Course Descriptions

Applying Self Psychology and Intersubjective Systems Theories to the Therapeutic Process: 
An Overview

This course offers a preview of some of the essential ideas that guide, ground and enliven a contemporary self psychological approach. Some of the concepts we explore include the centrality of the therapeutic relationship, the healing potential of rupture and repair and the workings of mutual influence in a therapeutic partnership.

An Intersubjective Systems Perspective on Transference and Countertransference

Intersubjective systems theory posits that a therapeutic relationship focuses on the interplay between the differently organized experiential worlds of patient and therapist.  We will study these theoretical ideas of Robert Stolorow and his collaborators along with rich clinical material that captures and demonstrates the practice of therapeutic healing as an experiential process co-created by therapist and patient.

Dream Images and Sandplay:  Explore the Wonder of Nonverbal Communication

Explore the wonder of nonverbal communication, using dream images and sandplay.  This course will discuss Kohut’s concept of the “self state” dream.  It will also cover current contributions to dream interpretation and meaning, all viewed through a self psychological lens.  To reveal the power of nonverbal communication that uses images, candidates will have the opportunity to experience sandplay first hand.

Challenging Therapy:  Creative Approaches for Working with Conflicts, Impasse and Aversive Interaction

Self psychology theory developed largely through Kohut’s work with “difficult” patients.  This course will explore the ways in which working intersubjectively in a challenging therapy dyad can lead to growth and healing for both patient and therapist.  Readings include such issues as shame, aggression, dissociation, conflict and the effect of early trauma in both patient and therapist.

Speechless: Interactive Influence Beyond Words

In this course we will explore the evidence pointing to the irreducibly relational nature of human beings. From birth until death we communicate our intentions and, most significantly, our feelings, even without the benefit of language. Readings will range from studies of implicit interactive influence as revealed in infancy research experiments, mirror neuron discoveries and clinical papers illustrating the power of the implicit in psychoanalytic psychotherapy with verbal patients.

A Self Psychological/Relational View of Trauma

This course will explore the literature on trauma, focusing on the impact traumatic experience has on the patient’s sense of self and on his/her experience of others.  We will focus on how these effects manifest themselves in the treatment situation.  The role of the therapist’s subjectivity in relation to trauma, as it interacts with the patient’s, will be addressed.  Clinical material will be used to enrich discussions of the readings.

Empathy: Its Meanings and Clinical Applications

In this course, we will study the different meanings of the term, empathy, within psychoanalysis and self psychology and consider the clinical applications and implications of these meanings. We will begin by reviewing Kohut's definitions of empathy as a mode of observation and a quality of relatedness and see how he applied these understandings in various clinical situations.  Then, we will consider how other espousers of empathy, such as Evelyne Schwaber, systematically apply an empathic approach to the clinical process and what the impact of this approach can be.  We also will study how contemporary self psychologists such as Richard Geist and Frank Lachmann have expanded the concept of empathy to include the use of self-disclosure and the centrality of co-construction. Finally, we will compare self psychological definitions of empathy with conceptions proposed by other relational writers, such as Sandra Buechler, and debate if and how these contrasting conceptualizations might be integrated.  Overall, students will be encouraged to apply all these understandings of empathy to their clinical work so they can enrich it.

Applying What We’ve Learned

As the last class in our two-year sequence, these sessions will review and clarify the major concepts of therapeutic processes from a self-psychological/intersubjective systems theory viewpoint.  We will also look at termination issues both in analysis and in the here and now of the class.