THE HISTORICAL REASONS FOR THE FAILURE
OF ANNE SEXTON’S 1950s PSYCHOTHERAPY
by Dr. Susan Kavaler-Adler (Ph.D., ABPP, D.Litt., NCPsyA)
This study illustrates how the powerful influence of the 1950s New York Psychoanalytic Institute had severely limited the knowledge of American psychoanalysts, and particularly in relation to treatment of patients with preoedipal arrests and character disorders. The active rejection of all the clinical work with the character disorders done at Tavistock and at the British Psychoanalytic Society had profoundly impacted the work of Dr. Martin Orne, during the ten years when he attempted to treat Anne Sexton, a highly manic, narcissistic, and depressed borderline personality housewife, who became one of America’s most well known and highly honored poets.
Reflecting on elements of an in-depth study of Sexton in The Creative Mystique: From Red Shoes Frenzy to Love and Creativity (Kavaler-Adler, 2014), this study shows how Martin Orne’s lack of acquaintance with the writings of the British object relations theorists severely limited his ability to see the core psychic trauma impacting Sexton’s mind and body, and severely limited awareness of his counter-transference and of his views on “memory” in patients with character pathology. Yet, Dr. Orne was the only legitimate and compassionate psychoanalytic doctor that Sexton ever had.
The politics of the New York Psychoanalytic monopoly had wide ranging effects on clinical mental health treatment during the 1950s and 1960s, and presents a critical psycho-historical dilemma.
Keywords: Anne Sexton, psychohistory, borderline personality, psychotherapy, preoedipal trauma, psychoanalytic training
About The Author
Susan Kavaler-Adler, PhD, ABPP, NPsyA, DLitt
Dr. Susan Kavaler-Adler is a graduate of the Derner Institute of Advanced Psychological Studies at Adelphi University, and has been practicing for over 35 years as a psychologist and psychoanalyst in New York City. She founded the Object Relations Institute for Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis in New York City in 1991, and has been this institute’s executive director ever since. She is also a supervisor and former faculty member at the National Institute for the Psychotherapies, and is a member of the Postgraduate Psychoanalytic Society, where she had served as a faculty member at the Postgraduate Center for Mental Health.
Besides individual psychoanalytic psychotherapy and object relations psychoanalysis, Dr. Kavaler-Adler offers groups on mourning, creative blocks, and supervision. She conducts classes on "Projection and Projective Identification," "The Analyst as an Instrument," and others, using role playing; and courses on work of Ronald Fairbairn, Melanie Klein, D. W. Winnicott, Michael Balint, Wilfred Bion, and on her own theories of "developmental mourning" and "the demon- lover complex." Dr. Kavaler-Adler also conducts workshops in self-sabotage, developmental mourning and psychic change, fear of success, envy, creative blocks, and compulsions.
Dr. Kavaler-Adler is the author of 5 books and 60 peer-reviewed articles and book chapters in the field of psychoanalysis and object relations theory. Three of her earlier books were published with Routledge: The Compulsion to Create: A Psychoanalytic Study of Women Writers (1993), The Creative Mystique: From Red Shoes Frenzy to Love and Creativity (1996), and Mourning, Spirituality, and Psychic Change: A New Object Relations View of Psychoanalysis (2003). The Other Press reprinted The Compulsion to Create as The Compulsion to Create: Women Writers and Their Demon Lovers (2000). Dr. Kavaler-Adler’s two recent books are published with Karnac: The Anatomy of Regret: From Death Instinct to Reparation and Symbolization through Vivid Clinical Cases (2013) and Klein-Winnicott Dialectic: Transformative New Metapsychology and Interactive Clinical Theory (2014).
Dr. Kavaler-Adler has won 12 awards for her books and articles, including the Gradiva Award from NAAP for Mourning, Spirituality and Psychic Change (published by Routledge) in 2004. She has won four Arlene Wohlberg Memorial Awards from Postgraduate Center for Mental Health for peer-reviewed journal articles, including “Mourning and Erotic Transference” in the International Journal of Psychoanalysis (1992, Vol. 3), and “My Graduation is My Mother’s Funeral” in The International Forum of Psychoanalysis. Dr. Kavaler-Adler received 7 Author's Recognition Awards from the Postgraduate Psychoanalytic Society and the National Institute for Psychotherapies.