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  • The Legacy of Fairbairn and Sutherland: Psychotherapeutic Applications
  • Gavin Miller
The Legacy of Fairbairn and Sutherland: Psychotherapeutic Applications. Jill Savege Scharff and David E. Scharff, eds. New York: Routledge, 2005. xvi + 295 pp. $90.00 (hb), $34.95 (pb).

Jill and David Scharff's edited collection, The Legacy of Fairbairn and Sutherland, reminds the wider intellectual world of Scotland's contribution to object relations psychoanalysis. Overshadowed by R. D. Laing's brilliant rise and infamous fall, W. R. D. Fairbairn (1889–1964) and John D. Sutherland (1905–1991) have remained figures of interest mainly within psychoanalytic circles. Yet they, along with fellow Scots such as Ian D. Suttie (1889–1935), created their own revolution within psychoanalysis.

The Legacy of Fairbairn and Sutherland presents almost thirty essays and is divided into two sections. The first and significantly larger section deals with Fairbairn (reflecting his greater importance and originality); the second concentrates on Sutherland and his development of Fairbairn's work. To summarize the topics addressed by the contributors to this volume is almost impossible given the enormous range of ideas and approaches. Although the collection is subtitled "Psychotherapeutic Applications," it is far from a collection of case studies. These do form a considerable part of the volume, and readers will find applications of object relations theory to the treatment of trauma, sexually abused children, emotionally abused women, hysteria, disturbed families, and so forth. But there are also many essays on topics such as the reception of Fairbairn's work in continental Europe, similarities and contrasts with other psychoanalytic models, the intellectual context of object relations, and the potential for synthesis into a grander "personal relations theory."

With such a large number of essays, there are inevitably problems of repetition and variation in quality. But sometimes repetition and overlap are welcome, particularly when a complex theoretical framework is being introduced. The variety of [End Page 575] perspectives on Fairbairn's theory (and Sutherland's development of it) makes it easier for the educated general reader to understand and evaluate this particular strand of psychoanalysis: the same theory is interpreted and illustrated in different contexts and applications.

The collection begins with David E. Scharff's helpful introductory essay, "The Development of Fairbairn's Theory." Scharff sets out Fairbairn's fundamental position that "libido is object seeking, not pleasure seeking as Freud thought, and that what is central to the developing infant and the person going through life is the need for relationships, not the need for gratification" (4). In Fairbairn's theory, the vicissitudes of early intersubjective life are potentially traumatic and may give rise to defense mechanisms such as splitting and dissociation: "The child takes in what is too painful to bear, does not accept the object because it feels bad, splits it off from the good part of the object, and represses the unaccepted, bad part in the individual unconscious. The fate of the repressed bad objects, however, is to return from the inside" (6). In Fairbairn's model, as Scharff explains, the infant wants above all to love and be loved by another person (the "object"), but inevitably the mother or other caregiver can never quite be reassuring enough. The child conquers this worrying reality by dividing up the mother into separate representations. There is a central good object (a loving and loveable person, idealized to a degree), and two bad objects: one is the exciting object (the caregiver insofar as he or she provokes longing), and the rejecting object (the caregiver insofar as he or she fails to meet this longing). The two bad objects, and the self's uncomfortable relations with them, become dissociated from the central ego and its rose-tinted relation to the good object. The affects associated with these split-off relationships duly return "from the inside" as various psychopathological symptoms.

Succeeding essays round out Fairbairn's theory and its applications. If the emotions corresponding to internal object relations cannot be effectively repressed, then, as Jill Savege Scharff explains in "Satisfactory, Exciting and Rejecting Objects in Health and Sex," the dissociated parts of the personality "press for expression and reveal themselves through behavior directed at the people to whom the person is closest...


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