James S. Grotstein, M.D.* on the Institute’s
New Edition of the Object Relations Technique —
“Value in Treatment”
As Dr. Shaw (2002)
points out in his monumental text for
work with the unique O.R.T. Plates, what
is of key importance in psychoanalytic understanding from the
Object Relations point of view is not so much the sensations which
occur in a sense organ but the meaning which the sense organ (and
its owner) impart to the sensations. Perception transforms (and
transcends) the real image by imaginatively reconstructing it as
the 'virtual image,' which from one perspective is called
The Object Relations Technique is an innovative
and unique descendant of the heritage of projective testing on one
hand and of the projective aspects of psychoanalytic clinical
technique on the other. As described by Dr. Shaw, it is a
perceptual tool grown out of the pioneering work of Herbert Phillipson (1955) and his successor
James W. Bagby. It is also of some importance that its birthplace
was at Tavistock Institute in London, that veritable shrine of the
Object Relations school. Dr. Shaw is quick to point out that the
O.R.T. is not a test (although it could someday qualify as a test
once sufficient data have amassed and been standardized). In its
present form it primarily constitutes a unique psychoanalytic tool,
one that gives therapist and patient a kind of leverage for
self-exploration which is otherwise lacking in traditional
psychoanalytic treatment. It constitutes, from another standpoint,
a patient's autobiography as constructed by therapist and patient
The Object Relations Technique comprises a
dynamic system; that is, it predicates dynamisms within the mind as
being operant in the form of tension systems. The author uses the
term 'scheme' rather than 'schema' to convey this dynamic actional
mode. The O.R.T., in other words, is particularly sensitive to the
unfolding of these schemes (or movies, as it were). George Polti
(1916), the literary critic, informs us that thirty-six seems to be
the irreducible number of individual narrative themes constituting
all the stories ever written. In another contribution, I used
Polti's concepts as the basis for narrative dream analysis
(Grotstein, 1981). The essence of it was that the unconscious is
dominated less by instinctual drives than it is by the narrative
themes which govern relations between the self and others in their
transformations as 'internal objects.' I think perhaps the concept
of 'alter ego' or 'second self' comes closer to defining the
experiences of these strange-familiar entities within us, whose
crucial importance lies in their power to govern our relations to
ourselves and to external persons.
The Object Relations Techniqe, like other
projective techniques, especially the TAT and the Rorschach,
reminds one of the origins of psychoanalysis in 19th century animal
magnetism and hypnotism, where it was hoped that the crucial
complexes would somehow be magnetized to the surface. Freud
understood the drive behind this 'pull' to the surface as being due
to the force of instinctual drives. Today we might say that there
seems to be a lost self — or series of split-off lost
selves — in dramatic disarray in our unconscious seeking
to tell their story and, at the same time, fearing its being told;
they are thus lost in a dynamic stagnation.
The O.R.T. seems to offer the patient a sense of
participant experience with the therapist lacking in regular
psychotherapy and in psychoanalysis. Perhaps in that regard it most
corresponds to Kohut's concept of the 'twinship selfobject'
function. It also borders on Winnicott's famous notion of the
'transitional object,' and of a potential 'space' in which one's
autobiography can be constructed and reconstructed along the lines
of narrative truth.
I found myself increasingly interested as I got
into this innovative contribution, understood Dr. Shaw's reasoning,
and came to understand the O.R.T. as a novel analytic and
therapeutic tool. I am impressed by the instrumentality it offers
us in the clinical situation.
Grotstein, J. (1981) Who is the dreamer who dreams the dream and
who is the dreamer who understands it? In J. Grotstein (Ed.) Do
I dare disturb the universe? A memorial to Wilfred R. Bion.
Beverly Hills, California: Caesura Press.
Polti, G. (1916) The thirty-six dramatic situations.
(transl. by L. Ray). Boston: The Writers, Inc.
Phillipson, H. (1955) The Object Relations Technique.
(Plates & Manual) London: Tavistock.
Shaw, M. (2002) The Object Relations Technique: Assessing the
Individual. (Plates and Manual) Manhasset, New York: ORT