SELF PSYCHOLOGY, MOTIVATIONAL SYSTEMS THEORY AND RELATIONAL PSYCHOANALYSIS

Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalysis proposed that our own unique mix of biologically determined sexual and aggressive impulses drove behavior and mental processes. In his view, psychological adaptation (mental health) reflected:

  • Effectively managing these impulses within the constraints of reality and morality;
  • Progressing through what he called psychosexual stages of development without trauma;
  • Using defense mechanisms in a flexible manner to ward off the ubiquitous and dangerous (if left unchecked) impulses.

Initially trained in the Freudian (classical) tradition, renowned psychoanalyst Joseph Lichtenberg came to be strongly influenced by Heinz Kohut’s Self Psychology, especially it’s more positive outlook about humanity rather than Freud’s negative outlook – that we are all one step away from quivering protoplasm, should we not have the capacity to get our impulses met appropriately.

Self Psychology is a theory based on normal development, and focuses in the psychoanalytic relationship on repairing developmental arrests through therapists’ exquisite empathic attunement to patient needs that were thwarted earlier in life to provide a corrective emotional experience. As used here, empathy means attending to “how it feels to be the subject rather than the target of the patient’s needs” (Schwaber, 1979 (p. 472)). This attitude requires analysts to have considerable skill in optimal responsiveness: deft perspective shifting; precise use of language; attentiveness to both their own and patients’ nonverbal and prosodic behavior. It also prizes the analyst’s ability to validate a patient’s strengths and basic worth (the mirror transference), to provide a model of competence, wisdom, and efficacy (the idealizing transference), and to give a sense of belonging by acknowledging shared experiences or personal characteristics (twinship transference). Perhaps, the most important aspect of Self Psychology as a psychoanalytic approach is the developmental focus on each patient’s growthful strivings or desire to use learned experience to adapt in a more satisfying way to life’s challenges.

Motivational Systems Theory is Lichtenberg’s pathbreaking conceptualization of what makes us behave and think the way we do moment-to-moment, based on empirical, scientific, observational research with mothers and infants. (In his view, watching infants interact with the world generally, and others specifically, provides a relatively veridical window on the basic drivers of human behavior, as babies have yet to experience many moments that might mask or rein in fundamental motivational systems). Identifying these drivers is no mere academic exercise. Rather, knowing about them provides analysts with the conceptual and observational tools to relate with the kind of precise empathic attunement that through the therapeutic alliance can advance each patient to develop an integrated, consolidated, and adaptive sense of self.

Lichtenberg advanced psychoanalytic metatheory beyond Freud’s dual-drive (sex/aggression) model, and identified the following motivations that humans display in interacting with others, each with their own discrete affects, intentions, and goals:

  • Physiological regulation;
  • Attachment;
  • Environmental exploration/assertion;
  • Aversion;
  • Sensual/sexual;
  • Affiliation
  • Caregiving.

Relational Psychoanalysis is a distinctly American conceptual approach that examines interpersonal transactions in real time between analyst and patient, as well as how the templates each person brings to an interaction, based on learned and internalized with significant others, impact moment-to-moment relational process. As such, it eschews Freud’s dual-drive model for understanding behavior and mental processes, and instead the analyst focuses primarily on interpersonal relationships patterns and in particular attending empathically to: ongoing physical and emotional regulation; rupture and repair sequences; heightened affective moments.

My psychoanalytic approach draws on the conceptual tools of humanistic psychology, interpersonal psychology, Personal Construct Psychology and Theory, and the traditions of Self Psychology, Motivational Systems Theory, and Relational Psychoanalysis.

  • Humanistic Psychology provides grounding in humility, the belief in human goodness and each individual’s potential, and the idea that while my relationship with every patient is asymmetrical (they are paying me for my professional competence), we are both human beings, and my job is to help unlock potential and adaptation.
  • Interpersonal Psychology and the Structural Analysis of Social Behavior (SASB) model gives me a roadmap to understand why each patient’s characteristic interpersonal style makes sense, given their learned experience, and the attendant wishes for and fears about attachment to significant others they experience.
  • Personal Construct Psychology and Theory guides me in identifying and exploring what I have called the geodesic dome of constructs that each patient uses to make sense out of, organize, and predict interpersonal experience.
  • Self Psychology reinforces the primacy that precision, empathic attunement plays both in helping each patient consolidate an integrated and vital sense of self as well as put the spotlight, once again, on one’s growing edge rather than pathology per se.
  • Motivational Systems Theory provides me a number of lenses through which to recognize mix of affects, intentions, and goals each patient displays especially in problematic interpersonal moments, awareness of which enhances my capacity for empathic attunement and optimal responsiveness.
  • Relational Psychoanalysis both reinforces interpersonal psychology concepts but emphasizes precise awareness in interaction with each patient on ongoing physical and emotional regulation, rupture and repair sequences, and heightened affective moments that form the texture of any meaningful psychoanalysis.

As a psychoanalyst, I am committed to helping explicate in a comprehensive manner the inner narrative of patients, co-journeying with them to understand how come the narrative makes sense given their learned experience, and develop theoretically informed hypotheses about what each one needs to cultivate their personal tendrils of growth. This method is particularly useful for:

  • Patients who seemed not to have been helped by approaches focused on immediate “symptom” removal (e.g., cognitive-behavioral therapy or behavior therapy);
  • Patients who are interested in an approach that may help them re-write their inner narrative – i.e., what they say to themselves about why they are having currently experienced problems in living – and construct a more cohesive sense of self and personal identity;
  • Patients who have reached the midpoint in life and are financially/professionally prosperous, but experience an inexplicable and disturbing lack of focus, excitement in living, and vitality.

 

 

References

  • Beebe, B., & Lachmann, F. M. (2002). Infant research and adult treatment: Co-constructing interactions. Hillsdale, NJ: Analytic Press.
  • Beebe, B., & Lachmann, F. M. (2014). The origins of attachment: Infant research and adult treatment. New York: Routledge.
  • Beebe, B., Knoblauch, S., Rustin, J., & Sorter, D. (2005). Forms of intersubjectivity in infant research and adult treatment. New York: Other Press.
  • Kohut, H. (1971). The analysis of the self. New York: International University Press.
  • Kohut, H. (1977). The restoration of the self. New York: International University Press.
  • Kohut, H. (1982). Introspection, empathy, and the semi-circle of mental health. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 63, 395-407.
  • Kohut, H. (1984). How does analysis cure? Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Lichtenberg, J. D. (1989). Psychoanalysis and motivation. Hillsdale, NJ: Analytic Press.
  • Lichtenberg, J. D., Lachmann, F. M., & Fosshage, J. L. (1992). Self and motivational systems: Towards a theory of psychoanalytic technique. Hillsdale, NJ: Analytic Press.
  • Lichtenberg, J. D., Lachmann, F. M., & Fosshage, J. L. (1996). The clinical exchange: Techniques derived from self and motivational systems. Hillsdale, NJ: Analytic Press.
  • Lichtenberg, J. D., Lachmann, F. M., & Fosshage, J. L. (2002). A spirit of inquiry: Communication in psychoanalysis. Hillsdale, NJ: Analytic Press.
  • Lichtenberg, J. D., Lachmann, F. M., & Fosshage, J. L. (2011). Psychoanalysis and motivational systems: A new look. New York: Routledge.
  • Lichtenberg, J. D., Lachmann, F. M., & Fosshage, J. L. (2017). Narrative and meaning: The foundation of mind, creativity, and the psychoanalytic dialogue. New York: Routledge.
  • Schwaber, E. (1970). On the ‘self’ within the matrix or analytic theory – some clinical reflections and reconsiderations. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 60, 467-479.
  • Tolpin, M (2002). Chapter 11. Doing psychoanalysis of normal development: Forward edge transferences. Progress in Self Psychology, 18,167-190.

Using these conceptual tools, my mission is to help you fulfill The Prime Directive: Why does it make sense that I am having these set of problems with these people in those situations right now in my life, and what can I do to be more effective and satisfied in these relationships?