also beginning a psychoanalysis with James Strachey (a translator of Freud into English), and then later an analysis with Joan Riviere (also a translator of Freud). Winnicott rose in prominence during the conflict between the Kleinians and Freudians, ultimately landing as a part of the Middle Group (or Independent School). Known for many writings, he also hosted popular BBC radio broadcasts during the 1940s and 1950s that talked about parenting and childhood.

Contributions of Donald Winnicott:

  • True Self/False Self
  • Holding
  • Transitional Object
  • The “Good Enough” Mother

Further Explorations of Donald Winnicott:

Some Writings of Donald Winnicott

Winnicott, D,W., Clinical Notes on Disorders of Childhood (London: Heinemann, 1931)

C. Britton and D. W. Winnicott, “The problem of homeless children“. The New Era in Home and School. 25, 1944, 155-161

Winnicott, D.W., Getting To Know Your Baby (London: Heinemann, 1945)

Winnicott, D.W.,The Child and the Family (London: Tavistock, 1957)

Winnicott, D.W.,The Child and the Outside World (London: Tavistock, 1957)

Winnicott, D.W., Collected Papers: Through Pediatrics to Psychoanalysis (London: Tavistock, 1958)

D. W. Winnicott, “Ego distortion in terms of true and false self,” in The Maturational Process and the Facilitating Environment: Studies in the Theory of Emotional Development. New York: International UP Inc., 1965, pp. 140–152.

Winnicott, D. W. (1960). “Counter-transference“. British Journal of Medical Psychology. 33 (1): 17–21.

D. W. Winnicott, Playing and Reality (Penguin 1971)

James Grotstein

James Grotstein (1925-2015) was an American Psychoanalyst who was significantly responsible for the development and expansion of Kleinian ideas in the United States. A hospital corpsman in World War II (at the age of 19), he then later pursued his Doctorate in Medicine at Western Reserve University and eventually his analytic training at LAPSI in California. He went through analysis and supervision was Albert Mason, and most prominently, with Wilfred Bion. Known for endless energy and enthusiasm in his work, he was influential in engaging dialogue between Kleinian and Freudian schools of thought within the United States and the World.

Contributions of James Grotstein:

  • Explaining and Expanding on Wilfred Bion’s concepts
  • Integrating and linking different concepts within various analytic traditions

Further Explorations of James Grotstein:

“Dreams, fables, legends, myths, and/or phantasies are the lost primal tongue of imagery that has dominated the preverbal life of infants. They washed away the tears of grief and care and preserved the innocence of the infant. They subsequently submerged and surrendered to the overlord of word symbols, but they can still be located in the nether world of our being as our “silent service”, imagistically licking our wounds and being at our beck and call for all our rites of passage and wrongs at the hands of circumstance.”

James Grotstein