Object Relations

Object relations is based on the theory that the primary motivational factors in one's life are based on human relationships, rather than sexual or aggressive triggers. Object relations is a variation of psychoanalytic theory and diverges from Freud’s belief that we are pleasure seeking beings; instead it suggests that humans seek relationships. Because relationships are at the center of this method of therapy, the client-therapist allegiance is paramount to the success of the treatment. This theory was developed by Melanie Klein, William Ronald Fairbairn, Anna Freud, Michael Balint, and Donald Winnincott.

Object Relations Theory

The object relations theory suggests that during the formation of early relationships, the infant psyche identifies part objects by the function they serve. For example, a breast that produces milk is seen as a good breast. A hand that touches and caresses is seen as a good hand. But a mouth that yells and hurts is seen as a bad mouth. These object identities develop through years of receiving care and the events that occur during that time. Although these representations are skewed and do not accurately depict the tangible object, they eventually grow to represent them. This causes extreme ambivalence within a client who has seen good and bad parts of the same person.

Object Relations Therapy: The Mother-Infant Dyad and the Therapy Relationship

This primary center of the theory is a reflection of the mother-infant dyad. Object relations therapy is a marriage of theories developed by Ronald Fairbairn, Donald Winnicott, and other members of the British Independent group, as well as the Kleinian theory. Although each has varying components and suggests different underlying structures, the theories all agree that the mother-infant experience is responsible for the formation of a child’s psychic structure during the first three years of life. Object relations believes that a person’s mind develops as a direct result of formidable relationships. The “objects” represent perceptions of real people in a person’s life experience. Because these relationships are forged in infancy, they continue to pervade a person’s existence throughout his or her life.

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Last updated: 07-02-2015

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