The Internal World and Attachment (Book Review)

Author:  Goodman, Geoff
Publisher: Hillsdale, NJ: Analytic Press, 2002
Reviewed By: Sharon Grostephan, Winter 2005, pp. 37

Geoff Goodman has written a substantial comparative study on the similarities and differences between attachment theory and object relations theory. He contends that they can enrich each other and “in cooperation, form a comprehensive theory for understanding the development of the internal world–the world of motivation and mental representation, the world of conflict between our wishes and the demands placed on us by our mental representations of others” (p. 2).

He begins with a “historical overview of the relationship between object relations theory and attachment theory” and suggests the benefits for each orientation of seeking an integration of the two theories. He contends that attachment theory provides the empirical foundation for object relations theory, and object relations theory can offer the clinical application to attachment theorists. He goes on to summarize in some detail the work of three major pioneers of object relations theory–Melanie Klein, Margaret Mahler and Otto Kernberg. He similarly presents the work of three major pioneers of attachment theory–John Bolby, Mary Ainsworth and Mary Main.

Goodman compares and contrasts the two theories, and adds similar research comparing the two from several other researchers’ perspectives. He shows in detail many points of similarity and difference between the two theories and concludes that they have much in common. Each theory has its strengths and weaknesses and has the potential to enrich the others thinking about patients. He states, “the criticisms of each perspective need to be carefully explicated so that the deficits of these views can be clearly exposed. A model for understanding the structure and function of the two constructs under study–object relations and internal working models–can thus emerge” (p. 82). Chapters six and seven present object relations theorists’ criticisms of the theory of internal working models, and attachment theorists’ criticisms of the theory of object relations. He presents a substantial literature review as well as presenting a great deal of research data showing the relationships between the two theories. He shows how the two theories coincide and work together to add to the knowledge of the other.

The rest of the text uses case material to illustrate how he thinks clinically about his work and how these two theories inform how he works with children, especially children who have experienced trauma and loss. Despite these case examples, however, I did not find it especially helpful in addressing clinical issues. In my opinion, the focus of the book is more theoretical than practical. I would like to have seen how the integration of these two theories would inform psychoanalytic practice, but that may be the task for another book.

It is very well researched and supported by statistical and empirical data that is impressive in its detail. I can imagine it being very useful as a text in a university teaching these two theories. I commend any analytic thinker who is trying to find common ground within the field of psychoanalysis and show us ways we can work and think together better as analysts. For anyone interested in seeing how these two very different theories can be integrated and form part of the ongoing psychoanalytic tradition, this book would serve as a useful guide.

Reviewer Note

Sharon Grostephan, LICSW, graduate analyst from the Minnesota Institute of Contemporary Analytic Studies, is in private practice in St. Louis Park, MN


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