RISE – Object Relations Theory

Melanie Klein and Donald Winnicott

Based on psychodynamic theory, the object relations theory suggests that people relate to others and situations in their adult lives as shaped by family experiences during infancy. Object relations theory describes the process of developing a psyche as one is growing up, in relation to others in the environment.

When a caregiver is able to meet the emotional needs of the infant, a secure attachment style is formed. This allows for a “good enough self” to develop and a healthy ability to relate to the world as a safe and secure place. This ‘holding environment’ allows the infant to transition at its own rate to a more autonomous position. (i.e. a toddler who can leave mother’s side and begin to explore playground due to having a secure base established from infancy).

According to Winnicott, the therapist’s context for intervention is to provide a holding environment for the client so they have the opportunity to meet neglected ego needs and allow their true self to emerge.

Transference – Transference is the process whereby we unconsciously transfer feelings and attitudes from a person or situation in the past on to a person or situation in the present.

Example: A student is experiencing the divorce of their parents and is crying during a mentoring session as feelings of sadness are being transferred to the mentor.

Counter transference – Counter transference is the emotional response and/or associated thoughts that are elicited in the recipient (teacher/counselor/mentor) by the student’s unconscious transference communication.

Example: A mentor feels a wave of sadness as they are reminded of their own parents’ divorce as they are listening to their mentee.