Stephen A. Mitchell (psychologist)

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Stephen A. Mitchell (July 23, 1946 – December 21, 2000) was a clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst whose writings helped to clarify many disparate psychoanalytic theories and theoreticians. His book with Jay Greenberg, Object Relations in Psychoanalytic Theory (1983), became a classic textbook in graduate schools and post-graduate institutions, providing a clear and systematic comparison of what had long been a highly complex and often confusing set of disparate theories. Stephen Mitchell was considered a leader of relational psychoanalysis.[1] Mitchell helped to create the Relational Track of the New York University Postdoctoral Program in Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis.[2]

Object Relations in Psychoanalytic Theory distinguished between psychoanalytic theories that emphasize biological drives such as sexuality and aggression, on the one hand, and theories that emphasize human relationships, on the other. The former were referred to as drive/conflict theories, and the latter were termed relational/conflict theories. Mitchell and Greenberg argued that drive theories and relational theories are conceptually incompatible, and psychoanalysis must therefore choose between them. After their book, the ideas of Mitchell and Greenberg diverged. Mitchell became generally acknowledged as the founder of the school of psychoanalysis known as Relational, which he described in his books, which include Relational Concepts in Psychoanalysis (1988), Hope and Dread in Psychoanalysis (1993), Influence and Autonomy in Psychoanalysis (1997), Relationality (2000), Can Love Last? (2001), and, with Margaret Black, Freud and Beyond: A History of Psychoanalytic Thought (1996).

One of Mitchell's most important accomplishments was the establishment of the international psychoanalytic journal, Psychoanalytic Dialogues, a highly influential scholarly quarterly that continues to bring Relational Psychoanalysis to a wide audience.[3] Mitchell served as Editor for the journal's first ten years, 1990-2000. After the publication of his first book, with Greenberg, he was in great demand, and taught his ideas across the United States, Europe, and Israel.

In addition to his scholarly contributions, Mitchell was also an important political figure in psychoanalysis. He was instrumental in developing a number of psychoanalytic organizations, including the American Psychological Association's Division of Psychoanalysis, the Relational Track of the New York University Postdoctoral Program in Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis, and a variety of other groups.

Mitchell died of cardiac arrest at age 54. His final book, published posthumously and entitled Can Love Last? was an application of relational theory to love relationships.[4]


  1. ^ Gabbard, G.O. (2000). "Relational Psychoanalysis: The Emergence of a Tradition". Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association. 48: 315–316. doi:10.1177/00030651000480010607. S2CID 143910185. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  2. ^ Drescher, J. (2002). "In Memory of Stephen A. Mitchell, Ph.D". Studies in Gender and Sexuality. 3: 95–109. doi:10.1080/15240650309349191. S2CID 143727494.
  3. ^ "Dr. Stephen A. Mitchell, a Theorist in Psychoanalysis, Dies at 54." New York Times 23 Dec 2000.
  4. ^ Shulevitz, Judith. "Danger: Romantic Love." New York Times 10 Feb 2002.


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