Editorial: Personality Matters: A Special Issue in Honor of Sidney J. Blatt

By Shahar, Golan; Zohar, Ada et al. | The Israel Journal of Psychiatry and Related Sciences, October 1, 2007 | Go to article overview
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Editorial: Personality Matters: A Special Issue in Honor of Sidney J. Blatt


Shahar, Golan, Zohar, Ada, Apter, Alan, The Israel Journal of Psychiatry and Related Sciences


Abstract: This special issue in honor of Sidney J. Blatt includes a collection of articles written by his Israeli friends, colleagues and former students. Blatt, a professor of Psychology and Psychiatry at Yale University, a senior psychoanalyst at the Western/New-England Psychoanalytic Institute in New Haven, Connecticut, and a world-renowned clinician, theoretician, and investigator, has made an invaluable contribution to the understanding of personality processes in development, psychopathology, and the therapeutic process, as well as to Israeli clinical psychology and psychiatry. Articles in this special issue relate Blatt's work to the author's findings regarding mental representations of self-and-others, suicide and self-destructive behavior, depressive personality styles, adolescent development, personality assessment, and evidence-based treatment. An interview with Blatt, and his response to the articles in his honor, conclude this special issue.

There are two good reasons to launch this special issue in honor of Sidney J. Blatt: one is more conceptual in nature, the other particularly pertinent to the Israeli situation. The more conceptual reason is that the theoretical and empirical work of Blatt, extended over more that five extremely productive decades, teaches us about the formidable role of personality processes in normal development, psychopathology, and the outcome, and process, of mental health treatment, both psychological and pharmacological. In an era in which biological psychiatry on the one hand, and the focus on brief, manualized psychotherapies on the other hand, dominate our profession, Blatts legacy serves as a crucial reminder that it is the person, with her particular way of making sense of herself and the work around her, who suffers, is the one who needs help, and is the one who will ultimately respond - or not - to our interventions. Without taking the person into account, our conceptualization of mental suffering and its treatment runs a serious risk of being highly reductionistic, and therefore erroneous and ineffective. In contrast, incorporating theory and research on basic personality processes purports to increase markedly our understanding of the multi-causal nature of psychopathology, and to the employment of person(ality)-sensitive procedures for assessment and treatment.

In particular, Blatt's theory and research promise to sensitize the clinical practitioner-researcher to the key role played by mental representations of self and others in the (dis)regulation of cognition, affect and behavior, as well as to individual differences in the emphasis people place on interpersonal relatedness vs. self-definition and self-esteem. As compellingly demonstrated in a host of research findings (see, for instance, 1), maladaptive and incoherent mental representations of self-and-others, or object relations, predispose individuals to a host of adaptation problems and to severe psychopathology, and restrict these individuals' ability to gain from treatment. Conversely, essentially positive, albeit realistic, coherent, and psychologically flexible representations bolster normal development and serve as a resource during treatment (2). Related to his theory and research on mental representations, Blatt's theory of interpersonal relatedness and self-definition demonstrates compellingly that our lives are woven around the need to secure warm, close, stable and supportive interpersonal relatedness, combined with the need to establish a positive, clearly delineated sense of self. An overemphasis on one of these psychological vectors at the expense of the other leads to anaclitic-dependent and introjective-self-critical personality organizations, which in turn predispose individuals to specific psychopathological constellations and distinct responses to treatment (3-5).

The second reason to launch a special issue in honor of Sidney J. Blatt is his steadfast support of Israel in general and of Israeli clinical psychology and psychiatry in particular.

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