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The Interpersonal Unconscious
Scharff, David E. and Jill Savege Scharff
Jason Aronson / Rowman & Littlefield / Softcover / 2011-10-01 / 076570871X
Relational / Interpersonal Psychoanalysis
price: $31.50 (may be subject to change)
220 pages
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In The Interpersonal Unconscious, the Scharffs explore the construction and expression of the unconscious in interpersonal interaction. The authors draw from individual analysis, conjoint psychotherapy with families and couples, and from the use of group process in teaching. They introduce chaos theory applied to dynamical systems and South American theories of the link and the analytic field, now available in English. Advances in development, neuroscience, ethology, and attachment theory all contribute to their expanded view of the unconscious mind and its relationships. In turn, the Scharffs' view of the interpersonal unconscious revises current views of development, clinical theory, and unconscious psychic organization.

The unconscious is not individual as Freud thought: It is fundamentally interpersonal at the same time that it feels intensely our own. We live in an unconscious field. Each of us contributes to it, and each is structured and enriched by it. We are social creatures, not only in our behaviors and interactions, but in the deepest recesses of our minds.

We can no longer conceive of the unconscious as an individual property according to Freud's original topographic and structural theories. Even though the individual unconscious is unique, paradoxically it is also shared in reciprocal interactions with intimate partners, work groups, and social groups. In this state of mutual influence, our unconscious minds are constantly under construction across the life cycle.


The new volume by David and Jill Scharff represents further development and an integration of their earlier contributions to psychoanalytic object relations theory, and the integration of psychoanalytic theory with new developments in adjacent scientific fields. Here, they present a broad panorama of the relationship of object relations theory, link theory and field theory, chaos theory, and up to date relevant findings in neurobiological and attachment research. They apply this complex original framework to contemporary clinical psychoanalytic approaches to individual treatment, couples therapy, and family therapy in a rich, clearly formulated illustration of the clinical relevance of this theoretical approach. It is an exciting exploration of the present expansion and challenges of theoretical and clinical psychoanalysis; thought provoking and practical at the same time.
— Otto F. Kernberg, MD, New York Presbyterian Hospital, Cornell University, and Columbia University Center for Psychoanalytic Training and Research

From a European perspective, this wonderful book creates a bridge between subject and object, between internal and external reality, and between North American and European psychoanalysis. Through the authors’ deep, experiential knowledge of the international psychoanalytic field, it shows how contemporary psychoanalysts can harmoniously integrate different theories and techniques.
— Stefano Bolognini, MD, President of the Italian Psychoanalytic Society, President-Elect of the International Psychoanalytic Association

The great strength of the book is the coherence of the unfolding narrative of ideas that provide a framework for working with couples and families. The Scharffs, as they are often collectively referred to, have stayed true to their object relations foundations and maintain these as they explore influences from other disciplines and different parts of the world. They offer us a window into the journey they have made, and continue to make, as thinking clinicians, and by doing so, invite and sometimes challenge us to reflect on our own assumptions and methods.

— The Journal of Couple and Family Psychoanalysis


Chapter 1. The Interpersonal Unconscious
Chapter 2.The Link
Chapter 3.The Link, the Field, and Object Relations
Chapter 4.The Link in Family Dynamics
Chapter 5.The Social Unconscious
Chapter 6.The Social Link in Group Dreaming
Chapter 7.Chaos Theory: Strange Attractors in Marriage
Chapter 8.Strange Attractors in Individual Dreaming
Chapter 9.The Interpersonal Unconscious and the Somatic Link
Chapter 10.Attachment Theory as Link and Context
Chapter 11.The Interpersonal Unconscious in Practice

About the Authors:

David and Jill Scharff are co-founders of and supervising analysts at the International Psychotherapy Institute and clinical professors of psychiatry at Georgetown University Hospital. They are series editors of the Library of Object Relations at Jason Aronson and authors of many books including David's Refinding the Object and Reclaiming the Self and Jill's Projective and Introjective Identification and the Use of the Therapist's Self. They are in private practice as psychoanalysts with children and adults, couples, and families in Chevy Chase, Maryland.

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