Relatedness, Self-Definition and Mental Representation: Essays in Honor of Sidney J. Blatt (Book Review)

Author:  Auerbach, John S., Levy, Kenneth N., and Schaffer, Carrie E.
Publisher: Taylor and Francis
Reviewed By: Paolo Migone, Vol. XXVII, 1 (Winter 2007), pp. 37-39

The review of an edited book is not an easy task, since it is difficult to do justice to all the single contributions that may need close examination. But the task becomes almost impossible if the edited book has 18 chapters written by 29 contributors. This is the case of the beautiful collection of essays in honor of Sidney Blatt, edited jointly by three students of Sidney (“Sid”) Blatt. This Festschrift is interesting because it provides an overview of the many areas of investigation in which Sid Blatt has been involved, and at the same time it gives you the opportunity to have a glance of various problems of contemporary research in fields related to psychoanalysis.

Sid Blatt, who is the recipient of the 2006 Sigourney Award, is a very well known researcher in different areas of psychology and psychoanalysis, and an incredibly gifted and prolific researcher who has spent most of his career at Yale University. He has been involved in different areas of investigation such as personality development, psychopathology, psychological assessment and testing, psychotherapy process, applied psychoanalysis and cultural trends: all these areas are well represented in this book, whose chapters are written by some of his colleagues, friends and students (who often are the same who were involved in Sid Blatt’s researches, so that the reader has the opportunity to have a first hand account of these studies).

The contents of the book give an idea of its richness and provides a context for my ensuing comments. In a brief foreword, Morris I. Stein tells about the first researches of Sid Blatt, who was one of his graduate students at the University of Chicago. Then, the three coeditors, in a 20 pages introduction (“The contributions of Sidney Blatt”), describe the various chapters; this presentation is quite useful in orienting the reader of this complex book, and also helps him select the chapters that are close to his/her specific interests.

The book is divided in five parts, each devoted to one of the areas mentioned above. I will briefly review the titles of the chapters of these five parts. Part I (Personality Development) has 3 chapters, respectively by Beatrice Beebe, Joseph Jaffe, and Frank Lachmann (“A dyadic systems view of communication”), Beatriz Priel (“Representations in middle childhood: a dialogical perspective”), and Norbert Freedman (“On spatialization: personal and theoretical thoughts”). Part II (Psychopathology) has 4 chapters, respectively by David C. Zuroff, Darcy Santor, and Myriam Mongrain (“Dependency, self-criticism, and maladjustment”), Nasreen Khatri and Zindel V. Segal (“Characterizing cognitive vulnerability in depression”), Stephen Fleck (“The development of schizophrenia: a psychosocial and biological approach”), and Phebe Cramer (“Another ‘lens’ for understanding therapeutic change: the interaction of IQ with defense mechanisms”).

Part III (Assessment) has 3 chapters, respectively by Barry Ritzler (“Sidney Blatt’s contributions to the assessment of object representations”), Howard D. Lerner (“Object relations and the Rorschach”), and Philip S. Holzman (“The Rorschach method: a starting point for investigating formal thought disorder”). Part IV (Psychotherapy and the Treatment Process) has 3 chapters, respectively by Peter Fonagy and Mary Target (“Some reflections on the therapeutic action of psychoanalytic therapy”), Lester Luborsky, Tomasz Andrusyna, and Louis Diguer (“How often are relationship narratives told during psychotherapy sessions?”), and Stanley B. Messer and Laura Maccann (“Research perspective on the case study: single case method”).

Part V (Applied Psychoanalysis) has 4 chapters, respectively by Paul L. Wachtel (“Greed as an individual and social phenomenon: an application of the two-configuration model”), Diana Diamond (“Narcissism as a clinical and social phenomenon”), Rachel B. Blass (“Attachment and separateness and the psychoanalytic understanding of the act of faith”), and Robert R. Holt (“The menace of postmodernism to a psychoanalytic psychology”).

It is impressive to see how many outstanding researchers and scholars have contributed to this book, and not only from North America (Fonagy and Target come from England, and Rachel Blass and Beatriz Priel come from Israel). This speaks for the importance and the prestige of Sid Blatt, who has been able, in his long academic career, to attract so many colleagues in intellectual exchanges and investigations around common areas of interest. It should be mentioned that Sid Blatt is also a clinician, and this quality, uncommon among academic researchers, puts him in the position of having both perspectives that divide our field: that of clinical practice and that of research. It is my impression, reading this book, that there is this common thread, this ideal goal: the attempt to fill the gap between these two realms of knowledge, in order not to lose sight of the “person” with all his/her daily problems and sufferings (as well as healthy functioning, as we will see). More than that, a quite uncommon peculiarity of Sid Blatt’s studies is the fact that he has made a continuous attempt to integrate, or to utilize, knowledge from fields that are often separate: think of Piaget’s ideas on cognitive development, the Rorcharch and other projective tests, psychoanalysis and object relation theory, and attachment theory.

The editors, in their introduction, give us a vivid picture of Sid Blatt as a person and of his biography, in order to understand why he was motivated to study specific topics. For example, following a suggestion of Sid himself, they make the hypothesis that his strong interest in the two different forms of depression (that he originally called “anaclitic” or dependent and “introjective” or self-critical) originated from specific experiences with his family of origin. This information makes the reader feel eager to know and understand the theoretical part of the book, because, in a way, he or she keeps in mind some vivid clinical examples of what will be discussed.

The “two-configurations model” of personality and psychopathology is indeed one of the most well known conceptualizations of Sid Blatt. The coeditors’ introduction to the book gives the reader the opportunity to see this line of research in its historical development. For example, Sid not only had an interest in depression because of experiences in his family of origin, but initially observed these two forms of depression in two of his control cases at the Western New England Institute for Psychoanalysis in the early 1970s. One patient was dependent and seeking emotional contact, the other was self-critical, suicidal and guilt-ridden. He called them, respectively, “anaclitic” and “introjective,” but later he extended this model to other forms of psychopathology and also to normal personality development, and, under the influence of attachment theory, he made the more inclusive distinction between “attachment or relatedness” and “separateness or self-definition” (for example, he found that most likely anaclitic psychopathologies derive from resistant attachments, while introjectve psychopathologies derive from avoidant attachments). The “two-configurations model” characterized Sid’s research interests from very early in his career and accompanied him for many years, but, as we have seen, it is only one of his many areas of investigation described in this book. Actually, the two-configurations model represents his main frame of reference, a sort of “lens” though which he has always tried to build a comprehensive model of personality, of development, and of psychopathology.

A major interest of Sid Blatt has been the assessment of object representations and the relationship between cognitive processes and personality development. Some chapters of this book, for example in Part I and in Part III, as well as the introduction, are very clear in summarizing the conceptualizations and research findings of this area. Sid Blatt has been a major contributor to the research on psychological testing: since the early 1960s he was inspired by the classic text of 1945-46 by Rapaport, Gill and Schafer Diagnostic Psychological Testing, and for example used extensively the Rorschach and other projective techniques (see, to this regard, Phil Holzman’s chapter on the Rorschach method, in Part III). He also developed several rating scales, such as the Object Relations Inventory (ORI) and the Depressive Experience Questionnaire (DEQ); the latter, a structured questionnaire that has been validated in numerous studies, was used to evaluate the two types of depression (“anaclitic” and “introjective”).

In his work on cognitive representations he developed the Conceptual Level (CL) scale, which rates the descriptions of parents and other important figures of the child, and in his studies on personality development he tried to integrate some Piagetian ideas on cognitive development with his two-configurations model. This brought him eventually to suggest a comprehensive model of personality development, psychopathology and therapeutic change that he named “cognitive morphology.” As John Auerbach, Kenneth Levy, and Carrie E. Schaffer explain in their detailed introduction (see pp. 9-10), this model is an integration of cognitive-developmental theory, psychoanalytic object relation theory, and attachment theory, and identifies several nodal points in the development of the child. This model is impressive not only because it takes into consideration Erikson’s theory of life cycle, but also because it is an integration—and, in a way, an updating—of a Piagetian model with psychodynamic insights. It is also used to understand both normal and pathological phenomena, and it is extended to the analysis of the history of art and wider social phenomena as well (see, in this regard, Part V of the book, concerning applied psychoanalysis).
Another important feature of Sid Blatt’s investigations is that they are not limited to building of a theoretical model or to psychological research, but they address also psychotherapy process and outcome, i.e., they are relevant to clinical practice (see, to this regard, Part IV of the book). For example, Sid reanalyzed two major studies of psychotherapy research—namely, the Menninger Foundation Psychotherapy Research Project and the NIMH Treatment of Depression Collaborative Research Program (TDCRP)—and found interesting correlations between forms of psychopathology derived from his two-configurations model and the therapeutic outcome of specific diagnostic groups treated in these studies. He analyzed also the patients’ treatment at Austen Riggs Center (the Riggs-Yale Project—see Phebe Cramer’s chapter, in Part II). Regarding psychopathology, see also Part II, that contains, as we have seen above, chapters on specific stressors for specific types of depression, on schizophrenia, on the correlation with Aaron Beck’s “sociotropy versus autonomy” model of depression, etc. (Beck’s formulations, incidentally, were first published in 1983, long after Blatt’s original work on anaclitic and introjective depression which first appeared conceptually in 1974 and then empirically in 1976 and 1982).

Quite outstanding, it seems to me, is Part V of the book dedicated to applied psychoanalysis because it is not common nowadays to see empirical researchers extending their investigations to wider social and cultural phenomena. In the spirit of the contributions of Sid Blatt, who applied his two-configurations model to art history, to the culture of narcissism, and to history of science, in this final part of the book for example there is a chapter by Paul Wachtel who uses the “two-configurations model” to study the psychodynamics of greed, and a chapter by Diana Diamond who discusses the psychoanalytic theories of narcissism in light of the theories of the Frankfurt School (Marcuse, Adorno, Horkheinmer, etc.). In the remaining two chapters of this part, Rachel Blass uses the concepts of attachment and separation to study religious faith, and Robert Holt analyzes the implications of postmodernism for psychoanalysis.

Overall, we can say that one of the merits of this book is to give the reader an overview of the body of research stimulated by Sidney Blatt, who, as we have seen, has been remarkable in his effort to consider simultaneously the data coming from diverse traditions, and to attempt conceptual integrations. Many authors in psychoanalysis have tried to draw general comprehensive models of the mind, in an attempt to overcome the fragmentation of our field that is divided into many different “schools,” often ignoring each other. Almost always, these attempts simply show the good will or naïveté of the respective authors, whose voices remain mostly unheard, and their books lay among hundreds of others in dusty library shelves. Sid Blatt’s attempt is different, because it is rooted in rigorous empirical research, has implications for psychotherapy process and outcome, and comes from the best academic tradition. The fact that his ideas are not forgotten, but on the contrary, as this book exemplifies very well, they have stimulated numerous other studies, witnesses it very well.

I would say that in his case it is true what is often said about the importance of a line of research: it deserves attention not only for its discoveries (which are and must be always provisional), but for the unanswered questions and the many pathways of research that it leaves open for future investigations.

Paolo Migone


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