Critique of Object Relations Theory

Currently, object relations theory continues to be more popular in the United Kingdom than it is hi the United States. The "British School," which included not only Melanie Klein but also W. R. D. Fairbairn and D. W. Whuiicott, has exerted a strong influence on psychoanalysts and psychiatrists in the United Kingdom. In the United States, however, the influence of object relations theorists, while growhig, has been less direct.

How does object relations theory rate in generating research? In 1986, Morris Bell and colleagues published the Bell Object Relations Inventory (BORI), a self-report questionnaire that identifies four main aspects of object relations: Alienation, Attachment, Egocentricity, and Social Incompetence. To date, only a few studies

Chapter 5 Klein: Object Relations Theory 157

have used the BORI to empirically hivestigate object relations. However, attachment theory is currently generating much research. Thus, we rate object relations theory low on its ability to generate research, but we judge attachment theory moderate to high on this criterion for a useful theory.

Because object relations theory grew out of orthodox psychoanalytic theory, it suffers from some of the same falsifications that confront Freud's theory. Most of its tenets are based on what is happening inside the infant's psyche, and thus these assumptions cannot be falsified. The theory does not lend itself to falsifications because it generates very few testable hypotheses. Attachment theory, on the other hand rates somewhat higher on falsification.

Perhaps the most useful feature of object relations theory is its ability to organize information about the behavior of infants. More than most other personality theorists, object relations theorists have speculated on how humans gradually come to acquire a sense of identity. Klein, and especially Mahler, Bowlby, and Ainsworth, built their theories on careful observations of the mother-child relationship. They watched the interactions between infant and mother and drew inferences based on what they saw. However, beyond the early childhood years, object relations theory lacks usefulness as an organizer of knowledge.

As a guide to the practitioner, the theory fares somewhat better than it does hi organizing data or suggesting testable hypotheses. Parents of young infants can learn of the importance of a warm, accepting, and nurturing caregiver. Psychotherapists may find object relations theory useful not only in understanding the early development of their clients but also in understanding and working with the transference relationship that clients form with the therapist, whom they view as a substitute parent.

On the criterion of consistency, each of the theories discussed hi this chapter has a high level of internal consistency but the different theorists disagree among themselves on a number of pohits. Even though they all place primary importance on human relationships, the differences among them far exceed the similarities.

In addition, we rate object relations theory low on the criterion of parsimony. Klein, especially, used needlessly complex plnases and concepts to express her theory.

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