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Mitchell, S.A. (1999). Letter to The Editor. Contemp. Psychoanal., 35(2):355-359.

(1999). Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 35(2):355-359

Letter to The Editor

Stephen A. Mitchell, Ph.D.

Dear Editor,

I found the recent exchange between Jay Frankel and Irwin Hirsch on relational psychoanalysis vis-à-vis interpersonal psychoanalysis (Contemporary Psychoanalysis, October 1998) to be a dialogue of extremely high quality, mutually respectful, and thought-provoking. It brought up many associations and memories of my own. At one point (p. 502) Hirsch asserts that he considers me as both or either relational and interpersonal, but that I may not agree with this. He speculates that I “may prefer the relational designation” because “it represents a differentiation from some of the interpersonal tradition that is disagreeable to [me].” I would like to respond to this speculation.

Let me begin by noting that what I found most inspiring about this exchange was that Frankel and Hirsch both have an extremely rich, textured sense of what constitutes good analytic practice and that, as I read them, their views about this are nearly identical. For Frankel, “the patient can be authentically both child and adult … and the analyst's task becomes to engage and facilitate elaboration of all the patient's self-states within the therapeutic relationship” (p. 492). For Hirsch, the contemporary interpersonal blend of influences of Sullivan, Fromm, and Thompson (as well as Merton Gill) envisions “patient as child in need of protection versus patient as perceptive adult whose hidden strength is calling for permission to be released” (p. 508). Frankel calls this balanced view “relational” and contrasts it with the interpersonal tradition, which he finds more one-sided. Hirsch calls this balanced view “interpersonal” and contrasts it with some earlier interpersonal positions that he depicts as one-sided.

I've always considered myself an interpersonal psychoanalyst. The designation “relational” was added onto interpersonal (for reasons I will explain momentarily); I never thought of it as replacing it. So I believe that Frankel and Hirsch are both right — it is just a question of which aspects of the interpersonal tradition one wants to refer to by the term “interpersonal.”


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