Joseph J. Sandler

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Joseph J. Sandler (10 January 1927 – 6 October 1998) was a British psychoanalyst within the Anna Freud Grouping – now the Contemporary Freudians – of the British Psychoanalytical Society; and is perhaps best known for what has been called his 'silent revolution' in re-aligning the concepts of the object relations school within the framework of ego psychology.[1]


Born and educated in South Africa, including a medical degree, Sandler moved to London following fears around his anti-apartheid stance, where he completed his PhD in psychology at University College, London in 1950, before further training in medicine and psychoanalysis. He became a training analyst in 1955.[2]

Sandler was editor of the International Journal of Psycho-Analysis from 1969 to 1978; and was elected President of the International Psychoanalytical Association in 1989.

Theoretical openness[edit]

Sandler took an open, pragmatic approach to psychoanalytic theorising – something particularly important in the wake of the Controversial discussions which had left a three-way split inside the British Society. He took the view that 'we have a body of ideas, rather than a consistent whole, that constitutes psychoanalytic theory', and called for 'a greater degree of tolerance of concepts...created by people who have a different psychoanalytic background'[3] – something that was of great importance in his rapprochement between Kleinian ideas and ego psychology.


Sandler emphasised early in his work (1959) the importance of the feeling of safety, which he linked to early experiences of primary narcissism'[4] He noted however that the search for safety could act as a resistance in psychotherapy;[5] but also highlighted the role of a sense of trust in forging the therapeutic alliance.[6]

Role responsiveness and actualisation[edit]

Sandler introduced the term actualisation into psychoanalysis from literary studies, to cover the process whereby past object-relationships are brought to life within the analytic setting.[7] Through what he termed the free-floating (if controlled and moderated) 'role responsiveness' of the therapist, the latter was able to bring into being the unconscious fantasy of the patient and so expose it to light – becoming in the process someone a little different with each patient.[8]

Sandler himself saw the process of actualisation as adumbrated in the 7th chapter of Freud's The Interpretation of Dreams;[9] and similar concepts can be found in ego psychology, which speaks of the 'evocation' of a proxy[10] and among post-Jungians with their talk of a 'complementary' countertransference.[11] Sandler's concept also connects with the ideas of acting out and acting in within the analytic session,[12] though Otto Kernberg emphasises specifically how Sandler differentiated actualisation from acting out.[13]

Sandler specifies several different types of actualisation, including delusive actualisation and symbolic actualisation.[14]

The concept of role responsiveness has subsequently been taken up more widely in British psychoanalysis,[15] as well as by intersubjective analysts, who see at least one aspect of countertransference as the therapist's reaction to the role the patient wishes to force upon them.[16]


A clear example of actualisation described shortly before Sandler's introduction of the term tells how, in an analytic encounter with a young man, one psychoanalyst – David Cooper – had "felt the progressive extrusion of his internalized mother into me, not as a theoretical construct but in actual experience".[17]

On psychotherapy[edit]

Sandler considered that psychotherapy could in homely terms be thought of as a process of 'making friends' with unacceptable parts of oneself.[18] His willingness to look beyond dogmatic theorising and to take on board the normal as well as the abnormal in psychotherapeutic assessment[19] helped facilitate the bridging role he played within the often fragmented world of postmodern psychotherapies.[20]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Otto F. Kernberg, 'The Influence of Joseph Sandler's Work on Contemporary Psychoanalysis'
  2. ^ Riccardo Steiner, 'Sandler, Joseph (1927–1998)'
  3. ^ Quoted in Patrick Casement, Further Learning from the Patient (1990) p. 184
  4. ^ R. J Perelberg, Psychoanalytic Understanding of Violence and Suicide (1999) p. 28
  5. ^ C. Dare et al, The Patient and the Analyst (2011) p. 117
  6. ^ C. E. Newhill et al, Client Violence in Social Work Practice (2003) p. 8
  7. ^ J. Sandler, 'Actualization and object relationships', Journal of Philadelphia Association for Psychoanalysis 4 (1977): 59–70
  8. ^ Patrick Casement, Further Learning from the Patient (1990) p. 118-9
  9. ^ Peter Fonagy et al., Psychoanalysis on the Move (1999) p. 9
  10. ^ Patrick Casement, On Learning from the Patient (London 1985) p. 100
  11. ^ Mario Jacoby, The Analytic Encounter (1984) p. 41
  12. ^ Patrick Casement, Further Learning from the Patient (1990) p. 166
  13. ^ Otto F. Kernberg, 'The Influence of Joseph Sandler's Work on Contemporary Psychoanalysis'
  14. ^ J. And A.-M. Sandler, Internal Objects Revisited (1998) p. 42
  15. ^ Patrick Casement, Further Learning from the Patient (1990) p. 8 and p. 165-6
  16. ^ Tamara Latawiec, When the Professional is Personal (2008) p. 21
  17. ^ David Cooper, The Death of the Family (Penguin 1974) p. 114
  18. ^ Robert M. Young, 'The Ubiquity of Psychotic Anxieties'
  19. ^ Patrick Casement, Further Learning from the Patient (1990) p. 184
  20. ^ P. Fonagy et al, Psychoanalysis on the Move: the work of Joseph Sandler (1999) p. 44-7

Further reading[edit]

  • J. J. Sandler, 'Countertransference and role-responsiveness' Int. Review of Psycho-Analysis (1976) 3: 43–7
  • J. Sandler, From Safety to Superego (1988)
  • J. Sandler ed, Projection, Identification and Projective Identification (London 1987)

External links[edit]