My book, Heinz Kohut and the Psychology of the Self, examines the pioneering work of the psychoanalyst and prized teacher, Dr. Heinz Kohut. Initially at the center of the American and international psychoanalytic establishment, Dr. Kohut became disaffected with core elements of classical Freudian thinking as he slowly developed his own new ideas about what he called “the self.” His work, and the therapeutic possibilities that came from it, so impressed me early in my career that I have used it to guide what I have done for over 40 years.
In my book I trace the evolution of Dr. Kohut’s ideas beginning with his first paper, written in 1949, extending through to his last paper, delivered 3 days before his premature death in 1981. Sadly, he was 67 when he died. Dr. Kohut’s early papers were written in the intellectualized, far from experience, classical language of that time, but even there it is possible to see glimmers of what would eventually flower into his new Psychology of the Self.
In his work Dr. Kohut explored concepts such as, but in no way limited to: empathy; the development and maturation of healthy narcissism; the need for, and experience of, others who provide specific psychological functions for the developing self; and the importance of a friendly, not stern, attitude in the treatment environment. This last issue might seem self-evident, however, it represented a major rejection of the then prevailing, two dimensional ,classical thinking from which Dr. Kohut courageously freed himself – and others, like me.
His revolutionary understanding of the curative elements of psychotherapy developed out of his belief that specific emotional vulnerabilities form when particular needs and experiences are not provided for the developing child. Dr. Kohut asserted that these specific developmental vulnerabilities play a major role in the suffering that brings children, and later adults, for treatment. His rejection of the fossilized thinking in Freud’s psychology of the drives gave Dr. Kohut free space in which his own insights, and understandings of the vulnerable self trying to stay emotionally safe were able to emerge.
Dr. Kohut’s often difficult to read work was written predominantly for a psychoanalytic audience. I wrote my book so that a broader audience might have access to his ideas and in doing that I use examples from my own practice to illustrate how Dr. Kohut’s theories can be effectively employed in treatment.