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Glassman, M. (1988). Kernberg and Kohut: A Test of Competing Psychoanalytic Models of Narcissism. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 36:597-625.

(1988). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 36:597-625

Kernberg and Kohut: A Test of Competing Psychoanalytic Models of Narcissism

Marc Glassman, Ph.D.


Over the past ten years the problem of validating psychoanalytic theory has received increasing attention from psychoanalysts and nonpsychoanalysts alike. Yet, very little research responsive to this question of validation has been produced. During this same period one of the most fertile controversies in contemporary psychoanalysis reached its peak—the Kernberg-Kohut debate concerning the nature of narcissism. However, for the lack of a validation strategy, this debate has become increasingly sterile, degenerating to a theoretical stalemate at this point.

This paper addresses the problem of validation by using causal modeling as a mechanism for empirically testing many of the claims of these competing models of narcissism. Although the data provide empirical support for both theories, strategic comparisons tentatively suggest that Kohut's self psychology is more parsimoniously explained as a special case of Kernberg's ego psychology-object relations theory.

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