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Gill, M. (1995). Classical and Relational Psychoanalysis. Psychoanal. Psychol., 12(1):89-107.

(1995). Psychoanalytic Psychology, 12(1):89-107

Classical and Relational Psychoanalysis

Merton Gill, M.D.

Several of the authors in this special section have emphasized that the heterogeneity of the contending theories poses a difficulty in discussing them. But none of the articles tackles the distinctions among the several theories head on. Neither will I. In broadest terms, the opposition is between the mainstream of classical analysis and some variety of object relations theory. As for classical theory, a distinction is made between past classical and contemporary theory. As for object relations theory, distinctions are made among English object relations, Kleinian, interpersonal, and relational theories; some authors class self psychology as a relational theory as well. It is relational theory, as opposed to classical theory, that is primarily discussed.

Relational theory is discussed almost entirely according to the views of its foremost proponent, Stephen Mitchell. I see relational theory as an offshoot of interpersonal theory. A discussion of how the two differ would be useful, but it would carry me away from my present purpose. I will say, however, that my reading of Herbert Zucker's (1989) article differed from Mitchell's. Mitchell (1993) said that Zucker's article “has an extremely narrow way of delineating the interpersonal perspective, making it incompatible with any theorizing about what is traditionally termed the ‘intrapsychic”’ (p. 478). On the contrary, I read Zucker's article as arguing that the intrapsychic is too narrowly defined in relational theory. Zucker likened relational and classical theory in that they both overemphasize a single motivational factor, object relations in relational theory and drive in classical theory. Zucker also believed that the emphasis on the reality of the analyst–analysand interaction is underplayed in relational theory as it is in classical theory regarding the overemphasis on psychic reality in both of them. However that may be, my discussion is essentially confined to the opposition between classical and relational theory.

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