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This essay is about Object Relations. Object relation theory is a school of thought in psychology which posits that it is more beneficial to the patient to redirect the patient’s focus on behavior inwardly rather than focusing on environmental or outside reasons for behavior.

Object relation theory is a school of thought in psychology which posits that it is more beneficial to the patient to redirect the patient’s focus on behavior inwardly rather than focusing on environmental or outside reasons for behavior.  The patient focuses on his or her behavior and in the treatment situation, a “good object” is provided for the patient in the person of the therapist who will be internalized and thus mitigate or repair deficits in the self-structure from inadequate early parenting (Buckley, 1994).  In object relations terms a good object gradually replaces the bad object, i.e. the good influence of the therapist will gradually help the patient to dissociate from their destructive tendencies.

Heinz Kohut (1971) conceived of this as occurring through the therapist allowing the “mirroring” transfer to flower, by not interpreting the patient’s aggression in the early phases of treatment and moving to a more interpretive posture only after a good internal self-object had been internalized and replaced the degraded and deficient self object.  “Kohut’s clinical and theoretical system of self psychology is based on conceptions of deficit and restoration in the patient rather than on conflict and its resolution” (Buckley, 1994).  In this way, the patient is encouraged to address the conflicts within the self and to resolve those conflicts via a reflective and self-dissecting method.  In this way, the internalization of the conflict results in the patient’s learning to handle conflicts without resorting to the previous self destructive tendencies.

Ronald Fairbairn defines human development in terms of the changing nature of object-relationships.  As an infant matures, his relationship to objects undergoes a process “whereby infantile dependence upon the object gradually gives place to mature dependence upon the object” (Fairbairn, 1952, p. 52).  For example, when answering the question why does a baby suck its thumb, Fairbairn responds that the infant does this because there is no breast to suck (Oberlechner, 2002).  The infant replaces the lacking object, the breast, with its own thumb in order to fulfill its own needs; thumb sucking then is utilized as a technique to deal with an unsatisfactory object relationship (Oberlechner, 2002).

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