Susan Kavaler-Adler, PhD, ABPP, D.Litt, NPsyA -

Co-Founder, Executive Director, and Senior Faculty & Training Analyst and Supervisor of the ORI since 1991.


Visit Dr. Kavaler-Adler's Web Site - www.kavaleradler.com

  2014 Announcements of talks/ educational events:

postgrad logo 2 Friday Night Dialogues Presents

Susan Kavaler-Adler, PhD, ABPP, D.Litt, NCPsyA

 “Melanie Klein and Her Internal Mother: The Effect on Her Theories and on Our Clinical Work: Putting the Death Instinct to Sleep as Metapsychology”

March 14, 2014; 8:00 – 10:00 PM  (Registration, networking, light refreshments 7:30 – 8:00 PM)

Baruch College Library, 151 East 25th Street; Room 320A, Besso Lab

In this timely Friday night presentation, Dr. Susan Kavaler-Adler will discuss some critical theory about Melanie Klein’s own theory construction, which is more fully explicated in her latest book, Klein-Winnicott Dialectic: New Metapsychology and Interactive Clinical Theory (Karnac, 2014). She will share her speculations about Klein’s attachment to her metapsychology of the death instinct, despite the superfluous nature of this metapsychology for the clinical relevance of her developmental thinking, and despite the large opposition to her metapsychology. 

Dr. Kavaler-Adler will also propose her own view of a fitting metapsychology for Klein’s clinical and developmental theory, particularly that of the paranoid-schizoid and depressive positions.  In the course of this narrative about Melanie Klein’s theorizing, Dr. Kavaler-Adler will speak about the biographical research of Phyllis Grosskurth (1988), Melanie Klein's biographer, and particularly her research into the letters written by Klein’s mother, which showed how the internalized nature of Klein’s mother could have contributed to Klein holding on to the metapsychology of her (not Freud's) “death instinct” theory, in the face of self-sabotaging consequences. 

The drama of Klein’s internal mother will be front stage center in this presentation, and it will serve to illustrate how one's theories are connected to his/her own internal world, as well as being evoked in the theorist's clinical environment.  Of noteworthy interest, as well, is how Melanie Klein can be seen to have consciously protected the image of her mother, and demonized herself and her children, acting out the psychodynamic scenario of Ronald Fairbairn's “moral defense.”  As a result, a split-off bad object mother could have emerged into the external world through a metapsychological theory that becomes irrelevant to the clinical situation.  This can be seen as one form of addiction to an internal “bad” object.

Encountering Clinicians: Susan Kavaler-Adler

Exclusive NJSCSW Interviews with notable contributors in the field of mental health

Interviews by Jack Schwartz, Editor NJSCSW Forum July 2011

For thirty years Dr. Susan Kavaler-Adler has been one of the key contemporary psychoanalytic innovators and driving forces.  She has been internationally recognized for her award winning writing (over 60 publications, spanning psychoanalysis, creative process, object relations, literature and Argentine Tango, with two books about to be published). Dr. Kavaler-Adler is the founder and Executive Director for the Object Relations Institute in New York. Along with her many training seminars, supervision groups, classes, and her clinical practice, she even finds time to establish a reputation as an accomplished proponent of Argentine Tango.  NJSCSW was thrilled to have Dr. Kavaler-Adler take time from her multi layered schedule to discuss her work, life, object relations and the Argentine Tango.

NJSCSW: Your work reflects so many influences literature, dance, art, psychoanalysis, how did it develop?

Dr. Kavaler-Adler:  I began with my doctorate in clinical psychology from Adelphi, then to the Post Graduate Center for mental Health to study in Psychoanalysis in New York. I also got involved in dance therapy at the time, and studied under a pioneer in the development of dance therapy, Blanch Evan.  I found the movement through dance allowed me to enter my feelings which were a great counterbalance to the intellectualized work I was doing with my PhD dissertation.  It was a three year period I completed my master’s thesis and PhD on using dance therapy with mentally challenged children.  At that time, I had a few choices in front of me, I was working in an outpatient hospital, and I considered various schools, and chose NIP, which had the most diversity, but I had been creating my own curriculum which was the impetus to launch the Object Relations Institute in 1991.

NJSCSW: There are many theories of psychoanalysis, why Object Relations?

Dr. Kavaler-Adler: Most of my influences I drew from my own reading and research, although when I was in NIP I had a class with Stephen Mitchell, and he introduced me to the writings of Guntrip and the British Object Relations School, and as I progressed I really got into to the work of Melanie Klein.  But that was on my own.  

NJSCSW: Mentioning Stephen Mitchell, there seems to be some division in between the Relational School and the Object Relations School of Psychoanalysis.

Dr. Kavaler-Adler: There are important differences, you see the object relation theory focuses more so on the internal world on the individual, in a clinical setting the emphasis is on understanding this internal world and psychic structure along with the developmental issues which they carry into their everyday life.  Similar to the relational school in the object relations school we are in the here and now, but object relations goes deeper with the focus is on the internal world of the patient and how it plays out in the sessions, how the analyst is being used in terms of dissociated projective identifications or repressed projections.  The full focus is on the patient, and how the experience of the analyst is used psychologically by the patient, as opposed the any separate agenda the analyst might have from their real personality as you have in the relational school, where the patient can get lost. 

NJSCSW: With the emphasis on the internal world of the patient, I can understand your interest in Melanie Klein whose work focused mostly on early primitive mental states. 

Dr. Kavaler-Adler: From my many journal articles, I utilize Klein’s formulation of the paranoid –schizoid position to the depressive position, although the term depressive position is somewhat unfortunate, what it really should be called is the mourning position, since it is about becoming integrated and healthy, so unless people know the theory they can think of the word depressive in the wrong way.

NJSCSW: In fact your award winning writings, specifically your book, Mourning  Spirituality and Psychic change: A new object relations view of psychoanalysis, makes that case, and offers another new fundamental paradigm shift in psychoanalysis.  That leads to my question,  what was the genesis of ORI?

Dr. Kavaler-Adler: I tell you when I opened ORI was a phenomena we had people lined up around the block.  You see the whole city was either classical or self-psychology and here I come in with object relations from the British school,  which offered some much like how to deal with trauma, how to understand the internal world of a person, really getting to the core of a person, the pre-oedipal level where a person establishes their sense of subjectivity, the formation of psychic dialectic and psychic conflict, studying how a person can be at war with parts of themselves, that critical distinction between developmental arrest and developmental progress is highlighted in the British and American Object relations.  I had been teaching the core theorists, such as the work of Klein, Winnicott, Fairburn,  Masud Khan’s first book, also don’t forget Balint, whose book the Basic Fault is very important.  When self psychology was dominating the field I found myself against the tide, in a different direction, and created a seminar, and this private seminar evolved into my institute.

NJSCSW: Whether it is your teaching, supervision seminars, interests in literature and the creative process, your work seems to draw from many areas.

Dr. Kavaler-Adler: Yes, I had been doing much of my research on my own, but I did become extremely sensitive to the subject of mourning through my own person tragedy of having my father die when I was ten.  It was quite profound, the mourning process opened up at first with the dance therapy then to psychoanalytic therapy that started my fascination with its meaning.  I draw from my experience and my work with patients, to understand how mourning is fundamental to developmental growth and how it connects and interacts with creativity, in the capacity to love and have intimacy. For Freud, in Mourning and Melancholia, he writes how mourning reflects aggression turned inward.  But, Klein took it further and saw the aggression as an active part of the mourning process, as seen in fantasy, and in the demon lover complex, a result of in those that fail to mourn due to developmental arrest from trauma in the primal stage of self development.

NJSCSW: The concepts of “developmental mourning” and the “demon lover” reflect significant contributions to the theory of psychoanalysis, adding to the key paradigms such as separation-individuation, transitional objects, self-objects, etc., and so useful in the clinical setting.

Dr. Kavaler-Adler: Yes, the primary focus of my work is on the use of the psychoanalytic situation to promote a developmental mourning process that allows self integration, self differentiation, create the capacity for symbolization, to move from the primary state to a higher developmental level thus facilitating separation-individuation and the growth of capacities for both love and creativity to take place. In my first two books I focus on women artists and writers who attempted to use the creative process for psychic development and for psychic reparation and healing. I found that these brilliant women often failed in their attempt to use the creative process for psychological purposes without undergoing an adequate clinical treatment. Curious to understand why, I used the extensive research I did on the biographies and creative work of these women to describe the repetition of primal trauma as it appears in the work and lives of these women as a demon lover complex. This demon lover complex appears in themes of muse-god figures who continually turn demonic when the woman artist seeks merger with them through their self-expression in creative work.  There is always dialectic between the internal and the external world, the intense love and hate.  The only way this could be worked through is with an analyst will to tolerate these intense feelings and function as a container, actively processing these primitive states and bring them to a symbolic level.  In more primitive states these affects are always being split off through projection identifications.

NJSCSW: I see developmental mourning as such a useful concept, that makes sense in the analytic process, similar to, but in a way, more organic and clinically useful than the broader paradigm of separation- individuation, developed by the American Object Relations school of Margaret  Mahler.

Dr. Kavaler-Adler: Mahler’s contribution was important. Mourning helps the child go through the separation-individuation process and to thus achieve self-integrity. The child needs to let go of the primal parents and lifelong mourning may be involved, but critical separation-individuation stage mourning is essential. The more pathological the parenting and the more disrupted the early maternal bonding the harder it will be to let go, because then no adequate internalizations will be formed to create an inner blueprint for new and future relationships to be created. If mourning does not take place, development is arrested. This developmental mourning process can occur at any stage in life.  I am reminded of a 86 year old woman abstract artist, who is still in treatment.  She struggled with intense shame issues and unresolved mourning.  She also has a physiological condition affecting her tear ducts that inhibits her ability to cry. Yet despite this she can feel the pain of loss and is aware of the narcissistic defenses she has used to protect her from the rage and suffering related to early loss and grief.  In surrendering these defenses she has opened to external world relationship connections and internal world connections that allow her to now experience new synapses opening up in her mind and new creativity emerging in her artistic work even at the age of 86.

 NJSCSW:  It is well known you are a strong proponent for of Argentine Tango, in fact I know you dance frequently at the Lafayette Grill downtown, and also at the ORI conferences you have presented Argentine Tango as a form of dialectic or metaphor encapsulating the drama of intimate relationships, is that how you see it?

Dr. Kavaler-Adler: Yes, very much so.   As far as tango as a paradigm of the clinical relationship and clinical moment, the capacity for psychic dialectic is seen in both Argentine tango and in the clinical moment, through the connection of follower and leader, with the analyst as follower tuning into the unconscious of the patient.  When self integration and separation-individuation are achieved in development, psychic dialectic and its modes of inter-subjectivity and intimacy become possible because the subjectivity of the self comes into awareness and so does the subjectivity of the other.  In Argentine tango we speak of the follower responding to the leader in the moment, without anticipation.  So too in psychoanalysis we have the clinical moment "without memory and desire"--Wilfred Bion--, Winnicott's transitional play space, where spontaneity merges, illustrating the developmental level where the 'true self" emerges.  This is Klein's depressive position, where repression rather than dissociation evolves, allowing for containing of one's feelings thoughts and impulses, rather than throwing them out, or deflecting them into the other ("projective identification"). 

NJSCSW:  Tango feels very much like play with technique and style, contained yet free.

Dr. Kavaler Adler: Tango is something to surrender to, rather than to defend ourselves against.  There are different circles of connection interacting on different levels and interweaving in the spirit of tango, and the connection creates emotional meaning that we share.  We work with object relations in the clinical moment, just as in the Argentine tango moment, as well as with the overall mourning, separation-individuation, and self integration process. 

Dr Kavaler-Adler is the Co-Founder, Executive Director, and Senior Faculty & Training Analyst and Supervisor of the Object Relations Institute for Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis.  She is the author of three books (two more soon to be released) and over 60 articles related to her view of mourning as a developmental process (“developmental mourning”) that is fundamental to self integration as well as to psychic change, healing and transformation throughout one’s lifetime. Her unique integration of British and American object relations theory can be seen throughout her writing, fully defined as a theoretical perspective related to “developmental mourning” in her first book The Compulsion to Create: Women Writers and Their Demon Lovers (Routledge, 1993, Other Press, 2000). Dr. Kavaler-Adler’s focus on a well-known brilliant women writers in this book and on brilliant women writers and artists in her second book, The Creative Mystique: From Red Shoes Frenzy to Love and Creativity (Routledge, 1996) allows her to explore how the creative process can be the focus of progressive mourning for self integration and reparation or can be the captive of a demon lover complex (an object relations view of pathological mourning and psychic arrest) in those that fail to mourn due to developmental arrest from trauma in the primal stage of self development.  Dr. Kavaler-Adler’s third book, Mourning, Spirituality, and Psychic Change: A New Object Relations View of Psychoanalysis  (Routledge, 2003), the National Gradiva Award winner from the National Association for the Advancement of Psychoanalysis in 2004,  further explores the clinical arena, elaborating her theoretical perspective, in relation to Freud and the British theorists. This book extends the clinical application of Dr. Kavaler-Adler’s theories that can be seen in her first two books with in-depth descriptions of the developmental mourning process in dialectic with transference work in analysis, and with the interactive engagement of the psychoanalyst and patient.  

Susan Kavaler-Adler, PhD, ABPP, NCPsyA, D.Litt is a practicing clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst, training analyst, and teacher for over 35 years and supervisor of Psychotherapists practicing psychotherapy, psychoanalysis, and group therapy, as well as a consultant for those involved in the wish to write for personal healing or for writing projects, related to her experience running writing groups in her practice for 28 years.   Dr. Kavaler-Adler offers individual, couples, group psychotherapy and psychoanalysis, as well as individual and weekly group supervision for mental health practitioners in her downtown Manhattan office. She conducts a once a month intensive mourning and therapy group and creative healing writing groups and is currently forming a weekly therapy group to help individuals get feedback about their self sabotaging tendencies and cycles, as well as on their susceptibility to seduction that can undermine strivings towards an independent life.  

For more information on Dr. Kavaler-Adler's private practice and her unique approach to supervision, psychotherapy and psychoanalysis, please visit www.kavaleradler.com and Drkavaleradler@gmail.com .

The 9/11 Conspiracy Theory


By Susan Kavaler-Adler, PhD, ABPP, D.Litt, NPSyA

Download HERE

            A car of strangers pulls up on the corner near my office building in lower Manhattan and one of the strangers says to me as they catch me on my way to cross the street.  “Which is the way to Ground Zero?”  I wince.  I feel offended, invaded, intruded on by what appears to be a bunch of out of town tourists asking me for directions to a local tourist spot, asking as if they have gone down a list, and now are just focusing on their next renowned destination, which happens to be  9/11’s sacred and tragic “Ground Zero.”  I am struck by my own reaction because it is so different than any other time that a stranger, whether a tourist or a New Yorker, asks me for directions.  Usually I am friendly and try to help out as best I can, especially if I’m not in a particular rush as most New Yorkers are.  But this time is different.  I start to appreciate feelings that I didn’t realize were there.  My first feeling is anger, and some indignation, as I feel alienated from these strangers who are not among the vast clan of New Yorkers who actually experienced 9/11 close at hand, together as native New Yorkers.  I don’t think these people can really understand, even though I never had such thoughts before when all the news reports brought our whole nation together as Americans when the cultural heart of America was struck with sudden devastation.  My next feelings are of grief, sadness, and a silent nostalgia that I have no attention of sharing with this car load of strange tourists.  I waive them towards the downtown area and dash away!

I am now jolted into remembering the actual day, the actual time, the actual place.  I find myself walking past the outside garden restaurant where I sat with a friend on that day, dazed and unbelieving as a picture perfect day surrounded me, belying what I had already experienced that morning.  For it was after a cell phone call from a patient heading to my office, which blared out a message that made me pick up the phone in the middle of a session with someone who had made it to my office that day, that the shock of what was radiating all over the world entered my consciousness.   At first she said:  “I’m on the way to your office but I’m afraid for my staff,” and then a long pause, “Oh no there’s another plane.  It’s heading at a building.  I can’t come.  I have to go back and be with my office staff!”  After she hung up, I turned on the radio to hear what was happening because some catastrophe was obviously at hand!  The female patient who I was with was in her 80s, and as soon as WNYC’s reporting of the imminent events could be heard, my patient began to tell me about the day the Japanese invaded Pearl Harbor, the day of the 1940’s catastrophe that had ushered America into World War II.  Suddenly, the roles of me and my patient seemed reversed.  My mid-80’s patient came out of her childhood transference state-- in which I often played the role of her mother-- to relate to me, as someone around much before my time, the historic preludes to this current invasion from abroad.

As a Clinician

            But now I wish to convey to you some thoughts about 9/11 as a clinician, as a psychologist and psychoanalyst who has practiced for 36 years, and who remembers some critical clinical work that I did with my patients during the traumatic impact of 9/11.  I want to stress that I believe the most important work I did during the time of 9/11 was truly as a psychoanalyst with my ongoing, mostly long term, patients.  This doesn’t mean that I didn’t volunteer to be of help in a short term way with those in acute crisis.  I did.  I did a little bit in talking to those in shock inside the doors of a corporation that was enlightened enough to have mental health professionals on hand for their employees to talk to. But my most true, in depth impact was with my very own patients, the ones I had been engaged with over time, the ones whose process I had been nurturing all along.   In fact, a significant part of this impact was with the lady who had called on the cell phone, a business woman, who ran back to be with her staff of employees at the time of imminent crisis.  Her business office had been severely damaged, and she lost a lot of business, which had made it impossible to pay her exorbitant New York rent for a month.  And this was after she had moved her office into her home, so both her home and business, and business relations, were threatened if she failed to pay her rent.  I believe that her ability to stand up to Red Cross officials and demand that she be given compensation for the month’s rent and business expenses, was a direct result of the analytic work we did in her regular treatment sessions, as I interpreted how the current crisis, in which she felt her world falling apart, was exacerbated by her unconscious re-living of the first time she had felt the world was falling apart, in her childhood, when she was nine years old.  It was when she was nine that her mother decided to leave her father’s home and take her and her brother with her.  Pretending to be an adult, and in an effort to support her mother, she declared as she was whisked away in an automobile with her mother, “Well, I’m glad that’s over with!”  But inside her inner world was falling apart.  Her sense of self, that had been so associated with the applause and cheerleading of her father, was plummeting into the depths of despair and into a hidden and covert helplessness!  She put on a brave face and an attitude of bravado for her mother, but inside she was enraged at the mother who was dragging her away from both the father and the home she absolutely loved.  Of course she could not at any cost allow herself to be conscious of her rage at her mother because now her mother was her only parent, the only one she had to depend on in all the world-- and she didn’t even know where she was going.  Everything was topsy-turvy as she was sped off in a vehicle with her angry and depressed mother at the wheel!  She left behind the painted bedroom that was called the “upside down room,” with the ceiling looking like the floor.  Now things were really upside down! 

            But every week, this middle-aged female patient, this generally assertive business woman who felt like jelly inside, came to her twice weekly analytic sessions, and re-lived with a more acute conscious grief than ever before, as the memories rushed up within her, her feeling that “the whole world is falling apart!”  And in this re-living, with the holding environment that she and I created together in the treatment room, my patient was able to piece by piece separate out the memories of how the world had fallen apart when she was nine, and the current realities of how the world was falling apart in the present, in the wake of 9/11 that had happened in her backyard.  I had a number of other patients whose homes and art studios, or offices, were besieged by the assaults of 9/11 on the lower West side, and they too had to remember all the earthquakes that emerged from their unconscious internal world domains with the current external and sociological shocks.  But I remember the work with this woman most of all!  I remember how she saved herself financially, as she saved herself psychologically, by working faithfully within the well-kept boundaries of the psychoanalytic process, in the treatment room where it was safe to remember and safe to experience the flood of feelings that she had repressed and kept at bay all these years, all though we had touched on them before.  The acuteness of the trauma of 9/11 was with us all, but I was most centered and least helpless, and most effective, when I stayed loyally in my psychoanalytic role and worked progressively with this woman.  Her trauma and resilience is obvious.  But my own resonates too, through the work I did in connection with her.

            Thank you!

Click & Watch 10-min professional video of the ORI's 2011 Annual 20th Anniversary Conference on Dialectics of Mortality and Immortality: Time as a Persecutory vs. a Holding Object.

Click & Watch the 5-minute Professional Video of the ORI's 2010 Annual Conference on Psychoanalysis & Spirituality!

Click & Watch the 5-minute Professional Video of the ORI's 2009 Annual Conference on Eroticized Demonic Object!

Visit ORI's YouTube Channel, ObjectRelations2009, to view NEW mini-video series "Object Relations View"

            Intro to the Object Relations Thinking and Clinical Technique - with Dr. Kavaler-Adler (part 1).

          Projective Identification: Object Relations View (part 2 of the mini-video series)

           Time as an Object - Object Relations view  (part 3 of mini-video series)

        Self Sabotage - Object Relations view (part 4 of mini-video series)

        Fear of Success - Object Relations View (part 5 of mini-video series) 

        Mourning, Developmental vs. Pathological (part 6 of mini-video series)

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