A History of Analytic Theory

How are ideas born? It can only be according to the vicissitudes of perspectives according to culture. Unfortunately in science and politics, one generation’s revolution is the next generation’s orthodoxy (Gopnik, Mletzoff & Kuhl, 1999). It might be that personality creates a theory that is nurtured by culture. If this were the case, a new personality would destroy the old theory to create the new, according to and accepted by culture. Another view might be that theory grows from the seeds of the culturally obvious and necessary, which is then propagated by personality. From either perspective, theory might pursue a collection of different paths before arriving at seemingly the same place. The etiology of the breaking and emerging of theory, at this first level of contemplation, might have more historical significance than theoretical or clinical. Regardless of etiology, some hope and others fear that science might wipeout what we know about psychological theory.

In the history of psychoanalysis, Adler’s movement away from the dominant personality of Freud and Kohut’s split from the even more powerful Freudian legacy might be useless in the context of postmodern era, and an absurd waste of time with regard to empirical science. If this is the case, my goal is to examine what we can learn from psychoanalytic history—the breaking away from drive psychology, a revolt against the “divine” of Freud as the father and towards a new knowing the self. If, however, we have urgent questions related to power and truth in our modern era, or if there is evidence of modern theory failure, then our lens moves beyond the trees towards an overall birds eye view from atop the forests of not only psychoanalytic theory but of other theoretical movements. We might be surprised by what we can learn from the past.

How can we understand new theory? Human response might start with denial, as we will see with Freud’s reply to Adler, or the rigid resistance similar to how the traditionalist treated Kohut. Even our revolutionaries fall into this trap. One eyewitness, a traditional psychoanalyst, recalled a comment made by Kohut during a group discussion about Harry Stack Sullivan’s publication, “What is new in this theory is not good, and what is good is not new (Giovacchini, 2000).” Perhaps a more optimistic reframing of coming and going of theory came from the words of T.S. Elliot—“We shall not cease from exploring, at the end of exploration we will return to where we started and know the place for the first time.”

Ideas related to the integration of theoretical models considered to be “grand narratives”, are inspired by the movements within contemporary psychoanalysis (Teicholz, 1999). We can only try to grasp these narratives in space and time. In the spirit of Teicholz’s (1999), “it is the questioning that I am calling the postmodern (p.4)”, I will attempt to find parallels between Adler and Kohut, as both moving away from the powerful hierarchy of the biological determinism of Freud. The disclaimer, unfortunately, is that even they did not own the truth. Therefore, I will also try to embrace Freud’s structuralism as culturally relevant in today’s shifting selfobject milieu. Like Teicholz, I will attempt to hold on to the “old” of Freud, Adler, and even Kohut, with the intent of finding integration into the “new” rhetoric of postmodernism. It should be stated, however, that a system without truth fails itself and therefore truth cannot come from psychological theory. Thus, we shall consider the self in the context of religion.

Shifting the intention of our perspective, back and forth from tree to forest, I will attempt the following: 1. Consider the historical and theoretical significance of the break from the traditional psychoanalytic model; 2. examine the similarities between Adler and Kohut as an ego psychology of the self; 3. propose a conceptualization of Adler’s masculine protest as an example of a vertical split in a social field; 4. suggest a need for structural models, while being mindful of the dangers of theoretical rigidity, in a postmodern world; 5. consider the future self influenced by faulty selfobjects from a cultural and Christian paradigm.

Historical Signifigance

Considering that psychoanalysis was in an infant stage during the early part of the 20 th century, Adler’s break from the hierarchy of libidinal drives could have been less complicated than Kohut’s departure from the traditional model. If the attention directed toward psychoanalysis at the turn of the century was more of cultural trend, offsets of analysis similar to Individual Psychology of Adler probably would not have grown due to the limitations of modes of communicating (i.e., print, translation, and circulation). Political xenophobia and the eventual rise of Nazism attempted to destroy great Jewish ideas from the likes of Freud and Adler. Thereby nothing would be lost by metaphorically jumping ship of Psychoanalysis in its early stage. Adler might have tried to strike while the iron was hot. Kohut, at the apex of analysis in the 1960’s and 1970’s in America, broke away from a challenged but established theory and clinical modality. From this perspective, the exact opposite could have been true— Adler’s break may have been considered more complicated than Kohut’s, because psychoanalysis lacked a historic narrative, such that there were no guarantees for a triumphant new movement.

Regardless, the success of Adlerian psychology, with philosophical roots of James, Dewy and Nietzsche, was its pragmatism and value for individual perspective. (Apperzeptionsschema). Known mostly for his proposition of aggression as a separate drive by analysis—which was at first rejected by Freud but eventually the father of psychoanalysis adopted and shaped a similar theory with the introduction of the death instinct—Adler’s theory has more depth than he is credited for. Adler’s 1907 publication of A Study of Organ Inferiority and its Physical Compensation, is strikingly similar to Kohut’s initial break from psychoanalysis. His introduction of the organ inferiority was grounded in biological rhetoric and difficult to differentiate from the preexisting sexual theory of Freud. Whereas the publication focused on the psychological compensation according to a perceived deficit, his lectures to the Wednesday Psychoanalytic Society where Adler served as president, remained tied to a sexual etiology (Handlbauer, 1996). When the rift between Adler and Freud began after the Nuremberg Conference in 1910, before the final break in January of 1911 after Carl Jung collaborated with the Freud, Adler shifted his focus towards the compensation and the apprehension of individual experience, which he named Individual Psychology. A theory was born.

Apart from Freud, Adler was able to be open about the subjective experience of the individual and intentional movement in life. He was completely free from deterministic drive theory. On his last lecture tour, from the United States to Europe in 1937, Adler tended to focus on the progress of man as a social being (Hoffman, 1994). He postulated the importance of the investigation into the “goal directed life style” of the “creative self.” Phenomenology was an important aspect of Individual Psychology theory because Adler was strongly influenced by Hans Valihinger’s fictional “as if” concept (Ansbacher, 1964). Unfortunately, most of the psychoanalytic community missed this point, as evidenced by Stephen Mitchel’s Hope and Dread in Psychoanalysis, (1999) in which he tended to focus on Adler’s aggressive drive theory.

Like a new fashion trend, Adler’s theory gained momentum from followers, first in Europe and then the United States. Although certainly riding the coattails of Freud, unlike his predecessor Adler presented a practical picture of man trying to find a place of responsibility in areas of work, love, and friendship. His Individual Psychology emphasized “social interest” for the common person, as opposed to the social elite of Freudian psychoanalysis. The social responsibility ideology, founded in his Jewish roots, also drew comparison to Christianity (unfortunately Adler denied his Jewish faith when in the United States) inspiring interest in the United States during a Calvinistic theological movement. Superiority and the concept of the “life task” resonated with the Ford assembly-line work automobile industry in America. Historian, Warren Susman went as far as calling the 1920’s and 1930’s the “age of Adler,” because the theory worked for the politically conservative upper-middle class (Zaretsky, 2004). But there were other interested demographics. Adler’s masculine protest and social interest message mirrored socialism-Marxist policy (his wife was a social communist and described as an early feminist), and the demand for socialist agenda in underground movements in Europe. Most of the existential psychologist identified Adler as an important influence (Hoffman, 1994)

Initially, Freud was cautious but receptive to Adler’s ideas. As long as his pupil’s ideas were based on sexuality, they could be considered as additions, not detractor to his theory. The identification of the ego as the “I” (das Ich) seemingly fit into his structural model. Freud’s concept of repression worked with the hiding of inferiority feelings, proposed by Adler. However, Freud was concerned about what appeared to him to be less significant pieces. He was very clear that psychoanalysis was a gender neutral model, and that superior aggression was no more significant than the desire to be passive and submissive. When the conflict between the two intensified in 1910, Freud suggested in his letters to Fliess, said that the new theory was a projection of Adler’s own paranoia and resistance to the psychoanalytic association hierarchy. This would seem understandable as the society seemed intensely competitive as members either moved towards or away from Freud. Adler’s “paranoia” matched Jung’s “brother complex” and Frenizi’s “father complex.” The complexity of this masculine narcissistic-relational dynamic was captured eloquently in Eli Zaretsky’s recent publication, Secrets of the Soul: a Social and Cultural History of Psychoanalysis (2004). The dynamics described back in the beginning of the 20 th century Vienna, resembled the narcissistic idealizations and injuries highlighted by Strozer (2001), near the end of the century in Chicago. In Vienna, Freud stood in the center of power, while in Chicago it was Heinz Kohut who was crowned the king.

With his position as president of the International Psychoanalytic Association and his strong relationship with Anna Freud in jeopardy, Kohut assumed a prodigious career risk with his departure from traditional psychoanalytic theory. Like Adler, the departure was slow at first in The Analysis of the Self (1971/2001), such that he tended to hold to traditional psychoanalytic language and drive theory. However, his illness and impending death may have served as a frantic catalyst, as he stepped outside of the powerful lines of analytic playing field. With The Restoration of the Self (1977), it was clear that Kohut was pushing a completely new movement for psychoanalysis. This time the new birth was Self Psychology.

Kohut’s work was described as both courageous and ironically narcissistic. Giovacchini (2000) said that Kohut demonstrated a brash arrogance with colleagues, and apathy towards the traditional theory. According to his scathing review of Kohut, self psychology was a new leader’s conceited effort to be crowned as the “modern day Freud.” Kohut, Giovacchini said, simply described the old in a new language. He attacked Kohut’s essential concepts by calling them invalid. There were other critics prior to Giovacchini. Although Kohut said that he was unfamiliar with Winnicott’s work, Self Psychology resembled the British analyst’s theory in many important ways—including the parent-child relational dynamic and a child’s omnipotence fantasy (Winnicott, 1971). Throughout his twilight years, Kohut was forced to defend the authenticity of his theory.

Chad Alcorn, Psy.D.

Co-Founder