Relations therapy

The therapist in classical psychoanalysis is a metaphorical archaeologist (Spence,1972), digging up the hidden past and asking the client to deal with this unconscious material, calling for a resolution of psychosexual conflicts. The therapist of ego analysis, according to Erikson’s theories focuses the individual upon their own ability to triumph over psychosocial dangers within life (Hjelle and Ziegler,1985). Minsky states, “…most modern psychoanalysis or psychoanalytic therapy, is fundamentally concerned with the idea of persuading the client to recognise their own power” (Minsky,1996), revealing the individual’s power and contemporary psychoanalysis’ concern with the present as the past.

Interpersonal therapy, alongside ego analysis, focuses less upon the biological forces classical psychoanalysis favours and more on social factors (Pervin,1993). This variation of Freudian theory is different from ego analysis, however, as it places strong emphasis upon the relationships with others as opposed to concentrating on ‘the self’. Harry Stack Sullivan introduced the theory of interpersonal psychiatry, moving away from Freud’s intrapersonal approach to an interpersonal one. Like Erikson, Sullivan created a strong connection between society and human development and concluded that important stages in development existed beyond Freud’s Oedipus complex (Pervin,1993).

Interpersonal therapy chooses a more optimistic change, than that of classical psychoanalysis, using an individual’s relationship with others as a model to analyse and treat neuroses. Karen Horney, a traditional analyst who turned to a more interpersonal and social approach, created three neurotic trends: moving toward, moving against and moving away. These three trends arise when an individual attempts to cope with anxiety and all relate to the individuals perception of themselves in relation to others (Pervin,1993). Horney chose to differ from Freud and commented, “When we realise the great import of cultural conditions on neuroses, the biological and physiological conditions, which are considered by Freud to be their root, recede into the background” (Horney,1937,p).

Interpersonal therapy places importance upon the early mother-child relationship in terms of development of both anxiety and the growth of ‘the self’ (Pervin,1993). Sullivan also accepted the relevance of relationships in preadolescence and their influence upon anxiety and self esteem. It is thought be child psychologists that, upon reaching preadolescence, children become extremely concerned with their reputation and social acceptance to the extent that childhood relationships with peers equal in importance with the mother-child relationship (Lewis et al.,1975).

Relationships are also considered in object relations theory. “The term ‘object relations theory’ can be quite loosely applied to indicate any approach which focuses on the relationships between the developing ego and the ‘objects’ (people or parts of people) with whom it comes into contact” (Frosh,1987,p.274). The therapeutic process in object relations differs from that of classical psychoanalysis since instinct is not the determining factor.

The focus is upon relationships; how they are acquired, how they are contained and how they affect the individual. The purpose of object relations therapy is, in Guntrip’s words “replacement therapy”, where bad objects are replaced with good ones (Guntrip,1973). The therapist’s aim is to provide a relationship where ‘frozen parts’ of the self are unlocked and a rebirth takes place where the patient is opened up to the outer world. Object relations theory, like classical psychoanalysis, places the parent at the centre. However, object relations is concerned more with pre-oedipal life and the mother-child relationship, as opposed to the father, to whom Freud gave precedence.

Object relations therapy, like classical psychoanalysis, deals with the unconscious experiences the conscious has repressed. Object relations therapy calls for a close analyst/client relationship and dictates a greater stress on the therapeutic relationship, which creates a “holding” environment (Winnicott,1958,1965), where childhood experiences and relationships are examined. Freudian theory of early childhood was constructed from an analysis of adults; even Freud’s case study of Little Hans was based largely upon the father’s shorthand notes about everyday conversation with his son (Freud,1909). Melanie Klein, an object relations theorist, chose a more direct approach. Klein worked with Freud’s model of anxiety but eventually modified it through development of a more therapeutic analysis of children. Freud had been very suspect in attempting to work directly with children but Klein produced a successful case study of a child under five (Klein,1932).

In his work on Little Hans, Freud subtly analyses the boy’s behaviour in terms of his play. Freud hints that Hans’ acting out the loading of packages onto carts was his display of knowledge of his mother’s approaching pregnancy (Freud,1909). Klein used Freud’s analysis of an eighteenth month old playing with a cotton reel (Freud,1920) as a model for her development of a tool to discover the workings of the infant mind. This she called play technique and used extensively for her modifications of Freudian theory (Hinshelwood,1998).

In conclusion, classical psychoanalysis has provoked a number of questions, debates and criticisms. It has also stood as a firm building block for it’s contemporary variations, three of which have been discussed. Psychoanalysis was founded in an attempt to discover the cause, symptoms and treatment for the dislocation of social fact and psychological construct (Mitchell,1995). Freud was avid to determine “…the possibility that there could be powerful mental processes which nevertheless remain hidden from the consciousness of man” (Freud,1935,p.29).

Early in his career, 1909 to be exact, Freud commented that, “…a psychoanalysis is not an impartial scientific investigation, but a therapeutic measure. Its essence is not to prove anything, but merely to alter something” (Freud,1909,p.246). Indeed, Coulter refers to the evaluation of schizophrenia as unreliable and explains, “…diagnosis in this field cannot be governed by strict rules (Coulter,1973,p.13).

Classical psychoanalysis has influenced other more flexible forms of therapy, such as child analysis and ego analysis. Indeed, there are an innumerable number of theories, which have derived from Freud’s original theory that can be attributed to classical psychoanalysis in different ways. The history and the future of psychoanalysis, therefore, it is characterised by a battle. Not only does psychoanalysis attempt to reveal and treat the unconscious battle within the self, but it is itself plagued with the battle amongst its multitude of theories.


Bernstein,D.A., Clark-Stewart,A., Roy,E.J., Wickens,C.D. (1997) Psychology New York: Houghton Mifflin Company Coulter (1973) Flax,J. (1990) Thinking Fragments, Brekeley, CA: University of California Press Freud, S. (1909) ‘Analysis of a phobia in a five year old boy’, in James Strachey, ed. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, 24 vols. Hogarth Press, 1953-73

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