Rosenfeld made seminal contributions to Kleinian thinking on psychotic and other very ill patients; while his emphasis on the role of the analyst in contributing to potential impasses in the analytic encounter has had a wide impact on analysts both in Britain and internationally.
With a medical diploma from Munich (1934), Rosenfeld emigrated to Britain in 1935, where he retook his medical degree. He became a psychiatrist and specialised in the psychoanalytic treatment of psychosis. Analyzed by Melanie Klein, he himself became an analyst in 1945 and continued to work within the Kleinian movement, alongside such figures as Wilfred Bion and Hanna Segal. Among his most significant contributions were his groundbreaking exploration of projective identification; the development of the concept of "confusion"; and the foundation of a theory of destructive narcissism, since taken up and developed by André Green and Otto Kernberg.
Rosenfeld saw confusion as a half-way house between splitting and reintegration, either as a progressive step towards the latter, or as a regression from it. In its negative aspect, according to Hanna Segal, "a most powerful element in confusion is envy...Narcissistic organisation protects us from that confusion".
Rosenfeld played a leading part in the work of Kleinians on the destructive aspects of narcissism. For Rosenfeld, "destructive narcissism...is directed against the libidinal ties or bonds of the self to the object".
The concept of what Rosenfeld termed "narcissistic omnipotent object relations" - a state of mind dominated by an internal object merging ego and ego ideal in a form of mad omnipotence - was later to feed into Kernberg's notion of the pathologically grandiose self
Rosenfeld's final work, Impasse and Interpretation (1987), focused on the possibility of the overcoming of critical moments of impasse with difficult patients. Rosenfeld was increasingly convinced that such potentially destructive impasses were predicated on the existence of blind spots in the analyst, thus pointing the way for the later developments of intersubjective psychoanalysis.
While for some analysts, the negative therapeutic reaction is an insurmountable block, Rosenfeld attempts to show that these "dead ends" are moments that can and should be overcome. Using the concept of envy to shed light on analytic impasse, Rosenfeld maintained that while patients may in some ways prefer to resist change rather than allow the analyst to help them, if handled innovatively, such stalemates may allow patients to bring back to life for their analyst the impasses they subjectively lived at key moments in their development.
- "Interview with Hanna Segal". Archived from the original on 2016-08-16. Retrieved 2012-04-25.
- Patrick Casement, Further Learning from the Patient (London 1996) p. 12-3
- James Grotstein, But at the Same Time and on Another Level (London 2009) p. 43
- Salomon Resnik, The Delusional Person (London 2001) p. 199
- Hanna Segal/Nicola Abel-Hirsch, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (2007) p. 233-4
- Casement, Further p. 168
- Herbert Rosenfeld,Impasse and Interpretation (London 1987) p. 27
- Quoted by James Grotstein, in Neville Symington, Narcissism: A New Theory (London 1993) p. xii-xiv
- Grotstein, p. xiv
- De Masi, in Grotstein, Same Time p. 44
- Robert Withers, Controversies in Analytical Psychology (2003) p. 241
- Herbert Rosenfeld, Psychotic states (1965)
- Herbert Rosenfeld at Work: The Italian Seminars (2001)
- John Steiner (ed.), Rosenfeld in Retrospect (2008)
- In French