The American Independent Tradition: Loewald, Erikson and the Possible Rise of Intersubjective Ego Psychology


In 2020 I published The Psychoanalytic Ear and the Sociological Eye: Toward an American Independent Tradition (New York and London: Routledge).  As its title indicates, this book brings together my two disciplines and identities: Professor of Sociology, now emerita, at the University of California, Berkeley, and psychoanalyst, originally in Berkeley, now in Cambridge, MA.  (A third discipline and identity, psychoanalytic feminism-feminist psychoanalysis, is represented in another 2020 book: Petra Bueskens, ed., Nancy Chodorow and The Reproduction of Mothering: Forty Years On,  London and New York: Palgrave).  Psychoanalytic listening — a psychoanalytic ear — is taken for granted in that profession.  The Sociological Eye is the title of a work by the great sociologist Everett Hughes, whose sociology attends, very much as psychoanalysis, to the contradictory psychosocial-sociopsychic pathologies — challenges and infrastructure — of everyday life: for example,  “Good People and Dirty Work”; “Bastard Institutions”; “Mistakes at Work”; “Desires and Needs of Society”; “What Other?”;  an entire section called “The Meeting of Races and Cultures” that includes “Anomalies and Projections,” among other chapters.

“The American Independent Tradition,” is the opening chapter of my book.  Here, I want to re-link American psychoanalysis to its roots in ego psychology and interpersonal-cultural psychoanalysis, and specifically to suggest that two psychoanalysts, Hans Loewald, recognized by some as a psychoanalytic giant, and Erik Erikson, the now-all but ignored mid-century public intellectual, have created a new tradition. I characterize and name this tradition intersubjective ego psychology, thereby both describing a new tradition and claiming the worth —valorizing — a tradition that has been so criticized and demeaned.  Several chapters of The Psychoanalytic Ear look specifically at Loewald, this clear-eyed, comprehensive, capacious writer, someone who, as he notes, has his own roots in continental philosophy, roots painfully crushed by forced exile in 1933, and who describes both the theory and clinical epistemology of intersubjective ego psychology.  In the present chapter and elsewhere, I name some more contemporary analysts whom I think best extend and capture the underlying assumptions of intersubjective ego psychology: James McLaughlin and Warren Poland (each of whom warrants his own chapter), Theodore Jacobs, Judith Chused, Rosemary Balsam and a few others, all trained as ego psychologists but then extending and transforming this tradition.  Later chapters revisit the American Independent Tradition and expand upon it.

Perhaps because of my roots in psychoanalytic social science, I am always attentive to culture and society.  Here, one begins with Freud.  In The Psychoanalytic Ear, I describe how pervasive is Freud’s attention to the social, not only in his great social works (a chapter considers Civilization and Its Discontents, and what Klein, Erikson, and feminism can add to our understanding of that brilliant book), but in every clinical case report, beginning with Anna O, in other works, and in passing observations on World War I, Bolshevism, Marxism, and other matters.  It seems to me that Erik Erikson, originally an ego psychologist and student of Anna Freud, best understands how ego development, as internal process, takes in and transforms that which comes from without, how psyche is not, as we find often in cultural and interpersonal psychoanalysis, simply “shaped” by culture.  As Erikson puts it, society assumes “decisive concreteness” in individual development.

“The American Independent Tradition: Loewald, Erikson, and the (Possible) Rise of Intersubjective Ego Psychology,” opens The Psychoanalytic Ear and the Sociological Eye.  In its original form, it responds to an invitation by Adrienne Harris and Stephen Mitchell to contribute to a special issue of Psychoanalytic Dialogues, titled “What’s American about American psychoanalysis?”  When it finally appeared (Mitchell died suddenly in 2000, and the special issue’s publication was postponed), I had had several opportunities to consider, broadly, how I saw psychoanalysis and where I stood: the 2000 Delphi conference on psychoanalysis, that year titled “Know thyself”; also in 2000, being one of four panelists on a day-long symposium in honor of Robert Wallerstein; and a 2000-2001 fellowship at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study.  These settings requested free-floating reflections about psychoanalysis, addressed to interdisciplinary and international audiences.

To note briefly, for the European Journal of Psychoanalysis, which is co-edited, contradictorily but also appropriately, in San Francisco, that most European of American cities: I address head on in the present chapter the widespread, to me intellectually problematic though familiar, sometimes hegemonic, dismissal of most things American by European or European-influenced intellectuals, including psychoanalysts.  According to this perspective, analysts should focus on the symbolic, waking-dreaming, or projective identification; we should idolize Lacan, Bion and Klein; we should correct our misguided attention to ego, to feelings described in everyday language terms, and to on-the-ground interpersonalist intersubjectivity.  (I note in this context that as a psychoanalytic feminist-feminist psychoanalyst and social scientist, whose writings originally drew upon British object relations theory, later supplemented by my own clinical training, I have also been subject to extensive criticism and dismissal for not starting from Lacan and Laplanche, the real, the symbolic, and the phallus; that is, for not being Luce Irigaray or Julia Kristeva.  I note also that the contributions of these writers never seem to require defense, that they are taken as self-evidently right and idealized, if not idolized, rather than criticized).

I spent my childhood in the San Francisco Bay Area and 30 years as a professor at the University of California.  My psychoanalytic training was at the San Francisco Psychoanalytic Institute.  As a child and young person, I also spent years in France and England.  In the book, I note that I pay attention clinically to what I call (borrowing from Geertz) transferential local knowledge.  I am pleased to offer this chapter, that opens The Psychoanalytic Ear and the Sociological Eye: Toward an American Independent Tradition, to the European and American readers of the European Journal of Psychoanalysis.  I hope it encourages them to read in that book about Loewald, Erikson, and intersubjective ego psychology; about Freud’s sociology; and about my own characterization, as psychoanalyst and sociological theorist, of the epistemological foundations of psychoanalytic theory and practice.  Finally, I hope that readers will consider my advocacy of an intersubjective, qualitative-empirical, clinically-derived field as a complement to and expansion of the academic social sciences — sociology, anthropology, politics and economics.  My concluding chapter is called “Could you direct me to the Individuology Department?”





Loewald, Erikson, and the (possible) rise of intersubjective ego psychology


“What’s American about American psychoanalysis?” Here I introduce, name, and describe an independent tradition in American psychoanalysis. My account has both theoretical and historico-cultural dimensions. Theoretically, I suggest that, just as the British independent tradition, known early on as “the Middle Group,” incorporated elements of both the Anna Freudian ego psychological and the Kleinian approaches, so also the American independent tradition incorporated and synthesized elements from the two dominant and antagonistic schools— Hartmannian ego psychology and Sullivanian interpersonal psychoanalysis—that constituted classical American psychoanalysis. I call this synthesizing theory inter-subjective ego psychology.

Intersubjective ego psychology remains firmly committed to ego psychological understandings and technique while also theorizing, without thereby coming to self-identify as either interpersonal or relational, the centrality and pervasive impact of the object-relational, developmental, and transference-countertransference fields. I locate the origins of the American independent tradition and intersubjective ego psychology in the work of Hans Loewald and Erik Erikson.

Both Loewald and Erikson begin from self-identification as ego psychologists, but each brings in, foundationally, something of the relational-interpersonal. Loewald gives us the most comprehensive and finely detailed description that we have of intersubjectivity in the analytic dyad and the psychoanalytic process, while among Erikson’s eight stages, basic trust, intimacy, generativity, and ego integrity point especially to the intersubjective (this last, a relationship with the self).[1] Throughout, Erikson attends to the sociohistorical and to personality and culture. Each nods to the other’s terrain, Erikson with his eminently intersubjective eight stages, and Loewald with his later writings on life history and the history of the individual, as well as in his conceptualization of the child’s being centered upon by her mother.

My account of the American independent tradition is historical and cultural     as well as theoretical and clinical. In what follows, I explore and make tentative suggestions about what makes American psychoanalysis American, though I also suggest that defining, other than descriptively, what is characteristically American is itself problematic and can be done only with self-conscious irony. Through its historical exploration, the chapter provides a brief reminder of psychoanalytic controversies in the United States, and it considers schematically the relations between “American” and “European” psychoanalysis.

“What’s American about American psychoanalysis?” Mitchell and Harris suggest that “national character and sensibility, environment and place, political and social history must have a deep and pervasive impact on the ways in which psychoanalysis has developed in different countries” (2004, p. 166).[2] Such an observation, expressing an assumption that national character and sensibility are among those subjects we can talk and write about, moves us right to the heart of the matter.  The assumption is grounded, recursively, in the work of the uniquely American, psychoanalytically  influenced  anthropological  field  of  culture  and  personality founded and elaborated by Ruth Benedict, Abram Kardiner, Margaret Mead, Edward Sapir, and many others, a tradition that in turn directly shaped and was intertwined with the only homegrown classical American psychoanalytic tradition: the interpersonal-cultural psychoanalysis initiated and theorized by Harry Stack Sullivan, Clara Thompson, Karen Horney, and Erich Fromm. At the same time, Mitchell and Harris’s question and claim require us to characterize theoretically and describe the history of the various psychoanalyses that happen, empirically, to have developed on American soil and to see these developments in the light of the larger history and culture of the country.

I have found myself diffident before these challenges. Even as I am mindful that no single characterization can be comprehensive, I elaborate in what follows one historical and theoretical reading of American psychoanalysis. I center my theoretical investigation on the contributions of Hans Loewald and Erik Erikson.  I also suggest some ways in which American psychoanalysis is distinctly American. Much of what characterizes American psychoanalysis reflects what we (and our European critics, the most severe of whom, perhaps, was Freud) might consider national patterns.

The project of defining what makes something distinctly American returns me to my own professional psychoanalytic roots. Swept away in my earliest college years by Childhood and Society (Erikson 1950) and Patterns of Culture (Benedict 1934) but having training and a continuing partial professional identity in contemporary psychological anthropology (see Chodorow 1999a), I am aware that the legacy of national character studies and culture and personality anthropology is extremely problematic. Both within anthropology and in contemporary multicultural studies, we have learned that generalizations about cultural or national character obscure as much as they illuminate, and that this obscuring has often been at the political and cultural expense of marginalized groups and at the empirical cost of psychological individuality.[3]

At the same time, however, generalizations about national or cultural characteristics (and similarly, about qualities of gender, ethnicity, and so forth) always do seem to have a grain of truth—recognizable patterns that apply widely, even as we also see exceptions and variation. In what follows, I do not resist the temptations of generalizing. I not only attempt the difficult task of characterizing American psychoanalysis, but I also suggest what is distinctly “American” about it. Mindful that such generalizations cannot at the same time be made, I see this latter characterization through a distinctly ironic and recursively self-eliminating lens. I am serious and playful at the same time when I suggest that the features I describe hang together as quintessentially “American.”

In order to make such a claim, of course, I overgeneralize about cultural characteristics and ignore exceptions, overlaps, and variation. I probably overgeneralize too much for historical and cultural accuracy and not enough for persuasive argument. This caveat is equally true of the comparative generalizations I have to make along the way about what is not American—particularly my claims about what is “European” or what characterizes “European” approaches to psychoanalysis.

I focus on the origins of, and try to articulate, a strand in American thinking that I call, provisionally, intersubjective ego psychology. Intersubjective ego psychology integrates the two theoretical and clinical developments that, indisputably, have characterized American psychoanalysis, first, ego psychology, and second, interpersonal (its current label, but in the past it was also called “cultural school” or “neo-Freudian”) psychoanalysis. I am describing, not surprisingly, my own psychoanalytic location and identity. I see intersubjective ego psychology as a sort of middle terrain between classical structural and contemporary ego psychology on the one hand and classical interpersonal and contemporary relational psychoanalysis on the other, much as the British independent or Middle Group (with which the American independent tradition shares some theoretical and clinical commonality) originally located itself between Melanie Klein and Anna Freud.[4]

Intersubjective ego psychology involves an apparently contradictory insistence, following the Hartmann-Anna Freud legacy, on a radical “one-person” intrapsychic perspective centered on fantasy, drive-derivative wishes, resistances, defenses, and compromise formations, and in consonance with the work of Sullivan, Horney, Thompson, Frieda Fromm-Reichman,  and others,  on the “two-person”  importance of the analytic, the mother-child, and, by extension sometimes, the sociocultural field.[5] Intersubjective ego psychologists use the ego psychological language of interpretation, individuality, autonomy, insight, analytic neutrality, and other similar concepts, and also the language of enactment, transference-countertransference, the contribution of the analyst’s mind and subjectivity, and other similar concepts that arose initially from interpersonal psychoanalysis. In addition, although advocacy of an analytic attitude of uncertainty and curiosity rather than certainty and authority has crossed all psychoanalytic schools in recent years (protagonists of these different schools, of course, have different opinions about the uncertainty and curiosity of those in other schools), I think it can be said that the founding intersubjective ego psychologists, like the founding British independents, found their way to this attitude sooner.

The theoretical-clinical label intersubjective ego psychology comes initially from my reading of contemporary thinkers (especially Dale Boesky, Judith Chused, Theodore Jacobs, James McLaughlin, Warren Poland, and Owen Renik),[6] but I center my remarks on two earlier thinkers, Loewald and Erikson, who, in my mind, initially created this hybrid and defined its territory. My original title for this chapter was “Working notes on American psychoanalysis,” and my musings remain exactly this. Each draft has reminded me of further problems in my characterizations, occasioned more second thoughts, and suggested more distinctions that I should be making. I hope, nonetheless, that the ideas have some generativity in helping us think about this complex, and of course still unfinished, American psychoanalysis.

The first of my second thoughts requires elaboration. By naming the American independent tradition as intersubjective ego psychology, I begin perhaps more from Loewald than from Erikson. I thus minimize another important American hybrid outcome, one that we might call cultural ego psychology. Cultural ego psychology would bring Erikson more to the fore, and I think in this context especially of contributions by those formed in ego psychological institutes that have challenged, from an explicitly  feminist  stance,  traditional  psychosexual and gender theories (books include Almond 2010, Balsam 2012, Kulish and Holtzman 2008, Notman and Nadelson 1982, and Person 1999).[7] These for the most part medically trained psychoanalysts emphasize, like Erikson, bodily psychosexual experience and the actual female body, while also following Horney and Thompson in stressing that cultural factors have shaped female and male psychology and psychoanalysts’ theories about these. By contrast, those of us who were feminists first and then psychoanalysts (relational feminists like Benjamin, Dimen, Goldner, and Harris, and a hybrid intersubjective ego psychologist like myself) have been much longer in coming to acknowledge the actual body (see Chodorow 1999b, 2003c, and, for founding relational feminist accounts of sexuality, Dimen 1996, 2003).

Several caveats seem in order. First, part of what makes it so difficult to define what is American about American psychoanalysis is the pre- and post-World War II psychoanalytic diaspora. Until a certain generation, most of the leading “American” psychoanalysts (Sullivan and Thompson are the most notable exceptions) were born, educated, and trained in Europe. Loewald and Erikson are no exception. Neither of these third-generation psychoanalysts began life or professional training in the United States (this is also characteristically American: the United States is a country of immigrants).

Second, I write throughout of “American” in  the  imperialist  sense, meaning psychoanalysis in the United States. Third, as I have indicated, much of what I claim characterizes these quintessentially “American” thinkers Erikson and Loewald also characterizes the theory, the developmental approach, the view of the analytic encounter, and the analytic attitude found in the writings of contemporaneous British psychoanalysts like Michael and Enid Balint, Margaret Little, Marion Milner, D. W. Winnicott, and others of their generation in the British independent tradition. In contrast to Klein, Anna Freud, and many of    their followers, with the exception of Michael Balint these British independents were all British-born.

Finally, as a psychoanalyst trained in a psychoanalytic institute of “The American,” as we in shorthand call the American Psychoanalytic Association (another imperialism, this time within the imperialist center itself), it is not accidental that I am beginning and working out from ego psychology and an intrapsychic, one-person perspective, not only as an historical feature of American psychoanalysis but also, implicitly, as an important perspective on psychic life.[8] Yet I originally found psychoanalysis from without and not from within, as a solution to problems in psychological anthropology and feminism (Chodorow 1974).

I am mindful, being a social scientist as well as a psychoanalyst, that if I had trained at a Sullivanian institute, whose approach would have been more consonant with my professional origins, I might well have begun this chapter with the view that it is precisely the cultural or interpersonal perspective that most distinguishes American psychoanalysis from its cognate practices in Europe or Latin  America.[9] My convoluted oscillations in these matters of my psychoanalytic origins and identifications, which do not at all begin from ego psychology, provide one perhaps extreme intellectual and historical instantiation of the characteristic conflicts and compromises in American psychoanalysis that, I believe, have led to that hybrid, intersubjective ego psychology that I describe here.

As a theorist, I was from the beginning looking to incorporate both the intrapsychic and the relational-interpersonal. My first systematic readings beyond Freud and Erikson were the British Middle Group—Fairbairn, Guntrip, Balint, and Winnicott. I argued then (Chodorow 1974, 1978) that, unlike psychological anthropology or Neo-Freudian psychoanalysis, these analysts provided a non-culturally determinist but fully relational intrapsychic perspective. Reaching from the beginning for conceptualizations that could maintain this doubled approach, I described differentiation and individuation as forms of connection and argued  for what I termed “relational individualism” in both theory and clinical work (Chodorow 1979, 1986a).

Training and clinical work made the intrapsychic even more compelling and   in need of articulation. For me, this included, especially, the Loewaldian world of transferences from the past and from the unconscious, the Kleinian and Loewaldian worlds of internal fantasy that so powerfully shape all experiences, conflicts, defenses, and compromise formations, and the unique, clinical individual—whatever the origins of all these in relationship, whatever the clinical relationship that helps them to become conscious or transformed. Klein with her emphasis on the intrapsychic focused on projective identification, splitting, envy, aggression, and spoiling was a first help, but finally the Kleinian approach seemed only partial—useful for certain psychic expressions but not others. Meanwhile, the classical ego psychology of transference as a resistance and the ego as a site of increasing self-observation and correction seemed to overrationalize the powers of unconscious meanings and psychic life. Loewald, by contrast, promised to encompass the whole. The perspective that I now call intersubjective ego psychology, then, brought together my own history and clinical and theoretical projects and also seemed to bring together those found in the vicissitudes of American psychoanalysis.

American identification with ego psychology, beginning shortly after World War II, has been repeatedly pointed out and, by now, repetitiously attacked. This identification emerged out of the psychoanalytic diaspora and the internal fights that it generated. Anna Freud, along with Heinz Hartmann, one of the founding theorists of ego psychology following Freud, found her views challenged by Klein and Klein’s followers when Miss Freud and her father arrived in England.  It was important, therefore, that she maintain her connections to the Viennese émigré analysts who moved to the United States. American psychoanalysis, linked to Anna Freud in London and fueled by the arrival of many of Sigmund and Anna Freud’s colleagues and students, including the other great classical theorist of ego psychology, Heinz Hartmann, became a bastion of ego psychology. Following the arrival of these ego psychologists in the late 1930s and early 1940s, internal purges within the United States, beginning with Horney’s expulsion from the New York Psychoanalytic Institute, ensured ego psychology’s triumph and the marginalization of the homegrown interpersonal-cultural school.

Just as in the political world, a sort of Cold War period ensued in psychoanalysis from the late 1940s through the 1970s. In psychoanalysis, however, the Iron Curtain fell not within the borders of Mitteleuropa but somewhere to the west of Ireland. From the Kleinian ranks in England, by way of the continuing fight with Anna Freud, came attacks on the American belief in interpreting ego defenses and resistances from the surface rather than directly interpreting unconscious fantasies that expressed id and punitive superego drives and affects (disagreement about the reality and utility of the death instinct played a part here as well). From across the channel in France came a preference, still characteristic of French psychoanalysis, for the first topography over the structural theory, wherein the division between unconscious and conscious mentation is primary, the Ucs. is still seen as an entity, and there is a more direct focus on psychosexual drives and experience than on ego activities and resistances.

In the United States, psychoanalytic social and political critics like the émigré Herbert Marcuse and the native-born Norman O. Brown advocated a view similar to that of the French (both psychoanalysts and academics). These critics claimed that Americans no longer “believed in” the unconscious or the drives. They misread Hartmann’s Ego Psychology and the Problem of Adaptation (1939) to be advocating a person’s adjustment to a sick society rather than as an attempt to rethink “Formulations on the Two Principles of Mental Functioning” (Freud 1911) through the structural theory of the ego—that is, as an investigation of   how the ego instantiates the reality principle through cognition, perception, and proprioception, and of how these capacities can be more or less free of intrapsychic conflict.

American psychoanalysis itself also had an equivalent Cold War fervor against unorthodoxy, both at home and across the Atlantic. American analysts argued technically, as accused, that interpretation needed to proceed from the surface, from where the patient preconsciously lives. Arguing against the interpersonalists, they elaborated theoretically through the structural theory Freud’s claim that all psychic expressions are intersystemic compromise formations that arise as a result of past intrapsychic development. I am not sure that orthodox fervor is typically American, but it certainly characterized American psychoanalysis, as American politics, during a particular era. The internal purges of interpersonal and cultural school thinkers begun during World War II kept potential American dissidents in line, while against the Kleinians and the French, Americans held fast to the structural theory and to ego psychological technique.

The Cold War period, based on a purge of interpersonalists and an orthodox fostering of ego psychology and structural theory-based practice, is now apparently over, as classical and relational-interpersonal Americans meet each other in organizations and on panels and as the mid-Atlantic Iron Curtain seems to have rusted and dissolved. Yet, whereas within American psychoanalysis today there seems to be extensive cross-fertilization between the classical and relational societies and organizations, we can see a typically American pattern in transatlantic interchange, which, in my observation, is mainly one-way.[10] The psychoanalytic diaspora, perhaps also helped by Freud’s well-known contempt for America, had established an American climate in which European-trained analysts were deferred to and in turn asserted their own status as closer to the cradle of psychoanalysis.[11] In the present period, relational and ego psychological institutes alike seem endlessly eager to host European and (increasingly) Latin American visitors. Like the characters in a Henry James novel, these institutes seem convinced that what is European must be better and that European critiques and dismissals of naive, provincial American thought and practice were right all along.

Although the psychoanalytic Cold War is largely over, it has had lasting effects. After Horney and Sullivan, and until the great flowering of American relational psychoanalysis beginning in the 1980s, there were few major innovative thinkers in interpersonal psychoanalysis. This school of thought sustained itself to a large extent by its distance from and critique of ego psychology. With the exception of Sullivan, in fact, the major immediate forebears of the contemporary relational perspective came from within the ranks of the classical institutes and from British object relations theory.[12]

At the same time, relational forebears like Erikson and Loewald, who focus on the relationship and two-person interaction, located themselves firmly in the ego psychological tradition. They did not want—as some relational and interpersonal thinkers seem to hope that they wanted—to throw out, with what is to some relationalists the dogmatic, polarizing, rigidly defined one-person ego psychological bathwater, the baby of Hartmann’s undifferentiated ego-id matrix (which Loewald drew on to develop an entire theory of psychic growth and regression in terms of differentiation and dedifferentiation). They held on to Anna Freud’s ego defenses (made central in Erikson’s writings) and to a classical psychosexual developmental perspective that allows for innate unfolding as well as for a field in which this innate unfolding takes place (both Loewald and Erikson hold to some version of the traditional psychosexual drive theory).

Erikson and Loewald continued to problematize ego and reality (this Freudian and Hartmannian theme is central to the thinking of both) and to attend to conflict-free ego  functioning  and  its  impediments.  The assumed intensity, uniqueness, and contingency—as this is created from within and partly dependent on innate biopsychological givens, not as it is mainly created and experienced in relationship—of one person’s psychic functioning.

Accordingly, the Loewald-Erikson two-person vision of the analytic encounter is of the interaction between two individual psychologies, in which transference and countertransference come mainly from the unconscious  and from the past of each participant. Unlike contemporary American relationalists (and perhaps Winnicott among British independent thinkers), neither Loewald nor Erikson is predominantly what I (2000) have called a “more-than-the-sum- of-the-parts” two-person analyst (potential space, analytic third, co-creation), or what Poland (2000), more succinctly and elegantly, would call a “two-person unified” analyst.

Ego psychology has been in many ways profoundly emblematic of American psychoanalysis, including among the leading predecessors of the relational tradition. It must then be—we might, as culture and personality theorists, speculate — characteristically American. With its one-person psychology, a metapsychology focused  on  intrapsychic  life  and  conflict,  and  a  preference  for  thinking  that  we create our psyches from within rather than primarily in relationship, ego psychology reflects American individualism.

A view in which reality exists only as it is created by the ego is a radically individualist view, and we find such a one-person subjectivism most fully in Loewald. Loewald advances the view that there is originally no ego and reality, no ego and object, no inner and outer. Ego and reality are created at the same time, differentiated out of an undifferentiated matrix (here Loewald extends Hartmann). Loewald does not hold the view, he tells us, that objects and reality do not exist if we do not experience them, but as a psychoanalyst, he is concerned “merely with the question how this world becomes psychologically constituted” (1951, p. 11).

In specific contradistinction to analysts like Klein and Fairbairn, for whom a differentiated ego and object exist from birth, and Hartmann, following Freud,   for whom reality is an external reality to which the ego needs to adapt (thereby generating its differentiation out of the ego-id matrix), Loewald concerns himself with how inner and outer, ego and object, are created in the first place. Only after “primary internalization” and “primary externalization” (Loewald 1962a)—the very creation of internal and external—can it be meaningful to speak of projection and introjection, of libido or aggression directed toward the ego or toward objects, of a reality principle that represents the requirements of reality. This initial creation of ego and reality sets off a lifelong process of fluid interchanges and meaning creation, as inner and outer reality are continually reconstituted through projective and introjective fantasies.

Loewald redefines illness and health in this process. In severe illness, as the ego regresses and disintegrates, object and reality dedifferentiate and disintegrate as well. In health,


people shift considerably, from day to day, at different periods in their lives, in different moods and situations, from one such level to other levels. In fact, it would seem that the more alive people are (though not necessarily the more stable), the broader their range of ego-reality levels. (1951, p. 20)


A distinctly ego-centered, one-person view of the psyche emphasizes individual psychic experience in all its depth and range. We find such a view in Loewald’s vision “of the intensity of the unconscious, of the infantile ways of experiencing life that have no language and little organization, but the indestructibility and power of the origins of life” (1960, p. 250) and in his claim that “our present, current experiences have intensity and depth to the extent to which they are in communication . . . with the unconscious, infantile, experiences representing the indestructible matrix of all subsequent experiences” (p. 251).

In his view of transference, Loewald emphasizes the intrapsychic transfer from unconscious to conscious over that from ego or libido to objects. And he emphasizes individuation and separateness in his advocacy of oedipal individuation and atonement and  in  his  later  reflections  on  religious  experience  and  the  experience of eternity (Loewald 1978c). We can also see a one-person individuation in the trajectory of Erikson’s developmental theory, moving from basic trust, found in the mother-child matrix, to the absolute responsibility for and recognition  of the lone self that is found in the stage of ego integrity. Erikson, who moved out of the center of exclusively psychoanalytic debates in mid-career, is not so much involved in questions of how to characterize transference-countertransference or the analytic field.

A recognition that an individual creates her or his own psychic life characterizes ego psychology, and this same emphasis on the individual also generates American independent approaches toward countertransference. Ego psychologists were originally among those most critical of countertransference. They advocated the neutral, scientifically objective analytic stance. Following Freud, they were most likely to see countertransference as a mark of pathology or insufficient analysis (see, e.g., Reich 1951, Gitelson 1952), in contrast to the interpersonal psychoanalysts and Kleinians who first came to valorize the countertransference.

Recently American psychoanalysis has been much more cognizant of the role of countertransference. Certainly within intersubjective ego psychology, the recognition of countertransference and countertransference enactments links these  theorists to their British and relational colleagues—Gabbard (1995) calls counter-transference a new common ground. But there remains, I think, a legacy from the American ego psychological heritage and the analyst-centered Freudian perspective on countertransference that makes for a difference in emphasis from the British and British/interpersonally influenced relational perspectives.

Thus, contemporary intersubjective ego psychologists like Boesky, Chused, Jacobs, McLaughlin, and Renik, along with the more relational Irving Hoffman, as well as other contemporary “mainstream” American psychoanalysts who describe countertransference and countertransference enactments, all focus on the analyst’s subjectivity as well as on that of the patient. They describe the analyst’s counter-transference and, more generally, the analyst’s feelings. Yet even as these feelings are thought to be elicited by what the patient is saying or doing, or what is going on between patient and analyst, they are described as expressing and drawing on the analyst’s own emotions, history, and personality, rather than as being primarily the result of projective identification (compare in this regard Hinshelwood 1999, and Jacobs 1999).[13]

Boesky (1990) tells us that an analysis is not complete if it has not elicited unforeseen emotions in the analyst, and Hoffman (1998) alerts us to the fact that what the patient sees in the analyst is often actually what the analyst is. Chused (1996) advocates an analytic neutrality that consists in both recognition and dispassionate observation of the analyst’s intense passions, while Renik (1993) forcefully advocates sharing the analyst’s subjectivity. Both Jacobs (1991) and McLaughlin (2005) use their emotional and physical responses and personal memories to understand their patients. Such a view of countertransference, as arising more from within  the analyst than mainly from the patient or as a co-creation, also leads, among intersubjective ego psychologists, to a characteristically American, perhaps individualist, emphasis on the analytic relationship as one between two people, each of whose subjectivity contributes to the relationship. Loewald says, “If a capacity for transference . . . is a measure of the patient’s analyzability, the capacity for counter-transference is a measure of the analyst’s ability to analyze” (1986, p. 286).

An emphasis on the analyst’s subjectivity—on the analyst as a person with emotions, a history, and idiosyncratic reactions, as well as with training in how to understand a patient’s communications—also leads to a particular technical stance, a perspective that emphasizes the analyst’s not knowing rather than knowing. In this view, pioneered by American interpersonalists like Sullivan and adapted, in the intersubjective part of their identity, by Loewald and Erikson, analyst and patient together are working to understand and help the patient rather than the analyst’s being the expert on the patient’s psyche. What the analyst brings, along with her subjectivity, is training (as Loewald [1975] puts it, not only in a science but also in an art). What the patient has is a privileged insider view of her own experience.

Such a position is now widely shared across the analytic spectrum, but it is in distinct contrast to the classical Kleinian and ego psychological positions, in which the analyst’s subjectivity was a hindrance and the analyst seemed to have not only training but also, based on his theoretical understanding, a better view than the patient of the patient’s psychic world.[14] Characteristically American, it may also have other typically American characteristics—our historically ideological commitment to equality rather than hierarchy, for example, as well as our pragmatism and the commitment to empiricism that has been challenged by some European colleagues.

One of the most comprehensive early statements of not knowing and indeterminacy can be found in a classical intersubjective-cultural ego psychological case: Erikson’s case of Sam, which opens Childhood and Society. Sam is a little boy who has seizures, and Erikson wishes to describe the specific genesis of these seizures, even in an illness with an indisputably physiological basis. As he tries to explain Sam’s seizures (and, as far as the reader can tell, seems to have explained them   to Sam himself), Erikson is not content with a physiological explanation. In a   few short pages, he brings in a number of factors: Sam’s family history of migration and its personal effect on him; Sam’s mother’s conflicts about aggression; his grandmother’s accidental death; Sam’s stage of psychosexual development, and the maturational stages of Sam’s ego capacities, psychomotor skills, and intelligence. Finally, turning to the psychocultural-psychohistorical, Erikson describes a characteristically Jewish internal conflict over, and external prohibition against, aggression. Erikson concludes:


Of the catastrophe described . . . we know no “cause.” Instead we find a convergence in all three processes of specific intolerances which make the catastrophe retrospectively intelligible, retrospectively probable. The plausibility thus gained does not permit us to go back and undo causes. It only permits us to understand a continuum, on which the catastrophe marked a decisive event, an event which now throws its shadow back over the very items that seem to have caused it. (1950, pp. 37–38)


I am in the terrain of the relationship between patient and analyst, and this  takes me to the other, apparently contradictory, side of what is American about American psychoanalysis. Just as it was a center of a Viennese-inspired, classical one-person ego psychology, so too has the United States always housed an analytic world that emphasizes the analytic dyad and the interpersonal/cultural. The 1930s and 1940s witnessed the development of the interpersonal and cultural school   and the rise of culture and personality theory, and both Erikson and Loewald were  influenced  by  these  developments.  Beginning  with  Sullivan,  Thompson, Kardiner, and contemporaneous 1930s–1940s culture and personality anthropologists, U.S.-born Americans created this perspective. However, it received some generative help from Budapest, through Thompson’s analysis with Ferenczi, who was himself also a pioneer in attending to the analytic field, and perhaps thereby also indirectly through the work of the Hungarian psychoanalyst-anthropologist Géza Róheim.

Erikson collaborated with anthropologists in the field during the 1930s and 1940s and was continually interested in and identified with cultural and personality anthropology, and Loewald received his psychoanalytic training at the Baltimore-Washington Institute, which was a Sullivanian center. But even Hartmann (1964), along with other classical ego psychologists, was interested in and wrote about the relations between psychoanalysis and social science. We are not surprised, then, to find a dual emphasis in these founding intersubjective ego psychologists, Erikson and Loewald. While both portray inner vitality and character, internal life and conflict, ego defenses and the ego’s creation of its own reality, they also emphasize the role of others in the creation and experience of self.

We begin with Erikson. In intellectual and popular culture, Erikson was certainly the most widely influential American psychoanalyst of the twentieth century, yet for a number of reasons he is today almost unacknowledged as having been    a psychoanalyst at all.[15] Anna Freud seems to have felt that Erikson’s theories and practices strayed too far from the Freudian fold (as she felt also about Bowlby and, to some extent, Mahler). Erikson’s developmental theories went beyond an emphasis on early psychosexuality toward the psychosocial and the entire life cycle, and his case reports, though not his self-identity, aligned him also with the interpersonal and cultural schools. He may in general have become too much of a public intellectual and commentator for the tastes of mid-1950s American psych analytic orthodoxy.

As I have noted, one branch of American psychoanalysis, founded  by  Sullivan, Horney, and Thompson, emphasized that we are born and live within     a social-cultural-interpersonal field. In this context, Erikson’s contribution to our understanding of the ways that, as he puts it, history and culture assume “decisive concreteness” in individual development (1946, p. 17) and “appear in specific transferences and resistances” (p. 29), makes him exemplary and a major proponent of this American concern.

Yet Erikson remains a hybrid. His conception of the intersubjective-cultural field argues that all psychological experience is filtered through the interaction   of soma, developmental pattern, and society, and most of his writings are cultural and historical. But although, more than any other analyst, he looks with evenly hovering attention at psyche, culture, and society and their interaction, Erikson self-identified as an ego psychologist during the period of the psychoanalytic Cold War (see Erikson 1946, 1950; see also Rapaport 1959, who certainly recognized this identity).

Erikson’s intersubjective ego psychology and stage theory of development make foundational the intersubjective mother-infant matrix, especially in the constitution of the first stage, basic trust versus mistrust. An interpersonal field reappears in Erikson’s definition of identity, which he describes as more than a sum of identifications but, rather, a centeredness that at the same time requires confirmation by another, and in generativity, where recognition and  caring,  rather than being received, go toward the next generation. Throughout his description of his eight stages, culture is not mentioned. It is perhaps a taken-for-granted background.

Yet, as Erikson elaborates his approach, culture hovers everywhere. Psychoanalysis had always concerned itself with sex-gender—the psychosexual stages, psychosexuality as foundational in psychic life. Erikson does not give up, but expands upon, the idea of a stage theory of development (in two ways: development does not stop in childhood, and Freud’s original psychosexual stages also include relational and self components). At the same time, he makes ethnicity central.[16] Long before American culture and politics became focused on it, Erikson was obsessed with identity, especially with the particulars of racial-ethnic-cultural identities, spoiled and outcast identities, and identity fragments that must, somehow, be cemented into a psychologically working whole. He tells us (1946) about a successful Midwestern businessman who, after retirement, became, psychically, a Wandering Jew from the Pale of Settlement and a blond dancer whose overly rigid posture expressed not just masculine phallicity but also German-Prussian military bearing, and about a little boy, the “son of a bombardier,” trying to create an all-American masculine identity during World War II, in a surround of women  relatives and father-absence (1950).

Erikson’s ego psychological clinical and developmental approach, then, specified to the individual, melds with a cultural psychology, as he emphasizes that each person is born into and lives within a social-cultural-interpersonal field. This clinical individual, these elaborated and specific case examples, contrast with the more general statements found in Sullivan and his colleagues and in contemporaneous culture and personality anthropology. Erikson brings ego psychological and developmental case specifics to the transferentially internalized specifics of culture.

In contrast to Erikson, Loewald’s view of the developmental field, identity, and the interpersonal matrix does not have the same wide sweep into culture and history (though see Loewald 1978c).[17] Yet Loewald is more attentive to the intersubjectivity of the analytic encounter. Loewald is a subjectivist who believes that reality exists only to the extent that it is psychically created, but he is equally an object relations theorist, who argues that ego and object, drives, and the division of primary and secondary process, all differentiate from a primary global unity, a unity that is the mother-child matrix. In consonance with Erikson, Loewald claims that developmentally, mother-child “relatedness is the psychic matrix out of which intrapsychic instincts and ego, and extrapsychic object, differentiate” (Loewald 1978b, p. 216). His subjectivism thus meets an equally stressed intersubjectivism (see also Loewald 1978a). Even the drives, libido, and aggression, rather than being inborn energic charges, evolve out of the mother-child field: “Instincts . . . are     to be seen as relational phenomena from the beginning and not as autochthonous forces seeking discharge” (Loewald 1972, p. 322).

Loewald brings his dual ego psychological and object-relational perspectives—his relational view of development, his understanding of transference and conscious-unconscious interchanges in creating meaning and aliveness, and his goal of flexible ego-reality differentiation—to the role of the analyst and his conception of the analytic encounter. In his preface to Papers on Psychoanalysis (Loewald 1980), he claims: “In psychoanalysis it becomes increasingly clear that interactional processes—those that are intra-psychic and inter-psychic ones, and these two in their interactions—are the material of investigation, epitomized and highlighted in the psychoanalytic process” (p. vii). Similarly, Loewald opens “On the Therapeutic Action of Psychoanalysis” with an elegantly expressed, seamless fusion of the two perspectives:


If “structural changes in the patient’s personality” means anything, it must mean that we assume that ego development is resumed in the therapeutic process in psychoanalysis. And this resumption of ego development is contingent on the relationship with a new object, the analyst. The nature and  the effects of this new relationship are under discussion.(1960, p. 221)


Here Loewald is arguing for a relational, as against a subject/object, natural science observational model of objectivity, yet his is nonetheless a stance that folds back into a one-person view (retrospectively, we might identify it as two-person separate). Analysis, he says, “requires an objectivity and neutrality the essence of which is love and respect for the individual and for individual development” (p. 229).

In Loewald’s well-known formulation, the analyst operates just on the edge    of the patient’s readiness for insight. We are reminded of the non-American Winnicott, with whom Loewald shares so much, but Loewald’s working from    the surface, his attention to the exact location of readiness for interpretation, is quintessentially American. Analysis takes place in an analytic field in which the analyst, like the mother, acts as a “mediating environment” (p. 238), but Loewald (being both a one-person and a two-person analyst) also keeps in view that this field is composed of two separate individuals with two separate existences and two separate roles:


The analyst in his interpretations reorganizes, reintegrates unconscious material for himself as well as for the patient, since he has to be attuned to the patient’s unconscious, using, as we say, his own unconscious as a tool, in order to arrive at the organizing interpretation. (1960, p. 241)


Loewald has been taken to task by some critics for holding an inegalitarian view that privileges the analyst’s perspective. As he puts it, “The analyst functions as a representative of a higher stage of organization and mediates this to the patient, insofar as the analyst’s understanding is attuned to what is, and the way in which it is, in need of organization” (p. 239). Yet at the same time, analysis has egalitarian goals that require the gradual decrease of this initial distance, and patient and analyst are in it together: “the therapeutic effect appears to have something to do with the requirement, in analysis, that the subject, the patient himself, gradually become an associate, as it were, in the research work” (p. 227). Thus, he is very specific about the nature and constitution of analytic authority and its eventual fate.

Intersubjective ego psychology, first enunciated in the writings of Loewald and Erikson, holds in tension and reconciles two contradictory psychoanalytic approaches—ego psychology and interpersonal psychoanalysis, established by their founding American theorists Hartmann and Sullivan—that have characterized the theory, clinical practice, and politics of American psychoanalysis since the 1930s. One tendency began firmly committed to a one-person perspective on the mind, to a focus on intrapsychic conflict, compromise formation, an internal world, and intrapsychic fantasy. It stressed that transference was brought from the patient’s past and unconscious to his present and his conscious mind and that the analyst was the interpreter of the patient’s experience. According to this perspective, as the analyst’s participation entered the picture, it was mainly as an interpreter of transference and resistance or through a countertransference that came from the analyst’s own unconscious and past.

The other tendency started from an interpersonally and culturally created psyche in which the patient was also firmly situated in his sociocultural and familial surround. It began with a focus on what goes on between patient and analyst and  a belief that not everything comes from the patient. It led among other consequences also to a view that the patient may affect the analyst’s countertransference, or, as Hoffman (1983) put it, also be the interpreter of the analyst’s experience.

This co-created analytic field, described first by interpersonalists and inherited by relational psychoanalysis, is, in some sense, more than the sum of the two-person parts. By contrast, intersubjective ego psychologists hold both perspectives at the same time and thereby modify each. Poland expresses the intersubjective ego psychological dual perspective with clarity and elegance:


How can it be that no man is an island and that at the same time every man is an island? . . . It is misleading to speak glibly of one-person psychology versus two-person psychology. No single person exists outside a human,  object-connected field; the analytic space colors how such a single person comes to understanding by the other and to insight. At the same time, the mind of any individual can be engaged by another yet is always crucially apart, a private universe of inner experience. (1996, p. 33)


As we return from Loewald and Erikson, and those debates and trends that have characterized American psychoanalysis from within, to the larger question, “What’s American about American psychoanalysis?” we find ourselves face-to-face with our critics. As in other intellectual and political arenas, critics have accused Americans of optimism and pragmatism, taking form within psychoanalysis specifically as curative goals and abandoning the unconscious. Along with optimism, pragmatism, and ignoring the unconscious, critics have sometimes also accused American psychoanalysis of “empiricism,” a continental European critique of Anglo-American thinking in general.[18]

To my mind, the best way to face one’s detractors is to be straightforward and undefensive, although, as I have noted, the defensiveness of colonials has been characteristic of American psychoanalysis. I conclude, then, in a sort of afterword, by addressing our critics more directly, through the lens of classical intersubjective ego psychology. Just as its detractors suggest, American psychoanalysis tends to have an optimistic edge and to be unabashed in its interest in cure and the mitigation of suffering (Mitchell [2001] and Goldberg [2002] both point to American pragmatism).[19]

We (those of us with some Californian identity) had our Gold Rush in the mid-nineteenth century, and we saw that those who obsessed about finding gold got not nearly as far as those who settled for mundane family life and jobs. In a similar vein, in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, some of us stopped worrying about diluting the “pure gold” of psychoanalysis. In different ways, Loewald and Erikson can both be seen as early representatives of this undefensively pragmatic and optimistic trend.

Loewald is unapologetic about spelling out visions of oscillation between different levels of integration of ego and reality and living both on the oedipal level of individuation and morality and on the level of the “psychotic core” of fusion and symbiosis. He dares to use the term psychic health: “psychic health has to do with an optimal, although by no means necessarily conscious, communication between unconscious and preconscious, between the infantile, archaic stages and structures of the psychic apparatus and its later stages and structures of organization. And further, that the unconscious is capable of change” (Loewald 1960, p. 254).

Meanwhile, Loewald’s vision of the integration of  transference, fantasy, and reality can at times exhibit an almost sentimental sense of the wonder of human existence:


To make the unconscious conscious, is one-sided. It is the transference between them that makes a human life, that makes a life human . . . I shall try to develop the thesis that the concept of transference opened up the historical dimension of man’s love life while at the same time disclosing the erotic dimension of his individuation and historicity, of his becoming what may properly be called a self. The concept of transference provides a scientific approach to the phenomenon of love. (Loewald 1978c, pp. 31–32)


Erikson’s clinical writings, similarly, are filled with a buoyant therapeutic enthusiasm. His eight stages of man, especially in his later writings, where they are tied to what he calls virtues, point toward an image of human fulfillment through the life cycle. His immigrant enthusiasm for America is often embarrassing.

Yet neither Erikson nor Loewald is giving us what Norman O. Brown once called the “lullabies of sweetness and light which the neo-Freudians serve up as psychoanalysis” (1959, p. 98). Erikson’s case writings, especially his child-analytic cases, portray the tragedies of internal life as well as the uncontrollable accidents of family and history. His social writings indicate an awareness of poverty, of the mistreatment of Native Americans, and of the depression and self-blame that immigration or living in a racially biased world can foster. Erikson acknowledges the depression and melancholia of immigration and loss and reminds us of those “who were not allowed to join us in migration, the dead” (1964, p. 85). His conception of ego integrity,  which  requires  the  acceptance  of  one’s life as the only life one could have led, has a tonal cast that requires mourningand rueful recognition. In his chapter on American identity in Childhood and Society, he gives us everything from platitudes about American individuality and stick-to-itiveness to brave condemnations of racism, capitalism,  exploitation,  and mass society (brave: this book was published in 1950, at the beginning of the McCarthy era, and Erikson was soon after its publication required to leave UC Berkeley because he refused to take a loyalty oath).

Loewald, meanwhile, like Erikson a refugee, not only begins his collected papers with a foreword that addresses the “most hurtful betrayal” he experienced when Martin Heidegger, who had been his teacher, joined the Nazi Party. He    also focuses developmentally on the unavoidable killing of one’s parents and oedipal atonement, and he recognizes the intractability of certain negative therapeutic reactions based in part on the death instinct (Loewald 1972, 1979).

Americans, finally, are accused by some of our  European  colleagues  not only of therapeutic optimism but also of abandoning the unconscious. Indeed,    the continually growing Jamesian transatlantic attraction—first to the British Kleinians, then to Bion and British, Italian, and South American Bionians, with Lacan on the side—seems, in addition to being a welcome advance from orthodoxy and an openness to various theories, designed in part to defend against this critique. I argue, by contrast, that the unconscious arrived early and never left American psychoanalytic shores. It is more from the ego psychological than the interpersonal lineage that we draw American interest in the unconscious, including an interest in the drives. In ego psychology, we find attention to unconscious fantasy and to drive derivatives that have been distorted or repressed, and, following the structural model, to the view that all aspects of the psyche operate unconsciously, including the id-ego-superego interactions that produce compromise formations.

We find a portrayal of the unconscious in Loewald’s powerful argument for the meaning, depth, and intensity of experience that comes from the integration of conscious and unconscious through fantasy and transference and from his portrayal of the integration of primary-process affective density, taking us to the deepest wellsprings of human existence, with secondary-process language. In Loewald and the intersubjective ego psychologists who follow him, we find concern with the analyst’s unconscious and its effects on the clinical process. We find the unconscious in Erikson’s ego psychological attention to anxieties and defenses and in his elaborately and empathetically described accounts of symptom formation in children.

Throughout Loewald’s and Erikson’s writings, we find, without their making special claims, a taken-for-granted assumption that the drives—libido and aggression—are forces in unconscious and conscious life. The drives may gain shape and direction in development and interaction, but they are never thought to be simply reactions to interactional experience or frustration. It is precisely because psychoanalysis begins from a recognition of the unique subjectivity created in each individual by unconscious affects, drives, fantasies, conflicts, compromise formations, and a personal dynamic history, along with a recognition that two subjects bring their uniqueness to the analytic transference-countertransference field that they also create, in a particular cultural and analytic environment, that intersubjective ego psychology—an American fusion of ego psychology and relational-interpersonal psychoanalysis—continues to grow.





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Schwaber, E. (1983) “Psychoanalytic listening and psychic reality”, Internat. J. Psycho-Anal., 10:379-392.


Spezzano, C.:


-       (1995) “‘Classical’ versus ‘contemporary’ theory – the differences that matter clinically”, Contemp. Psychoanal., 31:20-46.

-       (1997) “The emergence of an American middle school of psychoanalysis: Commentary on Karen Rosica’s paper”, Psychoanal. Dial., 7:603-618.


Turner, F. J. (1893) “The significance of the frontier in American history”, in: “The Significance of the Frontier in American History,” and Other Essays (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1998).


Tyson, P.:


-       (1994) “Bedrock and beyond: An examination of the clinical utility of contemporary theories of female psychology”, J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 42:447-467.

-       (1996) “Female Psychology: An introduction”,  J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 44(S):11-20.

-       (1997) “Sexuality, femininity, and contemporary psychoanalysis”, Internat. J. Psycho-Anal., 78:385-389.



[1] Erikson and Joan Erikson added a “ninth” stage. To me, this stage has always felt like an afterthought, not foundational, fundamental, and integrated as the original eight stages.

[2] The Psychoanalytic Dialogues special issue “What’s American about American Psychoanalysis?” appeared in 2004. A panel with the same title at the January 2016 meetings of the American Psychoanalytic Association echoed Mitchell and Harris’s inquiry (Mullen 2016). Contributors reprised several themes and observations found in the Psychoanalytic Dialogues issue, as well as developing new ones.


[3] I assume that similar caveats (that they both obscure and illuminate) apply to cultural, political, and historical studies that generalize about America or imply American uniqueness, e.g., American individualism, the tyranny of the majority, and democratic despotism (de Tocqueville 1835), the special role of the frontier (Turner 1893), the “American political tradition” (Hofstadter 1948), Americans as “people of plenty” (Potter 1954), the United States as a “melting pot” (Glazer 1963), etc., but I have only glancing acquaintance with this field. In 2017, we found almost daily allusion in the newspapers to Hofstadter’s “Paranoid Style in American Politics” (1965).

[4] In a related vein, Spezzano (1995, 1997) identifies an “American Middle School,” which he sees as integrating British object relations and neo-Kleinian theory, American interpersonal psychoanalysis, and contemporary affect and motivational theory. Although our perspectives overlap, my impression is that Spezzano’s designation comes from his seeing the particular combination that he is describing not only as akin theoretically and clinically to the British Middle Group but also as especially characterized by its exclusion of classical American ego psychology in favor of a relational perspective on mind. By contrast, it is the betweenness within two American traditions, and the preservation of each, very much including ego psychology, that I am stressing. Summary overviews of the British independent tradition can be found in Kohon (1986), Parsons (2014), and Rayner (1991).

[5] I use, but with quotation marks, the labels “one-person” and “two-person.” These have become reified labels, eschewed by many of those assigned to one side or the other, but they do, I believe have historical accuracy, and they capture something of the emphasis and major themes of each position (or, as more and more people reject the labels, something of what comes to any fusion or hybrid from each side).

[6] Books or influential articles include Boesky (1990, 2008), Chused (1991, 1992b, 1996), Jacobs (1991, 2013), McLaughlin (1996), Poland (1996, 2000, 2017), and Renik (1993, 1995, 1996). Aron (1996) refers to this same collection of author-psychoanalysts as Freudian interactionists. My purpose in naming these few contemporary names is simply to give some ethnographic sense of the Loewald-Erikson legacy and to locate thinkers in the generationally and theoretically mediating position to which they belong. Definitive locating of contemporary thinkers is beyond the scope of this chapter and threatens to become inaccurate pigeonholing (of which we do not need more in psychoanalysis!). Since 2004, as colleagues have read about or heard me speak of the American independent tradition, I find that the identity feels congenial to many.


[7] All of these authors, named for illustrative purposes only, were publishing articles from the 1980s and 1990s onward that led to these books. Other ego psychologically trained authors include Eva Lester, who wrote about pregnancy and sexuality with Notman (Lester and Notman 1986, Notman and Lester 1988) and Phyllis Tyson (e.g., 1994, 1996, 1997).

[8] As was typical of those trained in my era, our theory readings ranged from Freud to Hartmann, Brenner, Gill, and Gray. In the last three weeks of our last year we read Klein.

[9] Ironically, this could not have happened. Although the interpersonal-cultural perspective is the only classical psychoanalytic approach created by U.S.-born Americans, and although the interpersonal analysts were close to Sapir, Mead, Benedict, Du Bois, and other social scientists, the interpersonalist institutes and organizations, like the medical American Academy of Psychoanalysis, were traditionally even less hospitable to the clinical training or participation of academics than “The [ego-psychological] American.”

[10] “Today” was the historical present of the original writing, 2000–2003, and my claim is less true now than it was then. I would argue, however, that my observations, though perhaps with some modulation, still hold true. North Americans are much more interested in psychoanalysts and psychoanalytic theories from across the Atlantic (and from Latin America) than the reverse. The taken-for-granted hegemony of British thinking and intellectual and institutional control over international psychoanalysis (the permanent London location of the IPA headquarters and International Journal of Psychoanalysis; British dominance of the Psychoanalytic Electronic Publishing (PEP)-Web), growing originally from the early role of Ernest Jones and the Freuds finding refuge from Nazism in London but sometimes feeling like a last remnant of British imperialism, might surprise scholars from other fields, as might the regularity with which analysts move from one idealized theory and clinical approach to another. As of this writing (2019), we find on the ostensibly universalistic PEP-Web book list, maybe a hundred in all, nine by the Kleinian Meltzer or Meltzer and a co-author, seven by Winnicott, five by Bion, and four by M. H.Williams, whose name was unfamiliar to this writer but who seems to be a British Kleinian who writes about poetry and literature. We find one Hartmann, no Erikson, and no Loewald.

[11] An American interviewee in my early 1980s study of second- and third-generation women psychoanalysts reported that the Americans used to refer privately to the “bei-unsers.” These were émigré analysts who said repeatedly, “Bei uns it was like this; bei uns we did it like that.”

[12] I follow Mitchell (2000) here, who locates the origins of relational psychoanalysis in Loewald, Bowlby, Fairbairn, and Sullivan (my colleagues Lewis Aron and Adrienne Harris might add Ferenczi), and we notice also that Mitchell’s first two publications (1978, 1981), were ego psychological. Meanwhile, Mitchell’s early co-author, Jay Greenberg, has repositioned himself first in the “middle voice” (2005) and now finds himself in the center of the center, editor of the Psychoanalytic Quarterly and fully participant in “the” American.

[13] This division has grown wider in the last decade or so, as a Bionian perspective from the U.K., Italy, and Latin America, along with the Barangers’ conceptualization of bulwarks (1961–1962), has swept through psychoanalysis. Bion’s “without memory or desire” has, it seems to me, transformed itself into analytic certainty about what the patient means and how this meaning is always about the present moment in the hour and the analytic relationship. The analyst’s “use of the self,” to borrow Jacobs’s term, seems for many entirely in order to be certain of the projective identification from the other.

[14] Schwaber (1983) makes this argument most forcefully against classical ego psychology, and Bion (1962, 1967) perhaps most forcefully, although more elliptically, against rigid Kleinianism. Of course, all analysts would take the position that they are working with their patients to understand the patients’ psyche rather than being the expert, but I think (as I elaborate in Chapter 8 of my book) that even today we find a distinction among analysts as to how much they bring a preformulated theory to their listening and interpretation.

[15] The Erikson Institute for Education and Research at Austin Riggs is a thriving enterprise, but I am not sure about the extent of its reach or recognition, or if colleagues outside the Institute know about the work and history of the person for whom it is named.

[16] In later chapters of my book, I note Freud’s extensive and persistent thinking about Jewishness and his attention to the sociocultural details of his patients’ surround, as well as his great works on psyche and society. Yet I would argue that Freud does not make ethnicity theoretically and clinically constitutive of psyche and development, as does Erikson.

[17] Balsam (2018) points out that the concept of internalization also links Loewald to understandings of “cultural influences on the formation of the psyche.”

[18] I will not deal directly with these critiques. My own personal approach—well outside the scope of my considerations here—would be to be undefensive on this score as well. Of course, we find empirical research useful. Of course, we want to create and evaluate theories and clinical work in as many ways as possible. Of course, we are pragmatic and care about goals.

[19] Almost all the contributors to the 2016 “What’s American” panel referenced American pragmatism, whether as an elaborated philosophy and philosophically driven approach to psychoanalysis or simply as a direct “How does it work?” question (Mullen 2016).

[20] Editor’s Note: The reference section included above corresponds to the version of Chodorow’s article, “The American independent tradition: Loewald, Erikson, and the (possible) rise of intersubjective ego psychology”, as published in Psychoanalytic Dialogues 2004; 14(2). The body of the text itself is reproduced from Chapter 1 of The Psychoanalytic Ear and the Sociological Eye: Toward an American Independent Tradition (Routledge, 2019). For this reason  minor divergences between the reference section and the main body of the text may be present.






Nancy Chodorow is Professor of Sociology Emerita, University of California, Berkeley; Lecturer in Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School/Cambridge Health Alliance; Training and Supervising Analyst Emerita, Boston Psychoanalytic Society and Institute; and Faculty, San Francisco Center for Psychoanalysis.  Chodorow’s books include The Reproduction of Mothering (1978); Feminism and Psychoanalytic Theory (1989); Femininities, Masculinities, Sexualities: Freud and Beyond (1993); The Power of Feelings: Personal Meaning in Psychoanalysis, Gender, and Culture (1999); Individualizing Gender and Sexuality: Theory and Practice (2012) and The Psychoanalytic Ear and the Sociological Eye: Toward an American Independent Tradition (2020, Routledge).   Along with her foundational work in feminist psychoanalysis, Chodorow is among the leading voices in a Loewald renaissance.  In The Psychoanalytic Ear and the Sociological Eye, she names an American Independent Tradition, a clinical and theoretical epistemology, intersubjective ego psychology, that originates in the writings of Loewald and Erikson and that bears family resemblance to the British Independent Tradition.  Chodorow is honored in Nancy Chodorow and The Reproduction of Mothering: 40 Years On (2020, P. Bueskens, ed., London & New York: Palgrave MacMillan).

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