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Laschinger, B. White, K. (2001). Stephen A. Mitchell 23 July 1946-21 December 2000. Brit. J. Psychother., 18(1):106-109.

(2001). British Journal of Psychotherapy, 18(1):106-109


Stephen A. Mitchell 23 July 1946-21 December 2000

Bernice Laschinger and Kate White

It is an immense honour to have been asked by the journal to write this obituary. The shock and sense of loss amongst the psychoanalytic community who knew Stephen Mitchell and his work, both here and, more particularly, in the United States, have been deeply felt. This we understand to be a reflection of the power, clarity and extraordinary humanity of his work which placed at its heart the mutually influencing relationship between analyst and analysand.

He was the leading member of a group of contemporary psychoanalysts identifying and shaping what has become known as the relational tradition in psychoanalysis. In the words of his colleagues from the journal he founded, Psychoanalytic Dialogues (Altmann & Messler Davies 2001):

His creative vision altered and expanded the landscape of psychoanalysis, infused it with energy and vitality, and changed the way we think, not only in psychoanalysis but also in related disciplines.

He was a training and supervising analyst at the William Alanson White Institute and supervisor and faculty member of the New York University Post Doctoral Programme in Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis. His many publications include Hope and Dread in Psychoanalysis (1993), Freud and Beyond (1995, with Margaret Black), and Influence and Autonomy in Psychoanalysis (1997).

One of Stephen Mitchell's most significant early contributions lay in the brilliant challenges which he made to the self-referential defences of a psychoanalysis which viewed itself as largely independent of its social, cultural and political context. Mitchell's contention was that theories do not exist in isolation: they belong to a particular time and place and exist and gain meaning in dialogue with each other. Just as we have no existence as people in isolation, we emerge from a matrix of relationships (without which the whole notion of individuation cannot have any meaning), so too with theories: they also emerge from a matrix of historical and cultural relationships from which they gain meaning.

This was evident from his first seminal work Object Relations in Psychoanalytic Theory which he co-authored with Jay Greenberg (1983). They argued that drive theory and the relational perspective were not alternative ways of viewing the same psychic experiences. They each represented radically different understandings of the human mind.

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