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Herbert Alexander Rosenfeld was a British psychoanalyst, who was born in Germany in 1910 and died in London in 1986.

'British analysts (and many others from abroad) have been deeply influenced by the work and teachings of Rosenfeld who increasingly focused upon the analyst's contribution to what was happening in the analysis - in particular in the event of the analyst and patient getting into an impasse'.[1]

Life[edit | edit source]

With a medical diploma from Munich (1934), Rosenfeld emigrated to Britain in 1935, where he retook his medical degree. He became a psychiatrist and specialised in the psychoanalytic treatment of psychosis. Analyzed by Melanie Klein, he himself became an analyst in 1945 and continued to work within the Kleinian movement, alongside such figues as Wilfred Bion and Hanna Segal. Among his most significant contributions were 'his pioneering work with projective identification';[2] the development of the concept of "confusion"; and the foundation of a theory of destructive narcissism, since taken up and developed by André Green and Otto Kernberg.

On "confusion"[edit | edit source]

For Rosenfeld, 'confusion is an intermediate stage between splitting and reintegration. It can therefore be evidence either of improvement or of regression'.[3] In its negative aspect, 'a most powerful element in confusion is envy...Narcissistic organisation protects us from that confusion'.[4]

Destructive narcissism[edit | edit source]

Rosenfeld played a leading part in 'Kleinian contributions to our understanding of such phenomena as the dynamics of destructive narcissism'.[5] For Rosenfeld, 'destructive directed against the libidinal ties or bonds of the self to the object'.[6] In narcissism, Rosenfeld 'conceived of a characteristic internal object - a chimerical montage or monster, one might say - that was constructed of the ego, the ego ideal, and the "mad omnipotent self"...Rosenfeld termed it "narcissistic omnipotent object relations"'.[7]

Analytical impasse[edit | edit source]

His final work, Impasse and Interpretation (1987), focused on the possibility of the overcoming of critical moments with difficult patients. Rosenfeld was increasingly convinced that such 'dangerous impasses...involved the hidden or not so hidden black spots of the analyst',[8] thus pointing the way for the later developments of intersubjective psychoanalysis.

While for some analysts, the negative therapeutic reaction is an insurmountable block, Rosenfeld attempts to show that these "dead ends" are moments that can and should be overcome. 'Linking analytic impasse to envy', Rosenfeld maintained that 'in a conventional analysis it may feel more bearable to remain stuck than allow the analyst to promote therapeutic change';[9] but if handled innovatively may allow patients to bring back to life for their analyst the impasses they subjectively lived at key moments in their development.

Further reading[edit | edit source]

Psychotic states (1965)

Herbert Rosenfeld at Work: The Italian Seminars (2001)

John Steiner ed., Rosenfeld in Retrospect (2008)

External links[edit | edit source]

(In French)

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Patrick Casement, Further Learning from the Patient (London 1996) p. 12-3
  2. James Grotstein, But at the Same Time and on Another Level (London 2009) p. 43
  3. Salomon Resnik, The Delusional Person (London 2001) p. 199
  4. Hanna Segal/Nicola Abel-Hirsch, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (2007) p. 233-4
  5. Casement, Further p. 168
  6. Herbert Rosenfeld,Impasse and Interpretation (London 1987) p. 27
  7. James Grotstein, in Neville Symington, Narcissism: A New Theory (London 1993) p. xii-xiv
  8. De Masi, in Grotstein, Same Time p. 44
  9. Robert Withers, Controversies in Analytical Psychology (2003) p. 241
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