The Institute for Clinical Social Work

Syllabi Archive

ESDL 435: Seminar in Interpersonal and Relational Theory

Ph.D. Program - Distance Learning: spring 2012-13

Alan J. Levy, Ph.D.

Course Description

In this advanced course, we will trace the development of the interpersonal tradition in psychoanalysis and its contributions to contemporary American relational approaches. It will begin chiefly with the work of Harry Stack Sullivan and associated analysts (e.g. Clara Thompson) and then consider the “second generation” of interpersonalists, chiefly the work of Edgar Levenson. The movement of and fundamental contributions of later interpersonalists to the development of what is now considered the American Relational community will be examined. We will study the work of Jay Greenberg and Stephen Mitchell as seminal interpersonal thinkers who helped shape relational thinking. Other founding relationalists who continue to shape this approach will be considered in some depth. This will include the work of Donnel Stern, Phillip Bromberg, Jody Davies, Jessica Benjamin, Lew Aron and Tony Bass.

The class will focus upon the concept of dissociation as a key interpersonal and relational principle, and contrast dissociative models with repressive models of the mind. The related issue of just what it is that we keep out of conscious thought and why will also be examined. In particular, we will consider the metapsychological and clinical implications of repression of endogenous phantasies vs. dissociation of unbearable experiences. Finally, we will study the nature of selfhood, and the ramifications of a singular self vs. multiple self-states, the role of self/other objects, and the nature of subjectivity and relations with others, and forms of relational analytic engagement as we consider these various authors.

We will have ample time to consider actual clinical treatment as a way to apply what at times may be dense theory, as well as developing students’ ability to use clinical experience to critically examine theory. Class time will be reserved for students to present and discuss cases. You should identify at least one case that has challenged you for discussion in depth.

Course Requirements

Much of the learning from this course will derive from the active participation of its members. Therefore, you will be required to have read carefully the assigned material prior to class sessions and be fully prepared to discuss it. This includes going beyond articulating what was read and extending to formulating questions about it. Active participation is defined as quality of participation during and outside class sessions rather than as quantity of class comments. Evidence of depth of understanding the material, the demonstration of the ability to apply it critically to one’s practice, and of contributing to critical inquiry of course participants are required.


The course will be graded solely on a Pass/Fail basis. Criteria for assignment of grades will be based upon fulfilling the course requirements listed above.

Contact Information

My email address is: I am typically available in my office after 1 PM on Fridays (immediately prior to class) and I will also arrange telephone, Skype or in-person meetings as needed.

Ethics and Confidentiality

Students are required to comport themselves in accordance with professional ethics and the policies of ICSW. This extends to respect for colleagues and clients, and the necessity of protecting the confidentiality of all clinical material.

Students with Disabilities

Students with documented disabilities are strongly encouraged to inform the instructor and also work with him to ensure that learning needs are accommodated. There may be occasions when the instructor will encourage students to identify and document learning differences. Recognizing how learning affects one’s clinical capabilities and the necessity of taking responsibility for addressing learning issues is considered a professional obligation. The instructor shall endeavor to be sensitive to students’ needs within the scope of his role.


It is a personal and professional obligation for all participants to affirm difference. All course members are obligated to respect and embrace the diversity of clients and colleagues, and to preserve a learning environment that affirms this ethic. Therefore, active and passive forms of discrimination against marginalized groups, including women, members of GLBTQ communities, racial, ethnic, and religious groups, persons with disabilities, among others will be treated as a serious breach of professional comportment and will not be tolerated.

I. The Early Interpersonal Tradition

  1.  Roots and early theorists ( American Pragmatism, Social Science, Sullivan, Ferenczi, and Thompson)
  2.  Dissociation vs. Repression
  3.  Detailed Inquiry vs. Free Association
  4.  Additional Issues


  • Bromberg, P.M. (1980). Sullivan's Concept of Consensual Validation—Sullivan's Concept of... Contemp. Psychoanal., 16:237-248.
  • Hirsch, I. (1994). Dissociation and the interpersonal self. Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 30(4):777-799.
  • Levenson, E.A. Harry Stack Sullivan: From interpersonal psychiatry to interpersonal psychoanalysis.
  • Levenson, E.A. The interpersonal (Sullivanian) model.
  • Mitchell, S.A. Influence and Autonomy in Psychoanalysis. Chapter 3: Interaction in the interpersonal tradition.
  • Mitchell, S.A. and Black, M. Freud and Beyond. Chapter 3: Harry Stack Sullivan and Interpersonal Psychoanalysis.
  • Stern, D.B. (2010). Unconscious Fantasy Versus Unconscious Relatedness: Comparing Interper... Contemp. Psychoanal., 46:101-111.

II. Second Generation Interpersonalist Theories

  1.  The centrality of the relational field
  2.  Endogenous phantasies vs. dissociation of actual experience
  3.  The widening scope of transference and countertransference


  • Aron, L. (2005). On the Unique Contribution of the Interpersonal Approach to Interaction: A Discussion of Stephen A. Mitchell'S “Ideas of Interaction In Psychoanalysis.”. Contemp. Psychoanal., 41:21-34.
  • Bromberg, P.M. (1994). “Speak! That I May See You”: Some Reflections on Dissociation, Real... Psychoanal. Dial., 4:517-547.
  • Bromberg, P.M. (2001). The Gorilla Did It: Some Thoughts on Dissociation, the Real, and the R... Psychoanal. Dial., 11:385-404.
  • Davies, J.M., Frawley, M.G. (1992). Dissociative Processes and Transference-Countertransference P... Psychoanal. Dial., 2:5-36.
  • Greenberg, J.R. (1986). The Problem of Analytic Neutrality. Contemp. Psychoanal., 22:76-86.
  • Greenberg, J. (1994). The Changing Paradigm of Psychoanalysis. International Forum of Psychoanalysis, 3:221-226.
  • Levenson, E.A. (1991). Whatever happened to the cat? Psychoanalytic Inquiry 537-553.
  • Levenson, E.A. (2003). On seeing what is said. Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 39(2):233-249.
  • Mitchell, S.A. (1988). The intrapsychic and the interpersonal. Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 8:472-496.
  • Stern, D.B. (1994). Conceptions of Structure in Interpersonal Psychoanalysis—A Reading o... Contemp. Psychoanal., 30:255-300.
  • Stern, D.B. (1983). Unformulated Experience, —From Familiar Chaos to Creative Disorder. Contemp. Psychoanal., 19:71-99.

III. The Identification of the Relational Turn

  1.  Two person psychology and analytic interaction


  • Aron, L. (1990). One Person and Two Person Psychologies and the Method of Psychoanalysis. Psychoanal. Psychol., 7:475-485.
  • Aron, L. (1991). The Patient's Experience of the Analyst's Subjectivity. Psychoanal. Dial., 1:29-51.
  • Aron, L. (2000). Self-Reflexivity and the Therapeutic Action of Psychoanalysis. Psychoanal. Psychol., 17:667-689.
  • Bass, A. (2001). It Takes One to Know One; or, Whose Unconscious Is It Anyway?. Psychoanal. Dial., 11:683-702.
  • Bromberg, P.M. (1992). The Difficult Patient or the Difficult Dyad?—Some Basic Issues. Contemp. Psychoanal., 28:495-502.
  • Bromberg, P.M. (1996). Standing in the Spaces: The Multiplicity Of Self And The Psychoanal... Contemp. Psychoanal., 32:509-535.
  • Bromberg, P.M. (2003). Something Wicked This Way Comes: Trauma, Dissociation, and Conflict... Psychoanal. Psychol., 20:558-574.
  • Greenberg, J. (2001). The Analyst's Participation: A New Look. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 49:359-381.
  • Greenberg, J. (2001). Thinking, Talking, Playing: The Peculiar Goals of Psychoanalysis. Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 70:131-147.
  • Hoffman, I. Z. (1998). Ritual and spontaneity in the psychoanalytic process. Hillsdale, NJ: The Analytic Press. Chapter 8: Dialectical thinking and therapeutic action
  • Mitchell, S. (1988). Relational concepts in psychoanalysis: An integration. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Chapter _ Penelope’s Loom.
  • Mitchell, S.A. (2004). My psychoanalytic Journey. Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 24:531-54.
  • Mitchell, S.A. (1991). Wishes, Needs, and Interpersonal Negotiations. Psychoanal. Inq., 11:147-170.
  • Stern, D.B. (1990). Courting Surprise—Unbidden Perceptions in Clinical Practice. Contemp. Psychoanal., 26:452-478.

IV. Building the Relational Base

  1.  Multiplicity
  2.  The Centrality of Enactment


  • Bass, A. (2003). “E” Enactments in Psychoanalysis: Another Medium, Another Message. Psychoanal. Dial., 13:657-675.
  • Bass, A. (2007). When the Frame Doesn's Fit the Picture. Psychoanal. Dial., 17:1-27.
  • Black, M.J. (2003). Enactment: Analytic Musings on Energy, Language, and Personal Growth. Psychoanal. Dial., 13:633-655.
  • Bromberg, P.M. (1991). On Knowing One's Patient Inside Out: The Aesthetics of Unconscious Comm... Psychoanal. Dial., 1:399-422.
  • Davies, J. (1999). Getting Cold Feet, Defining “Safe-Enough” Borders: Dissociation, Multiplic... Psychoanal Q., 68:184-208.
  • Mitchell, S.A. (1991). Contemporary Perspectives on Self: Toward an Integration. Psychoanal. Dial., 1:121-147.
  • Stern, D.B. (2003). The Fusion of Horizons: Dissociation, Enactment, and Understanding. Psychoanal. Dial., 13:843-873.
  • Stern, D.B. (2004). The Eye Sees Itself: Dissociation, Enactment, and the Achievement of C... Contemp. Psychoanal., 40:197-237.
  • Stern, D.B. (2006). Opening what has been Closed, Relaxing what has been Clenched: Dissociation and Enactment Over Time in Committed Relationships. Psychoanal. Dial., 16:747-761.
  • Stern, D.B. (2009). Partners in Thought: A Clinical Process Theory of Narrative. Psychoanal Q., 78:701-731.
  • Stern, D.B. (2012). Witnessing across Time: Accessing the Present from the Past and the Past from t... Psychoanal Q., 81:53-81.

V. The Object in Relational Analysis


  • Benjamin, J. (1990). An Outline of Intersubjectivity: The Development of Recognition. Psychoanal. Psychol., 7S:33-46.
  • Benjamin, J. (2004). Beyond Doer and Done to: An Intersubjective View of Thirdness. Psychoanal Q., 73:5-46.
  • Benjamin, J. (2005). From Many into One: Attention, Energy, and the Containing of Multitudes. Psychoanal. Dial., 15:185-201.
  • Benjamin, J. (2010). Where's the Gap and What's the Difference?: The Relational view of In... Contemp. Psychoanal., 46:112-119.
  • Davies, J.M. (1994). Love in the Afternoon: A Relational Reconsideration of Desire and Dread i... Psychoanal. Dial., 4:153-170.
  • Davies, J.M. (2003). Falling in Love with Love: Oedipal and Postoedipal Manifestations of Ideali... Psychoanal. Dial., 13:1-27.
  • Davies, J.M. (2004). Whose Bad Objects Are We Anyway?: Repetition and Our Elusive Love Affair... Psychoanal. Dial., 14:711-732.
  • Skolnick, N.J. (2006). What’ a good object to do? Psychoanalytic Dialogues, 16(1): 1-27.

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