• Classical and contemporary Freudians.
Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) created a model of the mind with a few basic theoretical assumptions: Psychic life is activated by the energy of two primal drives (in his first drive-theory the sexual and the self preservation drives; in his second drive theory life- and death-drive, or sexuality and aggression). These drives represent the body’s demands on the mind and make themselves known by eliciting wishes and needs that seek for the specific object to find satisfaction. The memory traces of these interactions (including the representations of important objects and relationships) structure the whole mind, building increasingly complex formations, which are eventually divided in three major sections. In his first topographic model Freud called the systems Unconscious, Preconscious and Conscious; in his second structural model he spoke of the Ego, Id and Super-Ego. The structures of the mind regulate the drives’ energies according to the (homeostatic) pleasure principle. Metapsychology is the theory of the mind that expresses psychic functions with regard to their dynamic (drives), economic (energies) and topic (structural) aspects.
• Sándor Ferenczi
(1873-1933) and the Budapest school of psychoanalysis stressed the importance of considering and recognizing real childhood traumatization, the specifics of the early mother-child relationship, and the impact of a “confusion of tongues” (a confusion between the child’s tender attachment and adult’s sexual needs), which severely impact the psychic development and later psychopathology. Ferenczi focused on the mutual, inter-subjective processes between patient and analyst, and on the exquisite role of the analyst’s honesty and internal work (self analysis) in the analytic encounter. More recently his work has been reappraised and became a new focus in French psychoanalysis as well as in the Relational School (see French Psychoanalysis and “Relational Psychoanalysis”, below).
Anna Freud (1895-1982), Heinz Hartmann (1884-1970) and others focused their attention on the working of the conscious and unconscious ego, its particular role in unconscious defences and their inhibitory effect on psychic processes. Hartmann postulated a conflict-free area of the ego that performs major tasks like awareness, motor control, logical thinking, speech, sensory perception and reality testing – all of them vital functions, which secondarily can be drawn into neurotic conflict. By systematically analyzing the patient’s defences, psychoanalysis aims at strengthening the ego in order to increase impulse control, conflict resolution and the capacity to tolerate frustration and painful affect. Hartmann added to the four Freudian metapsychological points of view the genetic and the adaptational aspect.
• Classical and contemporary Kleinians.
Melanie Klein (1882-1960) conceptualized early infancy as starting out with primitive impulses that are experienced within object relations. The inward-directed death-drive (see above) is experienced as an attacking force, eliciting persecutory anxieties and the fear of annihilation, which is located (projected) outside the self and leads to destructive impulses towards the frustrating object (bad breast) followed by the fear of retaliation. By contrast, the satisfying object (good breast) is idealized and protectively split off from the bad object. This first phase is called the paranoid-schizoid position, “PS”, characterized by splitting, denial, omnipotence and idealization as well as projection and introjection. The ego’s growing capacity for integration will lead to depressive anxieties that the destructive impulses have damaged the good object/breast and elicit the wish for reparation. This second phase is termed depressive position, “D”. Contemporary Kleinians recognized that these phases are not limited to infancy but form a continuous dynamic within the mind, the alteration PSD.
• The Bionian branch of the Kleinian School.
Winfried Bion (1897-1979), related to and departed from Freud and Klein and developed a new language for his theory of thinking. He introduced the idea that the infant’s mind first experiences an onslaught of raw sensory impressions and emotions, called beta-elements that don’t carry meaning and need to be evacuated. It is essential that the care-taking object (container) accepts these beta-elements (content), metabolizes and transforms them into alpha-elements, and feeds them back to the infant as such. The infant’s mind introjects them together with the transforming alpha function, thus building its own alpha-function, an apparatus capable of symbolizing, memorizing, dreaming and thinking thoughts; it also develops the concepts of time and space and allows for discrimination between the conscious and the unconscious. Psychic disturbances relate to disturbances in these basic functions of this apparatus for thinking.
• Winnicott’s branch of the Object-Relations Theory.
Donald Winnicott (1896 1971) laid out how the holding environment of a good-enough mother will enable the infant’s mind to create representations of self and other. In the intermediate space between infant and mother the child finds and creates what he calls a transitional object (safety blanket) that is and is not the mother. It is this intermediate or potential space between the subjectively conceived internal reality and the objectively perceived external reality that will remain available as an inner space for experiencing life, creating new ideas, images, fantasies and art, and forming the many features of culture. If the mother can empathically respond to the infant’s spontaneous gestures, the baby will build up the representation of a true self with the capacity to play and be creative. However, if the mother continuously misinterprets the infant’s gestures according to her own needs, the child’s true self will remain hidden under the shield of a false self that is put up to survive and can lead later in life to a sense of not being able to be real.
• French Psychoanalysis
has thrived in dispute with and delineation from Jacques Lacan (1901-81), and his ideas (the significance of language, the phallus, desire and the other, and his concepts of the imaginary, the symbolic and the [unattainable] real). His call for a return to Freud initiated a serious debate and elaboration of Freud’s core concepts, and ultimately established the primordial role of Freudian metapsychology in understanding the human psyche. This in turn was particularly fruitful in the advancement of a new conception of the seduction theory, the emphasis on the life- or death-drives, and the theory of narcissism in its various features. The recognition of the importance of drive theory yielded an emphasis on sexuality, subjectivity, the language of desire and the structural function of the Oedipus Complex, in particular with regard to the position of the third and thirdness. This then led to the idea of a tertiary process, in which unconscious (primary) and conscious (secondary) processes coexist and are creatively combined.
was founded in the United States by Heinz Kohut (1913-81), who focused on the individual’s sense of self in particular with regard to the development and regulation of narcissism. He stressed the necessary role of the care giving parent (and later the analyst) to empathically mirror the child’s self-states and allow for idealizing alter-ego/twinship-transferences, thereby supporting the child (the later patient) as a selfobject, until the child has internalized its regulating functions. Over the years Kohut came to reject Freud’s structural model of Ego, Id and Super-Ego as well as his drive theory and suggested instead his model of the tripartite self.
• Relational Psychoanalysis
, founded by Steven Mitchell (1946-2000) in the United States, rejects Freud’s biologically rooted drive theory suggesting instead a relational conflict-theory that combines real, internalized and imagined interactions with meaningful others. Personality derives from and is built of structures reflecting learned interactions and expectations with the primary care-givers. Since the individual’s primary motivation is to be in relationships with others, they will tend to recreate and enact these relational patterns throughout life. Psychoanalysis then consists of exploring these patterns and confronting them with what is spontaneously and authentically co-created in the psychoanalytic setting between analyst and patient.