Peter Jay Stein, MD, MA
kohut's bridge: a tipping point at a fulcrum of psychoanalytic disequilibrium
Within the last 30 years, psychoanalytic theory and practice have reorganized themselves, manifesting a rapid sequence of changes in frames of reference. In the language of Complexity Theory (Coburn, 2007), multiple "tipping points" are evident, consistent with the principles of non-linear (LARGE CHANGES GENERATED BY SMALL DIFFERENCES, IN THE ABSENCE OF CLEAR CAUSAL CHAINS (THELEN, 2005, P. 261), dynamic (THE STATE OF THE SYSTEM AT ANY TIME DEPENDS ON ITS PREVIOUS STATES AND IS THE STARTING POINT FOR FUTURE STATES" (ibid., p. 262), systems theory, "...[whereby] Patterns take form within a dynamic system through the intercoordination or cooperative interaction of its elements, following a trajectory unforecastable from any one element..." (Stolorow, Atwood, Orange, 2002, p. 92).
Analagous to Blanck and Blanck's 'fulcrum' of development (1994), described as a critical hurdle during Mahler's rapprochement subphase, Self Psychology, Intersubjectivity, and Complexity Theory have evolved in rapid succession, each tipping an intellectual fulcrum towards greater complexity.
Freud's objectivist, deterministic position yields to Winnicott's, then Kohut's empathic interactions, which, in turn catalyzes an intersubjectivist and contextualist growth spurt, with the unraveling of Cartesian duality, i.e. the separation of mind from body.
No sooner is there recognized the patient's subjectively-felt, lived experience, reciprocally embedded in relation to the psychotherapist, during whch time infant research begins to reveal heretofore unknown modes of mother-infant, bi-directional communication (Stern, Beebe, Lachmann, Ruth-Lyons), that complexity theory affirms a grander notion: a multi-dimensional, self-organizing, self-regulating, open, adaptive, non-linear, dynamic systems theory, characterized by unpredictable, spontaneously emerging, relational configurations, of greater complexity.
Heinz Kohut, MD (1913-1981), the founder of Self psychology, played a crucial role in weakening the Freudian impasse. A distinguished scholar steeped in classical, Freudian drive theory, Kohut transcended the "trailing edge" of Freud's powerful legacy, in which he was embedded, to introduce an appealing new language of subjective experience, characterized by the "selfobject": "...the experience of impersonal functions provided by another - as part of the self..." (from www.selfpsychology/psychoanalysis.org). Kohut introduced a vision of the individual, not grounded in innate biological drives, but in one's interdependent need for feeling known, valued, and recognized in the eyes and mind of another.
Kohut could no longer deny his own experiences while remaining loyal to the mechanistic Freudian stance and language, in which he had formerly been extraordinarily enmeshed, his former priorities aligned with maintining the drives as the prime organizers of the Self.
Confronted with his observations furnished by vicarious empathic introspection, pursuing the developmental lines of the "Self", Kohut felt compelled to yield to a language of subjective experience, of subjective 'truths', which requires analytic sensitivites toward a different emphasis in the treatment relationship, i.e., an empathic acceptance of the patient's specific needs that were now not deemed pathological, but simply unfulfilled, unaddressed, or dismissed by the patient's earlier caregivers.
Psychoanalysis could now begin to shift away from its authoritarian, adverserial (Wachtel, 2007, p. 179) stance, that the psychotherapist is the neutral observer who is the purveyor of "reality", thus challenging the positivistic notion that "...empirical validation [is] the ultimate adjudicator of psychoanalytical truth..." (Mitchell, Black, 1995, p. 228). It is through Kohut that clinicians have reformulated their role in the therapeutic encounter. Building on Kohut's insights, Self psychologists (Ornstein, A., & P.), and Intersubjective authors (Stolorow, Atwood, Brandchaft, Orange), through the 1980's and 1990's, have elaborated on reciprocal roles played between patient and psychotherapist, i.e., the mutual, co-creation of meaningful experience. Stern, Beebe, Lachmann, and Jaffe pursue the structure of relatedness, itself, in the microanalysis of dyadic mother-infant action sequences, validating bi-directional interactive regulation as the foundation of human communication, keys to understanding therapeutic action.