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Harold F. Searles, M.D. (born 1918) [1] is one of the pioneers of psychiatric medicine specialising in psychoanalytic treatments of schizophrenia. Harold Searles has the reputation of being a therapeutic virtuoso with difficult and borderline patients;[2] and of being, in the words of Horacio Etchegoyen, president of the IPA, “not only a great analyst but also a sagacious observer and a creative and careful theoretician”.[3]


Searles was born in upstate New York.[1] He attended Cornell University and Harvard Medical School before joining the US armed services in World War II.[1] After the war he continued his psychiatric training at the Chestnut Lodge in Rockville, MD from 1949-1951, then at the Veterans Administration Mental Hygiene Clinic in Washington, DC from 1951-1952.[4] In 1949 he started work at the luxurious private mental hospital Chestnut Lodge, Maryland where he stayed for the next fifteen years.[1] His colleagues included Frieda Fromm-Reichmann,[1] to whose philosophy of treatment he acknowledged his personal debt.[5]

Searles and his wife Sylvia, retired to Davis, California.[1][6] They have two sons and a daughter.[1] Their daughter is actress Sandra Dickinson.[1][7]


Arguably, Searles's work was largely ignored in the wider analytic community until the 1980s, when his radical views on the analyst's involvement through countertransference started to become more normative.[8] Since then Jungians in particular have paid increasing attention to his work, linking his findings both to those of Jung and to the work of another maverick analyst, Robert Langs.[9]

Searles has also been associated with Donald W. Winnicott and Hans W. Loewald as psychoanalytic figures who all emphasised the importance of the part played in psychic developlment by the external environment.[10]

On countertransference[]

Searles has been singled out as one of the pioneer investigators of the potentially useful role of countertransference, and of the therapist's use of his/her own self in treatment.[11]

In his 1959 article 'Oedipal Love in the Countertransference', Searles wrote that he not only fell in Pygmalionesque love with his patients as they recovered, but also told them how he felt[12] Searles argued that “the patient's self-esteem benefits greatly from his sensing that he (or she) is capable of arousing such responses in his analyst”[13] - a view which can be seen as a forerunner of intersubjective psychoanalysis with its emphasis on the spontaneous involvement of the therapist in terms of countertransference.[14]

In his later paper of 1975, 'The Patient as Therapist to his Analyst', Searles argues that everybody has an urge to heal – something only distinguished in the psychotherapist in being tapped into formally.[15] Using the concept of what he called the patient's “unconscious therapeutic initiative”[16] - a precursor of much later thinking on patient/analyst interaction - Searles suggested that psychological illness is related to a disturbance of this natural tendency to heal others; with the surprising corollary that to help a patient the analyst/therapist must really experience the patient as doing something therapeutic for them.[17]

In his 1978-9 article, "Concerning Transference and Countertransference", Searles continued exploring intersubjectivity, building around his belief that “all patients...have the ability to 'read the unconscious' of the therapist”.[18] Searles emphasised the importance of the therapist's acknowledging the core of truth around which a patient's transference materialises.[19]

On relatedness[]

Searles saw the schizophrenic individual as struggling with the question, not so much of how to relate, but of whether to relate to others. Searles however considered this merely as an exacerbated version of the same (if hidden) conflict that affects us all.[20]

Searles' interpersonal ideal - in the formulation of which he was indebted to Martin Buber - was of what he called a mature relatedness, something which involves connection without merging, or the loss of personal boundaries.[21]

On "The Effort to Drive the Other Person Crazy"[]

In an article of 1959, 'The Effort to Drive the Other Person Crazy', Searles examined six modes of interpersonal communication, arguing that “each of these techniques tends to undermine the other person's confidence in his own emotional reactions and his own perception of reality”.[22] Among these techniques were switching emotional wavelengths while discussing the same topic; and dealing with different topics (life and death/trivial) while remaining on the same wavelength.

Such attempts at crazy-making were often applied by patients to therapists, who had the task of enduring them without retaliation. Searles added moreover that it was important for the therapist to survive their own wish to kill the patient.[23]


Searles still holds the Freudian line that homosexuality is an abnormal behaviour. He considers transsexualism to be an abnormal behaviour.[citation needed]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 Robert M Young. 'Harold Searles', The Human Nature Review (2005). Retrieved 07 July 2010.
  3. R. Horacio Etchegoyen, The Fundamentals of Psychoanalytic Technique(London 2005) p. 173
  4. APA Biographical Dictionary, 1977
  5. Daniel Burston, The Legacy of Eric Fromm (Harvard 1991) p. 173
  7. includeonly>Swann, Yvonne. "Daily Mail", Sandra Dickinson was bullied for her fair hair at school but her life turned around when she discovered mascara, 4 September 2009. Retrieved on 5 September 2009.
  8. David Sedgwick, Jung and Searles (1993) p. 7
  9. Sedgwick, p. 1
  10. Carolyn Saari, The Environment (Columbia 2002) p. 7
  11. Lewis Aron, in Karen J. Mahoda, The Power of Countertransference (2004) p. x
  12. Janet Malcolm, Psychoanalysis: the impossible profession (London 1988) p. 168n
  13. Searles, quoted in Malcolm, p. 168n
  14. Jan Grant and Jim Crawley, Transference and Projection (Buckingham 2002), p. 57
  15. Neville Symington, Narcissism: A New Theory (London 2003), p. 36
  16. Searles, quoted in Patrick Casement, On Learning from the Patient (London 1999) p. 180
  17. Michael Parsons, 'The Dove that Returns, the Dove that Vanishes' (London 2000) p. 42
  18. Searles, quoted in R. M Young, Benign and virulent projective identification
  19. Josephine Klein, Jacob's Ladder (London 2003) p. 193
  20. Adam Phillips, Going Sane (London 2005), p. 172
  21. Klein, p. 191 and p. 194
  22. Searles quoted in R. D. Laing, Self and Others(Middlesex 1972), p. 139
  23. Scharff, in Martin S. Bergmann, Understanding dissidence and controversy in the history of psychoanalysis (2004) p. 319

Further reading[]

  • Searles, Harold F.. Countertransference and related subjects; selected papers., Publisher New York, International Universities Press, 1979, ISBN 0-8236-1085-3
  • Searles, Harold F.: Collected papers on schizophrenia and related subjects, Imprint New York, International Universities Press, 1965, ISBN 0-8236-0980-4
  • Searles, Harold F: My Work With Borderline Patients, Publisher: Jason Aronson, 1994, ISBN 1-56821-401-4
  • Searles, Harold F.: The Nonhuman Environment in Normal Development and in Schizophrenia (New York, 1960)

External links[]

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