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Bacal, H.A. (1990). Does an Object Relations Theory Exist in Self Psychology?. Psychoanal. Inq., 10(1):197-220.

(1990). Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 10(1):197-220

Does an Object Relations Theory Exist in Self Psychology?

Howard A. Bacal, M.D.

The trouble with our theory [Self Psychology] is that we look at the self or personality to find out what it's like. We need to look at the relationship. That will tell us. Everything occurs in the context of a relationship.

—Ernest Wolf

As conceptualized by Kohut, self psychology is a distinct psychoanalytic theory of development and therapy. While I would essentially agree with this, I would also contend that it rests on an object relational foundation. In effect, a number of psychoanalytic perspectives that currently influence our clinical work anticipated it, and its central concepts are quintessentially “object relational.”

Although Kohut rejected the suggestion that significant antecedents of self psychology were to be found in the concepts of a number of British object-relations theorists (personal communication, 1978; see also Kohut, 1977, pp. xix-xxii), close study reveals many natural bridges between these theories of object-relations and self psychology (Bacal, 1987; Bacal & Newman, 1990).

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