What is Relational Psychoanalysis?

Relational Psychoanalysis is the term that has evolved in recent years to describe an approach to clinical work that attracts many practitioners in different parts of the world. 

Although not a hard and fast set of concepts and practices, one core feature is the notion that psychic structure–at the very least, those aspects of psychic structure that are accessible to psychotherapeutic intervention–derive from the individual’s relations with other people. This, of course, is intended as an alternative to the classical view that innately organized drives and their developmental vicissitudes are, at root, the basis of psychic structure. (For an extensive discussion of relational psychoanalysis, click on Relations: Introduction to the First IARPP Conference in the IARPP Newsletter, Volume 1, Number 1.)

The term "relational" applies, most broadly, on three levels:

  • The understanding that all ideas, including psychoanalytic wisdom, are historical, linguistic, political and contextual.
  • An appreciation that individual experiences and intrapsychic structures derive largely from and are transformations of relationships with significant others.
  • The discovery that therapeutic change operates, at the same time, both intrapsychically and interpersonally and is most usefully explored in terms of the evolving relationship between patient and therapist.Fundamental to this outlook is an appreciation that all ideas, including psychoanalytic conceptions and accumulated wisdom, are historical, linguistic, political, and contextual. Individual personality and intrapsychic structures are constructed and derive substantially from personal transformations that come into being in the context of human relationships.