2024 Spring Short Course with Polly Young-Eisendrath, PhD: Projective Identification

Online registration is now closed. Please reach out to Gerri Oppedisano (goppedis@comcast.net) if you would still like to attend.

First described by Melanie Klein and Carl Jung (participation mystique or the infection by another’s unconscious), then elaborated by Wilfred Bion, and later applied by Thomas Ogden, the idea of “projective identification” seems abstract to many therapeutic clinicians. This course will clarify it and introduce some applications in clinical practice with individuals and couples.

Whether or not you are familiar with the term, you are affected by projective identification every day in your relationships, especially your therapeutic and family ones. It happens when you are interacting with family, patients, friends, and strangers when you feel emotionally kidnapped or “controlled” by another’s needs or dynamics. Projective identification is a psychological process that includes or consists of any of the following: a type of defense, a mode of unconscious emotional communication, a form of implicit communication, or an opening to psychological development. In all these cases, the “sender” attempts to get the “receiver” to feel/experience the sender’s psychological or emotional reality.

This class will be a short introduction to the concept and will include didactic and experiential teachings. We will watch some video clips from movies and a videoed couple and talk about both the seductive (falling in love, idealization/splitting) and destructive (attacks, disengagements, threats) aspects of projective identification as well as transforming the problems of chronic projective identification in therapeutic dyads and couples.

Preparatory readings:

  • Modell, Arnold (1996) Other Times, Other Realities: Towards a Theory of Psychoanalytic Treatment Chapter 3 “Transference and Levels of Reality” (pp 44-59)
  • Guralnik O “Complaining about your partner? It might be you”. Washington Post Feb 13, 2023. https://www.washingtonpost.com/wellness/2023/02/13/projection-relationships-conflict-management/
  • Pieniadz J, and Young-Eisendrath P (2022) Dialogue Therapy for Couples and Real Dialogue for Opposing Sides Chapter 2 (pp 33-47) “Increasing Trust” and Chapter 3 “Projective Identification” (pp 48-58)

Polly Young-Eisendrath, Ph.D., is a psychologist, writer, speaker, and Jungian psychoanalyst who has published 19 books including, The Self-Esteem Trap: Raising Confident and Compassionate Kids in an Age of Self-Importance (2009) and Love Between Equals: Relationship as a Spiritual Path (2019). She is the co-author, with Jean Pieniadz, Ph.D., of Dialogue Therapy for Couples and Real Dialogue for Opposing Sides: Methods Based on Psychoanalysis and Mindfulness (2019). She co-hosts the popular podcast (on all podcast networks) “Waking Up Is Not Enough: Flourishing in the Human Space” that provides a fresh look at waking up within the larger requirements of human growth and development. She is a lifelong Buddhist practitioner and a Mindfulness teacher.