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Cover image of the book 'The Compulsion to Create: Women Writers and Their Demon Lovers' old cover

The Compulsion to Create: Women Writers and Their Demon Lovers

Recent article/interview with Dr. Susan Kavaler Adler

The Compulsion to Create is a superb account of distinguished female writers [Plath, Nin, the Brontæs, Dickinson, and Sitwell] from a psychoanalytic object relations perspective. The artists discussed often suffered tragic fates including suicide, fatal illness, lifelong withdrawal from people, or alienation from the world. At this current time in the American psychoanalytic dialogue, there is a tendency to idealize the creative process and to discuss it only in terms of 'healthy narcissism.' While presenting a sympathetic and respectful attitude toward the creative process, Kavaler-Adler nevertheless does not idealize it and is forthright in discussing the problems the artist may encounter.
— Jeffrey Seinfeld, Ph.D.
This book can be highly recommended as an introduction to the clinical applications of current object relations theory from the perspective of both its dynamic and developmental viewpoints, as well as its application to the analysis of fine, enduring literature of female authors, and the unconscious mechanisms that underlie it. It is a rich and often moving account of how the capacity for attempts at self-repair find their expression in artistic endeavors that provide the artist with a personal medium for creative psychic survival, while contributing to the general enrichment of culture by means of such aesthetic experiences.
— Mark Wayne, C.S.W., B.C.D., American Journal of Psychoanalysis

Book review from Amazon:

A fascinating and informative psychological survey, February 9, 2001
This review is from: Compulsion to Create (Paperback)
The Compulsion To Create: Women Writers And Their Demon Lovers is a fascinating and informative psychological survey of women and the literature they create, especially as reflected by the lives and work of such luminaries as Charlotte Bronte; Emily Bronte; Emily Dickinson; and Edith Sitwell. The reader is treated to such issues as compulsion versus reparation, mourning and creative-process reparation, creative women and the "internal father", and the Demon Lover theme as literary myth and psychodynamic complex. A highly recommended addition to women's studies, literary studies, and psychological studies supplemental reading lists, The Compulsion To Create is original, revealing, insightful, challenging, at times iconoclastic, and always entertaining.
— By Midwest Book Review
Cover image of the book 'The Creative Mystique From Red Shoes Frenzy to Love and Creativity' old cover

The Creative Mystique: From Red Shoes Frenzy to Love and Creativity

Through the life stories of women such as Camille Claudel, Virginia Woolf, Katherine Mansfield, Anne Sexton, and Susan Farrell, and clinical case studies, Susan Kavaler-Adler offers penetrating insights into the nature of the creative process. Kavaler-Adler contrasts unsuccessful psychological treatments with object-relations therapy which is able to resolve the pathological narcissism of creative addiction and allow the emergence of healthy modes of self-expression. Why does the woman possessed by an internal demon lover dance the frenetic dance of the Red Shoes? Can one emerge from the dark side of creativity?

The Creative Mystique maintains the fascination and profundity of the author's earlier work. Dr. Kavaler-Adler has uniquely integrated the "Otherness" of the creative process with the chimerical male figure in the female artist's internal mental world to create the concept of the "demon lover." The author spans the horizon of the Kleinian, Object Relations, and Developmental literature, on one hand, and the artistic/literary biographical literature on the other. The effect is compelling and riveting.— James S. Grotstein, MD
Cover image of the book 'Mourning, Spirituality and Psychic Change: A New Object Relations View of Psychoanalysis'

Mourning, Spirituality and Psychic Change: A New Object Relations View of Psychoanalysis

In her earlier books, Dr. Kavaler-Adler identified healthy mourning for traumas and life changes as an essential aspect of successful analysis, and drew the distinction between a healthy acceptance of mourning as part of development and pathological mourning, which 'fixes' a patient at an unhealthy stage of development. Mourning, Spirituality and Psychic Change brings such distinctions into the consulting room, exploring how a successful analyst can help patients to utilize mourning for past troubles to move them forward to a lasting change for the better, emotionally, psychically and erotically. The author also tackles the controversial issue of spirituality in psychoanalysis, and explores how psychoanalysis can help patients come to terms with difficult issues in a time of great psychic and spiritual disturbance. These themes are brought to life via richly detailed case studies.

Cover image of the book 'Anatomy of Regret'

Anatomy of Regret: From Death Instinct to Reparation and Symbolization through Vivid Clinical Cases

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Recent review and interview (audio) with Dr. Susan Kavaler Adler

Anatomy of Regret will provide clinical illustrations of how the conscious processing of regret through a developmental mourning process can create critical turning points towards character change and psychological health in terms of the "Love-Creativity Dialectic."

The ability to feel conscious or 'psychic' regret is an important part of this navigation of aggression towards a developmental process of mourning primal object loss, and thus towards continuous psychological growth. Pivotal psychic changes essential to self transformation can be seen to evolve through the conscious engagement with one's own formerly unconscious or dissociated regrets, to emerge into evocative and articulate descriptions of one's own internal world. Interiority, compassion, self reflection, and self agency all evolve through a developmental progression (with backlash reactions along the way) of affectively engaged stages of mourning (my "developmental mourning"). Developmental mourning opens up a capacity for a psychic dialectic between one's self reflective and rational self and one's internal world of feelings, thoughts, needs, and all one's spontaneous internal life.— Dr. Susan Kavaler-Adler
'Dr Kavaler-Adler's newest contribution to psychoanalysis and social sciences heralds a giant step in theoretical contribution to reparative clinical outcomes with respect to developmental mourning and depression. While Anatomy of Regret creates new ground in her concept of mourning the grief of psychic regret, Dr Kavaler-Adler eloquently unpacks the gaps, biases and unfinished business of Kleinian theory, while at the same time acknowledging and clarifying Klein, Freud, Mahler, Winnicott, Balint, Fairbairn, Alexander, Bach, and Masterson's contributions. She has written a primer for the study of traumatic developmental mourning. The Anatomy of Regret is a "tour de force" in psychoanalytic theory, rich in scholarship, packed with meaningful and practical clinical case examples. – Margaret A. Yard, PhD, author of "Grievability": The Social Marker for a Life That Counts, 2012
'Dr Kavaler-Adler makes a fundamental contribution by uncovering a powerful component (perhaps the key) that accounts for vicissitudes of grief and of the mourning process: that it is vital to make conscious that which is unconscious - understanding one's own anger and aggression.– Henry Kellerman, PhD, author of The Psychoanalysis of Symptoms, and The Making of Ghosts: A Novel
Cover image of the book 'Klein-Winnicott Dialectic'

The Klein-Winnicott Dialectic: Transformative New Metapsychology and Interactive Clinical Theory

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Klein-Winnicott Dialectic will serve as a clinical textbook of case material that demonstrates the complementary use of the theoretical concepts of Melanie Klein (and her followers) and D.W. Winnicott.

Psychobiographic material on the British theorist Melanie Klein is also included here. This material illustrates how the internalization of Klein's relationship with her mother seems to have influenced her to cling to the metapsychological aspect of her theory as a "death instinct," even though this "death instinct" theory is not necessary to seriously employ her brilliant clinical theory. Melanie Klein's clinical theory include the understanding of the paranoid schizoid and depressive positions, which involve developmental movements towards symbolization through self-integration — in those formerly stuck in modes of protosymbolic enactment.

Review by Donald L. Carveth, Ph.D. [full text]

Susan Kavaler-Adler is the founder and executive director of the Object Relations Institute for Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis in New York and the author of several books and many papers in the area of British and American object relations theory and therapy. In the book under review, the author presents in her Introduction, Chapter One, and Conclusion the revised version of Kleinian theory, integrated with concepts of Fairbairn, Winnicott and Mahler, that informs her view of the therapeutic process as one of "developmental mourning." It is through facing up to and mourning one's destructiveness (arising in Kavaler-Adler's view not from innate aggression but from trauma broadly defined) and one's consequent regrets, all in the context of a therapeutic holding environment, that one is able to liberate oneself from one's defensive and maladaptive "false self" (Winnicott), one's "antilibidinal ego" or "internal saboteur" (Fairbairn), and from Freud's and Klein's sadistic superego. Having clearly outlined her theoretical framework, the author illustrates it through a series of richly described case studies which, to my mind, succeed in demonstrating in clinical detail her theory in practice and its therapeutic power in work with patients suffering from diverse levels and types of psychopathology.

Kavaler-Adler's perspective is very similar to my own as outlined inThe Still Small Voice: Psychoanalytic Reflections on Guilt and Conscience (London: Karnac, 2013). Whereas I speak more about guilt than regret, the two are really inseparable as one cannot genuinely face and learn how to bear one's guilt without at the same time experiencing regret about the damage one has done to others and to oneself. Kavaler-Adler and I agree with Melanie Klein that consciously integrating one's guilt and regret, working through the depressive position and moving toward reparation, is the path toward recovery. But because I have a narrower concept of mourning than Kavaler-Adler's, restricting it to working through losses, including those resulting from our destructiveness, I do not conceptualize genuinely facing guilt and regret as mourning per se. Though certainly sobering and humbling, moving into and working through the depressive position relieves one from painful alienation, shame and superego torment and promotes reconciliation with conscience. I suspect some patients on the verge of the depressive position who intensely and extensively experience mournfulness and what Kavaler-Adler calls "the grief of regret" may be using these persecutory states as a delaying tactic, a defence against genuine progress through getting on with the work of repentance and reparation.

While many deplore the fragmented state of contemporary psychoanalysis, I see the fragments as pieces of a wonderfully complex puzzle that we are gradually beginning to be able to piece together and which will constitute the higher, dialectical synthesis of the existing partial perspectives. In this connection it is relevant to note Kavaler-Adler's (2014) latest title, The Klein-Winnicott Dialectic: Transformative New Metapsychology and Interactive Clinical Theory. Analysts who have immersed themselves in Freud, Klein, Fairbairn, Winnicott, Mahler, Kohut and others appear to be breaking out of their theoretical tunnels, overcoming tunnel-vision and glimpsing and beginning to delineate an overarching framework for psychoanalysis. In this connection a recent posting by Arnold Richards to the Clio's Psyche psychohistory list-serve (June 23rd, 2014) is of interest: "A worldwide conceptual survey by the IPA shows that the number one and number two concepts were transference/countertransference and projective identification," a finding he feels "supports the view that there is a new conceptual consensus with a Kleinian take." Kavaler-Adler is an important contributor to this emerging synthesis.

In working out her object relational synthesis, Kavaler-Adler felt it necessary to offer a critique of Klein's acceptance of Freud's concept of the death drive because, without denying the potential role of innate temperamental differences and mismatches between infants and their carers, she views significant psychopathology as arising not from universal biological forces but from traumatic deprivation, frustration, impingement and abuse. While I share her rejection of the concept of a literal death instinct (though this term is employed in such radically different ways by different authors that it is only in specific contexts that one can hope to know what they might mean by it), Kavaler-Adler fails to draw attention to the fact that on almost every page where Klein mentions projection of the death instinct to account for the inevitable persecutory anxiety of even the most sensitively cared-for infant, she at the same time offers an alternate, and to me far more acceptable explanation: namely that given its cognitive limitations the infant is bound to misinterpret every frustration as an attack and, hence, that the absent good breast is felt as a present bad attacking breast. In "The Origins of Transference," Klein (1952) writes: "These persecutory feelings from inner sources are intensified by painful external experiences, for, from the earliest days onwards, frustration and discomfort arouse in the infant the feeling that he is being attacked by hostile forces. Therefore the sensations experienced by the infant at birth and the difficulties of adapting himself to entirely new conditions give rise to persecutory anxiety. The comfort and care given after birth, particularly the first feeding experiences, are felt to come from good forces" (p. 433).

Like many North American analysts, Kavaler-Adler appears to have bought into the idea that Klein ignored or minimized the role of the real parenting in health and pathology, perhaps influenced as so many have been by John Bowlby's slanderous claims in this regard (see references and discussion in Carveth, 2013, chapter 9). In actuality, Klein constantly stressed the crucial importance of good, loving care-taking, for only this can hope to offset the inevitable rage and paranoia resulting from frustration, both that which is basic and unavoidable and the surplus frustration arising from parental failure in varying degrees. In "Mourning and its Relation to Manic-Depressive States," Klein (1940) writes:

All the enjoyments which the baby lives through in relation to his mother are so many proofs to him that the loved object inside as well as outside is not injured, is not turned into a vengeful person. The increase of love and trust, and the diminishing of fears through happy experiences, help the baby step by step to overcome his depression and feeling of loss (mourning). They enable him to test his inner reality by means of outer reality. Through being loved and through the enjoyment and comfort he has in relation to people his confidence in his own as well as in other people's goodness becomes strengthened, his hope that his 'good' objects and his own ego can be saved and preserved increases, at the same time as his ambivalence and acute fears of internal destruction diminish. ... Unpleasant experiences and the lack of enjoyable ones, in the young child, especially lack of happy and close contact with loved people, increase ambivalence, diminish trust and hope and confirm anxieties about inner annihilation and external persecution; moreover they slow down and perhaps permanently check the beneficial processes through which in the long run inner security is achieved (p. 128).

For the reasons indicated, Klein's references to the concept of the death drive are redundant and can safely be ignored since she always provided another and far more acceptable explanation of the same set of facts. Since Klein considered the parent's provision of loving experiences as crucial for development, it cannot be said that she sought to get them off the hook, as it were, blaming pathology entirely on the child's drives and phantasies. Hence, there is no need for Kavaler-Adler's speculative psychoanalysis of Klein's alleged motives for doing so (such as that she needed to engage in a Fairbairnian "moral defence" of her mother by blaming herself and the drives and phantasies of children in general ) for, in reality, she never denied the role of the real caretakers in development in the first place.

Despite some differences with Kavaler-Adler in the ways indicated above, I believe her work represents a major and important contribution to the integrative psychoanalytic theory that is beginning to emerge after decades of fragmentation of our field into an array of partial and noninteracting perspectives. One of her book's major strengths is its many detailed and extensive case studies that will prove invaluable to students and colleagues seeking a practical, clinically grounded understanding of her approach.

Review by Barbara E. Berger

Expertly using psychobiography to mine for insight, Dr. Susan Kavaler-Adler illuminates the subterranean psyches of two giants of the British Psychoanalytic Institute: Melanie Klein and Donald W. Winnicott. Adding phenomenological and clinical perspectives, Kavaler-Adler reveals forces shaping their groundbreaking psychoanalytic theories, and, poignantly, the intrapsychic ceiling that Klein hit in developing hers – preventing Klein, like Moses, from reaching the Promised Land.

Kavaler-Adler integrates Klein and Winnicott’s views by moderating a gratifying objective discourse – a dialectic – that Klein and Winnicott were not able to sustain themselves. Kavaler-Adler herself stands on their shoulders to reach greater insights and add her own theories to the field.

In the first half of the 20th century, the institute’s relationship-based, object relations theorists, such as Klein, debated the more instinct-based (and medically trained) Freudians. Klein identified developmental stages different from Freud’s: first the infant’s “paranoid-schizoid position” from which the world appears split into all-good and all-bad parts, and later, if all goes well, a “depressive position”— from which one can enter into satisfying relationships, experiencing both autonomy and compassion for others.

Kavaler-Adler shows us how Klein’s unconscious psychological defenses kept her from seeing her mother’s ostensible narcissism, blinding her to theoretical possibilities and closing her mind. They also led Klein to resist Winnicott’s discoveries – and reject him. Klein’s own psychoanalysis might have dismantled her defenses, but she chose only abbreviated exposure to that side of the couch. Her need to deny her mother’s true nature kept Klein from realizing the shortcomings of upholding an outmoded death instinct theory, or from appreciating the value of developmental mourning of object loss, which Kavaler-Adler explores and widely writes about.

But Winnicott had a different experience with a different – a schizoid rather than narcissistic – mother, which informed his own work on relational mirroring and development. Without Klein’s internal roadblocks, he could see the paths ahead more clearly. And as a pediatrician, making first-hand observations of child and mother interactions, he could correctly identify that the infant was affected by real-life interactions with a real-life mother, beyond the mental-only constructs theorized by Klein. He could see aggression stemming from infants being mismatched, through the luck of the draw, with mothers not attuned to their developmental needs. Aggression was no longer an inborn, free-floating biological drive independent of external relationship; his theories did not have to protect an idealized, narcissistic, blameless mother.

In retrospect, Klein was a bridge between Freudian thought and a fuller expression of a non-drive-based object relations theory realized by Winnicott. And now Kavaler-Adler continues building on the past. With this brilliant work, she enriches our understanding of object relations theory, of psychobiography as a research method, and of her own work in developmental mourning. She shows us that the depressive position can encompass empathy, creativity, and even deep regret that spurs healthy mourning of object loss. The work is an example of how to synergize the best of what has gone before, to plant seeds for the next field of insights in a promised land.

– Barbara E. Berger
Cover image of the book 'Saturday Nights at Lafayette Grill'

Saturday Nights at Lafayette Grill: True Tales & Gossips of NY City Argentine Tango Scene

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Saturday Nights at Lafayette Grill: True Tales & Gossips of NY City Argentine Tango Scene brings the reader into the center of a worldwide cultural craze and passion, as it has developed and thrived in New York City since 1985, when the Broadway show “Tango Argentino” first came to town, followed by “Forever Tango.” With a special dedication of the book and title to the Argentine tango cultural center formerly housed within a Greek restaurant, named “Lafayette Grill,” this book offers 17 interviews with top NYC Argentine tango professionals (all of whom frequented Lafayette Grill), who each speak of their Argentine tango dance and tango teaching philosophies; of their first interest in Argentine tango, and of their own development within the dance over time. Along with these psychological interviews, this book offers readers 19 anonymous essays, written by Argentine tango dancers, who contribute the main fabric of the social milieu of Argentine tango in NY City. These essays penetrate the internal life of the Argentine tango dancer, and therefore have a psychological focus. These essays also display for the reader the colorful and rich ambience of the Argentine tango world in NY City as a social and cultural environment.

Book endorsements:

The Lafayette Grill was one of those strange, magical places that only happen in New York City. Dancing there took us to a timeless place; a mix of future and past, and a bittersweet feeling that it would not, could not, last. And that is the tango feeling. And we all felt lucky to be there, to feel it together. Dancing and dancing until the bitter end. Such a place deserves a great testament. And I thank my friend Susan Kavaler-Adler for writing it.

– Jack Hanley, Argentine tango instructor and event organizer, NYC

Saturday Nights at Lafayette Grill offers a memorable and historic peek through the late night neon sign reflected window of an important contributor to New York City’s tango culture.

– Batt Johnson, Argentine tango dancer/author/professor, NYC

Through frequent visits to New York, I got to know Lafayette Grill, a place “Where Everybody Knows Your Cabaceo.” Susan shared with me the stories as they danced off her talented fingers. I eagerly awaited a next chapter – be it an interview with a legendary tanguero, or the drama that made Lafayette Grill sizzle. Now it’s all collected in this historical volume, which talks to one’s heart.

– Carl Bogenholm, tanguero from Santa Fe, New Mexico