Self-psychology is also known as the psychodynamic approach. It was established by Heinz Kohut in the 1960s as a tool for working with patients with narcissistic personality disorder who did not respond well to classical psychoanalysis. Later, Kohut further developed the theory for application to a wider range of clients.
Way of Being
When practicing self-psychology, the analyst or counselor must be nurturing, accepting, practicing active listening with an open mind, and communicating his or her understanding to the client. The counselor, ideally, will be seen by the client as “a source of strength and safety who is able to respond to unmet developmental needs” (Seligman & Reichenberg, 2014, p. 115).
Way of Understanding
Self-psychology is an optimistic, accepting approach that views the client as someone who is naturally drawn to “relationships with people who reinforce a positive and cohesive view of the self” (Frankland, 2010, p. 179). There is an innate desire to organize experiences and to make sense of them. By doing so, individuals gradually develop a sense of self as a structure on which to build this understanding. Interactions with others, or objects, facilitate this emergence of a sense of self. These interactions are called self-object experiences. Healthy self-object experiences lead to a cohesive sense of self, while unhealthy or “faulty” self-object experiences lead to “fragmentation and emptiness of the self” (Wolf, 2002, p. 11).
Way of Intervening
The goal of self-psychology treatment is to help the client develop and maintain a healthy, “cohesive sense of self” (Frankland, 2010, p. 179). By using empathy, the counselor helps the client “contain and rebuild the early selfobject reflected in the transference in the therapeutic relationship” (Seligman & Reichenberg, 2014, p. 115). This process allows clients to change their internalizations of others in order to develop a sense of strength and eventually nurture themselves (Seligman & Reichenberg, 2014).
Frankland, A. G. (2010). The little psychotherapy book: Object relations in practice. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Wolf, E. S. (2002). Treating the self: Elements of clinical self psychology. New York, NY: Guilford Press.