Book Review: Mourning, Spirituality and Psychic Change: A New Object Relations View of Psychoanalysis, by Susan Kavaler-Adler Ph.D., ABPP, D.Litt
Reviewed by Barbara E. Berger
Aspiring artists – as well as actualizing ones – continually ask themselves the central question: “How do I best express myself creatively?”
This has two sides and subtexts: How do I get healthy enough to express myself at all? And, secondly, how do I continue to produce creative work if I no longer have the drive for a cathartic expression – because I have channeled my energy into a relationship with another person, instead of into creative self-expression; or, because I am so “healthy” I have lost the urge to purge my demons or soothe myself through my creative works?
In Mourning, Spirituality and Psychic Change: A New Object Relations View of Psychoanalysis, Dr. Susan Kavaler-Adler explores the process and answers to these questions. Her theories and own clinical practice go beyond the earlier and more widely known, more intellectually and instinct-focused Freudian school; she builds on the findings and insights of the British School of Object Relations: that the self does not develop or persist in isolation, but does so existentially, in relation to others, and lives within relationships alive both in the external, concrete world and within the internal world of the subject.
Ironically, the lay person may think “objects” are inanimate, and the term “object relations” an oxymoron: how can one have an inter-personal relationship with a rock? But the grammarian will instinctively approach with a closer meaning – we are talking about the “objects” of our affections, desires, and relating. How these “objects” become incorporated into our hearts and psyche (or fail to), beginning in infancy give rise to the mysterious missteps of development – and resulting personality disorders, the disorders of the self – are central to object relations practitioners’ study.
Kavaler-Adler’s insights into the dance of those missteps – and her guidance to fellow analysts on how to lead clients on the dance floor towards healthy self-expression – are healthy, brilliant, creative works. Her progressive steps lead to facing and mourning the lack of the perfect early environment that none of us got to grow up in, and dealing with the regrets of having lived imperfectly and hurting ourselves and others along the way.
Mourning gives way to becoming electric and alive in creativity, and the analysand achieves self-compassion, as well as compassion and healthy love for others when led through the dance by an insightful and loving therapist. Yes, inserting love into the room with the couch might be a Freudian heresy, but we are now in the room of a compassionate object relations theorist and practitioner.
I believe that a baseline definition of psychic health is quite simple. We need to be able to love and create, without using interpersonal relations as a defense against creativity and without using creativity as a defense against love and its expression in intimacy. Those of us who can both love and create, achieve development increments in intimacy and creative self-expression, and to the extent that we can do so, we can evolve towards psychic health.
– Susan Kavaler-Adler, Mourning, Spirituality and Psychic Change, p. 42
See B. E. Berger’s review of Susan Kavaler-Adler’s Anatomy of Regret.