Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Theology

Psychoanalysis, Attachment, and Spirituality Part I: The Emergence of Two Relational Traditions

Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Theology

Psychoanalysis, Attachment, and Spirituality Part I: The Emergence of Two Relational Traditions

Article excerpt

Two broad relational traditions emerged in post-Freudian psychoanalysis: a broad group of relational theories, represented by Fairbairn's (1952) object relations theory, that remained within the field of psychoanalysis, and John Bowlby's attachment theory, that split off from psychoanalysis. Both of these traditions emerged simultaneously, predominantly in the 1940s, and developed in parallel in virtual isolation from each other. In this article, the first of a two-part series in this special issue, I outline the emergence of these two traditions, how each has been applied to the psychology of religion and spirituality, and their implications for "minding" our clients' spirituality (Sorenson, 2004). In the second article of the two-part series, I discuss 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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In the history of psychoanalytic theory, we can trace two broad relational traditions that split off from Freud's "drive/structure model." One tradition can be traced through the transitions of ego psychology to the many strands of the "relational/structure model," such as object relations theory, that proliferate today (Greenberg & Mitchell, 1983). Some theorists in this line of theory, such as Margaret Mahler and Rene Spitz, struggled to graft new relational concepts onto the drive/structure model, while others, such as W.R.D. Fairbairn, developed an entirely new relational metapsychology. Fairbairn's theory of object relations, along with several other key theories, formed the foundation for the development of relational psychoanalysis by contemporary theorists. This new relational paradigm within psychoanalysis led to new ways of thinking about spirituality, and new ways of "minding" our clients' spirituality (Sorenson, 2004) in the consulting room.

At the very same time that Fairbairn was developing his theory in Scotland in the 1940s, John Bowlby began developing another relational tradition that split off from Freud's drive/structure model--what is now the field of attachment theory. Attachment theory also led to new perspectives on thinking about and approaching our clients' spirituality. For a myriad of reasons--to which we will return--attachment theory developed along an independent, although in many ways parallel, theoretical trajectory as that of the relational/structure model. For years, these relational cousins were estranged from each other. They developed in separate sociopolitical groups of academicians, each with their own language, training programs, journals, and conferences. In recent years, however, we have seen a rapprochement between these two lines of theory, partly spurred on by major developments in affective neuroscience and narrative psychologies in the past several decades. These turns on the psychoanalytic and attachment roads have had significant implications for our sensibilities in understanding and working with our clients' spiritual stories. A synthesis of these theoretical developments forms the foundation for a common relational metapsychology--for a theory of implicit relational meaning--that has far-reaching implications for our understanding of spirituality (Hall, 2004).

In this article and the second in this two-part series (Hall, 2007, this issue), I have both a specific and a broad aim. My specific aim in the present article is to provide a brief historical context for how these two theoretical traditions developed independently, and what each has to offer us in understanding our clients' spirituality. (1) In the spirit of this special issue's focus on case studies, I offer brief case examples to illustrate several points. In the following article, I will highlight how these two traditions have converged in recent years, and some recent developments in neuroscience and narrative approaches to human experience that suggest that we are hardwired for two fundamentally distinct forms of knowing, one of which exists in storied form. …

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