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O.R.T. Institute

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 'transference.'

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 together.

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 Institute.

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