Psychoanalysis, Attachment, and Spirituality Part II: The Spiritual Stories We Live By

By Hall, Todd W. | Journal of Psychology and Theology, Spring 2007 | Go to article overview

Psychoanalysis, Attachment, and Spirituality Part II: The Spiritual Stories We Live By


Hall, Todd W., Journal of Psychology and Theology


Psychoanalysis and attachment theory both developed independently as relational traditions within the confines of their own disciplinary walls (see Hall, 2007, this issue). While both traditions were "doing their own thing," in relative ignorance of the other, several other revolutions were occurring that turned out to pave a bridge that was already being built between these two theoretical highways. Recent developments in neuroscience, emotion research, and narrative approaches to human experience have helped to construct this bridge, suggesting that we are hard wired for two fundamentally distinct forms of knowing, one of which exists in storied form. In this article, the second of a two-part series in this special issue, I discuss the rapprochement between these two relational traditions. Following this, I highlight what may capture the common relational metapsychology underlying these converging traditions--a theory of implicit relational meaning--and its implications for "minding" the spiritual stories by which our clients live.

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Until relatively recently, attachment theory and psychoanalytic communities have tended to ignore each other, creating a somewhat artificial divide between two theoretical frameworks that share a number of foundational assumptions. In recent years, the rift between the trajectories of attachment theory and psychoanalysis has begun to converge toward relationality, notwithstanding continued differences. This convergence is evident in developments within each theoretical tradition, as well as in recent trends toward interdisciplinary theory building. In all these areas, we see that both theoretical traditions are moving toward a common relational metapsychology--the fundamental idea that personality is structured around implicit relational meanings that are represented in a storied form in our minds.

Convergence Within Psychoanalysis

Contemporary psychoanalysis has evolved toward an increased emphasis on the centrality of relationships. As I briefly highlighted in part I of this series (Hall, 2007, this issue), psychoanalysis took a turn toward relationality in the 1940's and 50's with the work of Fairbairn (1952), Balint (1965), and Winnicott (1958, 1965, 1971) among others. This British "middle school" of object relations spawned several lines of relational theory within psychoanalysis, sometimes referred to loosely as "relational psychoanalysis." This is a broad group of relational theories that includes, among others, object relations theory, interpersonal psychology developed by H.S. Sullivan (1953), self psychology developed by Heinz Kohut (1971, 1977) and theories of intersubjectivity (e.g., Stolorow & Atwood, 1992).

Greenberg and Mitchell (1983), in their landmark book Object Relations in Psychoanalytic Theory, were instrumental in providing a degree of synthesis and cohesion to the growing confusion in this tradition. Many splinters of relational theories were developing, often times couched in the language of drive theory making it difficult to discern the underlying vision of human nature. Greenberg and Mitchell argued that underlying the many theories, two metapsychologies existed: the drive/structure model and the relational/structure model. Ultimately, they argued, all theories fall on one side of the divide or the other. While there were attempts to combine concepts from the two models, the two metapsychologies represent fundamentally incompatible visions of personality. Thus, Greenberg and Mitchell made a cogent case that under the surface of the varied relational theories, a broad relational model exists.

Notwithstanding this broad relational model, many different relational theories continued to abound, often times claiming comprehensive status, even though they typically emphasized a narrow slice of personality (Mitchell, 1988). In a later work, Relational Concepts in Psychoanalysis, Mitchell (1988) presented an integrative relational theory, further articulating his version of this broad relational model. …

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