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by Robert M. Young

I shall never forget when I first heard of Harold Searles. I was in a study group many years ago with a number of colleagues, and Karl Figlio referred to a paper with the intriguing title ‘The Patient as Therapist to His Analyst’. He spoke about it the way one would about a special friend, with an air of its being private, as one might look into one’s cupped hands and evoke envy and curiosity. I read it at my earliest opportunity, and I knew straightaway why Karl had behaved in that way. The essay –- eighty pages long –- brings out things one knew but didn’t know one knew or that anyone else did, something which is characteristic of Searles’ writings. In this case it was about just how much more interactive the relationship between patient and therapist is –- to the point of being mutually constitutive. It also stresses how much the patient brings and contributes to the relationship and, as flagged in the title, how much being a patient is motivated by wanting to heal the wounds of one’s internal objects -- usually one’s parents, the therapist is a stand-in. He sees this impulse as basic to our humanity. Melanie Klein and Hanna Segal pointed out that reparation lies at the heart of the creative impulse in art and culture. Searles finds the impulse to heal at the heart of the therapeutic relationship. He writes,

I am suggesting here not merely that the patient wants to give therapy to, as well as to receive therapy… my hypothesis has to do with something far more fundamental than that. I am hypothesising that the patient is ill because, and to the degree that,  his own psychotherapeutic strivings have been subjected to such vicissitudes that they have been rendered inordinately intense, frustrated of fulfilment or even acknowledgement, and admixed therefore with undue intense components of hate, envy, and competitiveness. They have thus been subjected to (or maintained under, from the outset of consciousness) repression. In transference terms, the patient’s illness is expressive of his unconscious attempt to cure the [therapist] (Searles, 1979, pp. 380-81). 

Central to his thinking is the idea that the therapeutic process at work between patient and therapist ‘is a mutual, two-way one’ (p. 428). In particular, he draws attention, throughout his writings and more than anyone else, to the extent to which the therapist is emotionally engaged and at risk in the therapeutic relationship.

There is another characteristic of Searles which makes him a special friend. He comes across as sui generis, a true original, a one-off, his own man, beholden to no school. It is, of course, not possible to think outside the history of ideas, and I am sure one day someone will trace the roots of his thinking, but I, a professional historian of ideas, do not know how to locate him within any particular tradition. To be sure, he is an American born in 1918 in the Catskill Mountains of upstate New York (a vast and beautiful region; I have been there), went to Cornell, trained at Harvard Medical School, in the armed services, and at the Menninger Clinic in Kansas and was analysed in the Washington area, where he spent his working life — in particular, fifteen years in Maryland, at Chesnut Lodge, a private mental hospital for very rich people — where he went in 1949. Frieda Fromm-Reichmann also worked there at the time. It was remarkable, as was the Austen Riggs Foundation in Massachusetts, in offering full psychoanalysis to psychotic patients. Searles is now in his early eighties, is retired and lives in Davis, California. He has two sons and a daughter and has been married to the same woman for nearly sixty years. His daughter lives in England and is married to a former Dr Who, which somehow seems an appropriate choice for the daughter of my favourite maverick psychoanalyst. Having him for a father must have posed the problem of a difficult act to follow, and Dr Who strikes me as just right.

As I said, calling Searles sui generis is bound to be inaccurate in scholarly and historical terms, and he is generous with his citation of people with whom he feels affinities, e.g., Margaret Little, Heinrich Racker, Donald Winnicott. (Winnicott admired Searles, wrote to him and invited him to England. This letter is Searles most prized honour.) While reading any of the sixty or so papers collected into books or his monograph on the non-human environment, one feels in intensely personal conversation with Searles himself, not with an ego psychologist or a member of an eponymous -- or, indeed, any other -- school. He comes across more like a story teller or cracker barrel philosopher who leans back and says, ‘As I was sitting in my consulting room the other week the damndest thing happened. I was feeling x, and my patient said y and before you knew it, z was there right between us, and I couldn’t for the life of me have said whose feeling that was’. He is spellbinding. It is not easy to say what the elements of the spell are, but I will try. My main aim, however, is to entice you to go to the original papers for yourselves.

I think there are two highly original strands in his work: he crosses boundaries and he goes deeper. Before saying in what ways I think he does these things, let me provide some context. Winnicott crosses boundaries with his concept of the transitional –- transitional objects and phenomena -- which he tells us is neither inner nor outer but partakes of both. It is not that there is no boundary but that it is permeable, and things move across it and back and forth and are shared so that they are in both. That’s what he says about baby’s special blanket or teddy bear, and it is also what he says about culture, say, being in the cinema or theatre or reading a novel. Searles touches on such things, but the two boundaries which he illuminates for me are the one between the human and the non-human and the one between therapist and patient. With respect to going deeper, Klein went into the primitive, psychotic depths of patients’ unconsciouses to an extent which Freud and latter-day Freudians did not and do not. Indeed, Wilfred Bion, said, in summarising his work on groups, that Freudian explanations did not go far enough. He wrote, 

I would go further; I think that the central position in group dynamics is occupied by the more primitive mechanisms that Melanie Klein has described as peculiar to the paranoid-schizoid and depressive positions. In other words, I feel... that it is not simply a matter of the incompleteness of the illumination provided by Freud's discovery of the family group as the prototype of all groups, but the fact that this incompleteness leaves out the source of the main emotional drives of the group' (p. 188). …approached from the angle of psychotic anxiety, associated with phantasies of primitive part object relationships... the …phenomena appear far more to have the characteristics of defensive reactions to psychotic anxiety, and to be not so much at variance with Freud's views as supplementary to them. In my view, it is necessary to work through both the stresses that appertain to family patterns and the still more primitive anxieties of part object relationships. In fact I consider the latter to contain the ultimate sources of all group behaviour (p. 189). 

In writing about the Kleinian tradition I would stress three themes: the primitive, the psychotic and unconscious phantasy. In writing about Searles I would stress these themes as they are manifested in relations between people and the non-human, including nature, and between the therapist and the patient, i.e., countertransference. Searles has rightly been called the most original thinker in the United States on the theory and practice of countertransference (Hirsch, 1998, p 251). It is worth noting that Klein was wary of the concept of countertransference, fearing, as Freud did, that the therapist would confuse his or her own un-worked-out unconscious conflicts with the patient’s projections. Bion was much more bold in this matter but did not explicitly label as countertransference his thoughts on the subtle intimacies of unconscious communication between patient and therapist. Searles goes the whole way and avows the powerful projective and reprojective dimensions of the transference-countertransference relationship and sees the power of this link as the essence of the therapeutic relationship. Indeed, he claims that at the heart of the therapeutic process at its best there is a phase which he calls ‘therapeutic symbiosis’, during which it is impossible to untangle what feelings belong to whom.

Klein would have taken a very dim view of this, fearing that one could not keep one’s wits about one in such a muddle, while Searles insists that one can -- just. She died in 1960, before his writings on this subject were widely available. Indeed, he wrote a wonderful paper, entitled 'Concerning Transference and Countertransference', containing the essence of his mature thought, and tried to get it published in 1949, but it was turned down by both of the journals to which he submitted it. He was finally able to get it published when Robert Langs was editor of the Journal of Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy in 1978-79. In it he argued 

that transference phenomena constitute projections, and that all projective manifestations -- including transference reactions -- have some real basis in the analyst's behavior and represent, therefore, distortions of degree only. The latter of these two suggestions implies a degree of emotional participation by the analyst which is not adequately described by the classical view of him as manifesting sympathetic interest, and nothing else, toward the patient. It has been the writer's experience that the analyst actually does feel, and manifest in various ways, a great variety of emotions during the analytic hour (Searles, 1978-9, p. 165). 

He proceeds to celebrate this 'richness of emotional participation' by the analyst. He 'believes that the analyst's emotions need to become the subject of as precise and thorough investigations, in regard to their positive value in therapy, as are those of the patient himself' (p. 179). He argues that 

our aim should be to remain maximally aware of our changing feelings during the analytic hour, not only because these feelings will be communicated behavioristically to the patient -- via variations, no matter how subtle, in our tone, posture, and so on -- but also because our feelings are our most sensitive indicators of what is going on in the interpersonal situation (p. 180). 

He refers to Fenichel and French as adumbrating his view and to Rioch to the effect that 'There is no such thing as an impersonal analyst, nor is the idea of the analyst's acting as a mirror anything more than the "neatest trick of the week"' (p. 181).

Thirty years later Searles famously collected twenty-four papers into the greatly-admired volume Countertransference and Related Subjects: Selected Papers, published in 1979. By this time his views carried weight among non-traditional analysts and therapists. There was an earlier volume of twenty-four Collected Papers on Schizophrenia and Related Subjects, which appeared in 1965 (which he considers to contain his best work) and an even earlier one on The Nonhuman Environment in Normal Development and in Schizophrenia, which appeared in 1960, the year Klein died. We have no hint of what she might have thought of his ideas. Aside from being dead when he wrote practically all of his mature work, Klein was not in the habit of reading papers in which her work was not cited. My hunch is that she would have disapproved. As I mentioned, she was a traditionalist on these matters. She had begged Paula Heimann not to deliver her first paper on countertransference in which she rather cautiously suggested that we ought to treat it seriously (Heimann, 1949-50; see also Heimann, 1959-60). Klein told Tom Hayley in the late 1950s that she thought countertransference interferes with analysis and should be the subject of lightning self-analysis (Grosskurth, 1985, p. 378). According to Elizabeth Spillius, ‘Klein thought that such extension would open the door to claims by analysts that their own deficiencies were caused by their patients’ (Spillius, 1992, p. 61).

I have juxtaposed the ideas of Searles with those of Winnicott and Klein to help locate his originality. The concept of countertransference has been on the move historically since Freud took the view that it was merely the therapist’s pathology. There was an intermediate phase from 1949 onwards in which Roger Money-Kyrle, Donald Winnicott, Margaret Little (who was Winnicott’s patient) and Paula Heimann suggested that more attention should be paid to the countertransference, but basically it still had a bad name. Only recently, for example, in a lovely paper by Irma Brenman Pick, has it been respectably maintained that the countertransference lies at the heart of the therapeutic process. Indeed, I have argued in my book Mental Space (1994) that the argument has come full circle: where Freud said that we interpret the transference, I maintain that we interpret the countertransference, that which the patient has projected into us and evoked from our own emotional repetoire. Searles grasped the end point of this evolution of ideas earlier and more clearly than anyone else and has, in my opinion, written more extensively and more subtly about it than anyone else

I ought also to mention two other books. His last collection included twelve papers and appeared in 1986 and was entitled My Work with Borderline Patients. You will note that practically all his writings concern working psychoanalytically with severely disturbed patients. Finally, there is a lovely book which is perhaps unique of its kind. Searles and Robert Langs engaged in a book-length dialogue, published in 1980 and entitled Intrapsychic and Interpersonal Dimensions of Treatment: A Clinical Dialogue (Langs and Searles, 1980). It is a truly revealing document. Langs obviously greatly admires Searles but will not grasp that they have profoundly different temperaments and therapeutic styles. They are thinking about many of the same phenomena, but Langs is out to create a detailed technology of the clinical encounter, complete with rules for when to make an interpretation and lots of things one mustn’t do. I experience it as an Old Testament list of prohibitions, rather like The Abominations of Leviticus. Searles, in stark contrast, strikes me as what is sometimes said of the New Testament: get the essence right and then behave spontaneously. The upshot is that Langs is repeatedly and insolently patronising toward Searles, whom he sees as a recurrent breaker of the boundaries of the analytic frame. I am not telling you this just because I like conflict and enjoy peeking through the keyhole at two articulate clinicians being edgy with each other. Searles is Searles in this encounter, just as he is with patients, so we find him saying just what he thinks and even insists on adding, a severely critical commentary on Langs’ behaviour at the end of the book as a condition of publication. He says that he is perhaps the most highly-regarded psychoanalyst working with severely disturbed patients but that Langs is treating him like an apprentice (called a ‘psychiatric resident’ in the US) and that at times during the exchange he felt that the only choice left to him was to decide in which room he should commit suicide by hanging (joke but serious, too). I commend the dialogue to you, not just because of these features and because some of the exchanges are riotously funny, but because it unpacks with great clarity how Searles worked as a clinician.

Now let’s get down to the nitty gritty of what is interesting about Harold Searles. I highlighted two features earlier: crossing lines and digging deeper. His central point, like that of the Kleinians. is that primitive, psychotic mechanisms are at work in all of us. He, like the Kleinians, learned a lot about this from working with schizophrenic and otherwise psychotic and borderline patients. Indeed, like W. R. Bion, Hanna Segal, Harold Rosenfeld, R. D. Laing and Joseph Berke, he plumbed the world of the psychotic patients in psychoanalytic therapy and came up with insights relevant to all of us. He has probably worked with more psychotic patients and worked with certain ones longer than anyone else has done. He had tapes of every session with one patient over nearly forty years. He never claimed to cure any of them, but he did say that he could move them along the continuum from completely crazy to more normal functioning, in some cases up to ninety per cent normal. He has also, like the Kleinians, insisted that primitive, psychotic processes are at work in all of us all of the time, though the personality is not usually taken over by them except in severe psychoses.

We perceive the world in terms of primitive processes, and we transferentially project them into others; in the situation of psychotherapy we project them not just onto, but as Klein famously said about babies’ relations with their mothers, into the therapist. In the traditional view of psychoanalyst, the putatively objective therapist observes and interprets these projections and tries to help the patient see how distorted his or her perceptions are, and helps him or her to see that they are thereby led to reproduce infantile situations and to create what they fear. Searles takes this point much further and puts the therapist much more at risk. His point, mentioned above, is that the patients’ projections strike home. The patient susses out the unconscious processes and vulnerabilites of the therapist and aims for the bull’s eye. Not only do the projections find their mark, but they lead the therapist to experience an internal reprojection which exaggerates that aspect of their own true personality.

The metaphor of the arrow is not adequate for making all aspects of this point. A complementary one is fly fishing. The expert fly fisherman is skilled at casting the line and teasing the top of the water or trawling through it so that the fish, formerly minding its own business, is lured to the surface and enticed into biting the hook hidden in the lure. In this imagery the fish stands for something in the therapist’s personality which matches what the patient needs to project -- because it is unbearable, because it is taboo, because he feels he cannot be entrusted with it; there are many motives. But the moment to which Searles wants to draw our attention is that what was in the therapist but in a moderate degree (the fish swimming tranquilly) is evoked and amplified by the patient’s casting the lure into our depths and drawn to the surface of the therapist’s unconscious,. That is the unconscious process of transference evoking countertransference. What we do, when we do our work well, is to become aware of the nature of this evoked emotional response. We ponder it, detoxify it and bring it into the realm of what can be spoken about, and we make an interpretation which is palatable and can be thought about, a mutative interpretation. We bring it from the realm of the psychotic anxiety which cannot be borne and into the realm of bearable reflection. Bion calls what we do to make the evoked emotion a candidate for thought ‘containment’.

So, we have projection, identification, containment (or detoxification) and interpretation. The patient is given something to ponder which has been altered in the therapist’s ruminations from unbearable to bearable, from immoderate to moderate from uncontained to contained, from something which cannot be thought about to something which can. There is one picture in all his writings, and it illuminates this process wonderfully. It is Uccello's painting of ‘St George and the Dragon’. Searles saw this painting and noticed that if you look closely, there is a chain running between them. St George has the dragon on a leash. We are in direct touch with the crazy parts of ourselves with which we have to deal; they are our creatures, as it were. ‘The dragon is the patient’s resistance to becoming “sane”’ (p. 75). He quotes a patient who said to his therapist: ‘The pleasure I get in torturing you is the main reason I go on staying in this hospital’ (p. 74). The therapist is also in direct touch with it –- not only through the patient. Another way of putting this is to say that the patient is in league with the destructive parts of his or personality, but we know it as well from our own internal processes and are in direct contact with it. Hence the leash.

This leads me to another way of speaking about his crossing boundaries and going deeper. Searles’ writings are replete with his avowals of his own aggressive, vain, omnipotent and mad feelings, as well as his depersonalised, animal, unhuman ones. This mode of self-awareness and self-expression is everywhere –- in his write-ups, in his interactions with patients, in his interviews, even in his acceptance speech when a series of papers was given in his honour (Searles, 1988).. It is utterly characteristic of his way of being in the world. He is saying and conveying that we are always almost as much at risk as our patients, sometimes as at risk, sometimes more so. We have to be able to be aware of these intense and primitive feelings and cope with them. They are our primary means of production of analytic understanding. He does not fail to point out how they are also at work in collegial relations in the professions. For example, he tells the story of his first analyst (who sacked him during the third session) calling him outside to fight on two occasions many years later. He also tells us how distinguished psychoanalysts laughed out loud at the thought of treating psychotic people psychoanalytically. Many of his papers have been rejected. He has felt deeply isolated. He even finds it difficult to accept the very praise and admiration he so deeply appreciates. I have had letters from him which convey this, but I have also had generous ones, including one in which he says my book on Mental Space is ‘precious to me’.

He is not shy about recounting his own and his parents’ psychopathology. Mother was schizoid; father was paranoid and depressed; Harold is borderline and depressed (Stanton, p. 331-32; Searles, 1998, p. 290), was deeply afraid of breakdown and has paranoid ideation and psychotic moments on an ongoing basis. Since misery loves company, I find this reassuring. Searles is avowing that these vicissitudes are the human condition, part of everyday life; the warp and woof of intrapsychic experience, and, alas, they are too often acted out. Some of his best work involves renditions of how therapists act it out in their work with patients. I particularly commend to you is wonderful essay, ‘The “Dedicated Physician” in the Field of Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis’ (Searles, 1979, pp. 71-88). This is one of several papers devoted to the therapists’, trainers’ and supervisors’ psychopathology. Here, as always, Searles is irascible, grumpy, endearing, candid, perceptive and, in my view, profound. We say of great writers in literature and the theatre that they have fathomed the human heart. I think Searles is in that class of writers, though his chosen medium is the psychoanalytic essay.

Searles’ way of challenging the neat boundary between normal and psychotic is also applied to the boundary between the human and the nonhuman. I think I am right in saying that no one else has addressed this matter so extensively. His writings are just as rich, funny, ironic and surprising in this sphere. We long to merge with nature. We fear being engulfed by nature. We experience ourselves as dead. We long to be dead. We love animals more than people. We feel we are animals. He thought his mother experienced him (proudly!) as an ‘impenetrable, unsharable and inanimate object’ (Searles, 1998, p. 290), and he thought of himself as ‘inhumanly malevolent’ (p. 283). He addressed the issue of the nonhuman environment in his first book, which was his only full-length study, i.e., the others were thematic collections of papers. It is also a tough read, and he admits, with a wry intransigence, that this relative impenetrability was, in part, deliberate. He tells us that 

The thesis of this volume is that the nonhuman environment, far from being of little or no account to human personality development, constitutes one of the most basically important ingredients of human psychological existence. It is my conviction that there is within the human individual a sense, whether at a conscious or unconscious level, of relatedness to his nonhuman environment, that relatedness is one of the transcendentally important facts of human living, that –- as with other very important circumstances in human existence -– it is a source of ambivalent feelings to him, and that, finally, if he tries to ignore its importance to himself, he does so at peril of his psychological well-being (Searles, 1960, p. 6). 

This passage appears near the beginning of the book. As soon as I read it I found myself quickly jotting the following list in the front of the volume: Physiognomy (where human visages are compared to those of animals), ass, dog, pussy, cur, horse’s ass, snake in the grass, in the dog house, pig, pack rat, bear of a man, lion (Lion King), seals, Medusa, Gollum, foxy, wolf man, cat woman, Pinocchio (transformed from wood into ‘a real boy!’), vixen, Webelos (American Cub Scout ranks – Wolf, Bear, Lion, and on to Scout), Eagle Scout. As I write this my three year old daughter is watching a tape of her favourite cartoon character, a dog, Scooby-Doo, who is closely followed in her pantheon by Tom and Jerry. Her favourite outing is to visit the large statues of Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck in the upstairs foyer of the cinema complex at the O2 centre in the Finchley Road. Winnie- the-Pooh, Piglet, Kanga, Eeyore and related friends of Christopher Robin are also all over our house and tableware and her favourite Pooh back pack, which I bought in Winnipeg, where Pooh is ubiquitous. Then there are her bathtub animals and her dolls’ house. Hampstead Bear is her favourite companion. Mine was also a bear, taken from me over serious protests when I was five and sent to the poor ‘little English children’ who were being bombed in the blitz. Among children’s stories I particularly loved Ferdinand the Bull and Brer’ Rabbit and still read them to anyone who will listen. And so on. Think of the forms of violence, folk wisdom and irony which get sublimated in animated cartoons and in drawings in magazines and newspapers

-- a large proportion of them focussing on anthropomorphic animals.

I loved a dog at nine who was killed and was in love with another at thirteen. I have always loved the water and spent several hours a day in it for many years. And then there is our complex relationship with Nature –- mother, source, place to dump, object of Romantic poetry. I once made a television documentary about the history of our ideas of nature, punctuated with a history of fashions in gardens extending from ancient times to the modern garden centre. People’s relations with nature preserves, their own gardens, the sea, streams and lakes and the creatures they contain are many-faceted. I mention only Moby Dick, Captain Nemo and the Loch Ness Monster. Analogous things can be said of outer space. As for animal nature, we reduce our enemies and the racially degraded to non-human status. We diabolize them, call them monsters, rape, lynch and gut them. We make animals, mummies, zombies, werewolves and vampires the subjects of horror stories and films. On the other hand, many love animals more than people and a few will kill humans in the name of animal rights. We routinely anthropomorphise all over the place –- the sun and moon and living and dead nature. Transference feelings, projections and identifications abound (p. 16).

As Searles says, humans are ‘part of the fabric of all created matter’ (p.23). The 

human being is engaged, throughout his life span, in n unceasing struggle to differentiate himself increasingly fully, not only from his human, but also from his nonhuman environment, while developing, in proportion as he succeeds in these differentiations, an increasingly meaningful relatedness with the latter environments well as with his fellow human beings (p. 30) 

A little further on, he says, 

I believe that every human being, however emotionally healthy, has known, at one time or another in his life, the following feelings which …hold sway in psychotic, and to some degree in neurotic, patients: feelings of regard for certain elements in his nonhuman environment as being integral parts of himself –- and, upon the loss of such objects, feelings of having lost a part of himself; a resentful conviction that some animal or inanimate object is being accorded more consideration and more love than he himself is receiving; anxiety lest he himself become, or be revealed as, nonhuman; desires to become nonhuman; and experiences of his own reacting to another human being as if the latter were an animal or an inanimate object (p. 55). 

He also thinks we all undergo ‘phylogenetic regression’ to a lower animal level from time to time to get respite from human relatedness (ibid.). I cannot begin to do justice to the many dimensions of the relationship between the human and nonhuman which he addresses in normal and pathological thought. It remains a theme in his later work. He says in his book on borderlines that hardly a week goes by in his clinical work without this issue coming to the fore in a session.

I will, penultimately, share some of Searles’ conclusions in his book on the nonhuman environment and in a related essay. He writes, 

…our culture tends to discourage our conscious recognition of the importance of our nonhuman environment, and to foster our acting out of the esteem in which we unconsciously hold it, with the result that we paradoxically deny its importance at a conscious level, while unconsciously allowing it to hold, in our daily lives, a position whose paramountcy overshadows our own, uniquely wonderful, humanness (p. 398). 

There is an essay entitled ‘Unconscious Processes in Relation to the Environmental Crisis’ in his collection on Countertransference. In it he looks more directly at the political aspects of our relations with the nonhuman environment. He says, 

I postulate that an ecologically healthy relatedness in our nonhuman environment is essential to the development and maintenance of our sense of being human and that such a relatedness has become so undermined, disrupted, and distorted, concomitant with the ecological deterioration, that it is inordinately difficult for us to integrate the feeling experiences, including the losses, inescapable to any full-fledged human life (Searles, 1979, p. 236 

Toward the end he says, 

To react with apathy to our present pollution-ridden “real, outer” world is, I think, equivalent to defending oneself unconsciously against the experience of becoming an individual human self, a self which, in the very nature of human living, must contain a whirlpool of emotional conflicts, at times so chaotic as th threaten the dismemberment of one’s very self (pp. 241-42). 

He concludes this essay, written in 1972, presciently, as is true of so much of his work: 

The greatest danger lies in the fact that the world is in such a state as to evoke our very earliest anxieties and at the same time to offer the delusional “promise”, the actually deadly promise, of assuaging these anxieties, effacing them, by fully externalizing and reifying our most primitive conflicts that produce those anxieties. In the pull upon us to become omnipotently free of human conflict, we are in danger of bringing about our extinction ...we psychoanalysts must make some real contribution along with our brothers [and sisters] in other fields of science, toward meeting the ecological crisis (p. 242). 

I hope that I have whetted your appetite. I also hope someone will one day spell out and look more deeply into his intriguing work on the role of symbiosis in psychoanalytic work. What he has to say on this topic, like his ideas on the nonhuman environment, is far from sufficiently appreciated, understood or developed. Searles is the personification of a perfect union of a living critique of orthodoxy and the embodiment of integrity in clinical practice and theoretical originality. He wrote, near the end of his most famous paper, ‘So, I feel, it is with classical psychoanalysis: to the degree that it is rigorously classical, it is essentially delusional’ (Searles, 1979, p.458). I will close with two judgements on his work. The first is from Michael Civin’s introduction to a set of papers in Searles’ honour which I published in the journal Free Associations. He referred to Searles as ‘the foremost psychoanalyst in the United States’ (Civin, 1988, p. 249). The second judgement is a response to a request I sent out as I was preparing to write this paper. I asked for comments on Searles, his work and his influence and got the following reply from the distinguished Canadian training analyst, Professor Donald Carveth, of Toronto: 

I think Searles was a man far ahead of his time. I remember back in the '70's at a certain department of psychiatry I frequented at the time hearing him referred to as "psychotic". His candid and vivid disclosures to colleagues in his scientific papers of his intense countertransference reactions to patients was too much for them to bear at that time. I personally have been profoundly influenced by him in a number of ways. He took Freud's idea of direct communication from one person's unconscious to that of another seriously. He alerted us to a kind of "introjective identification" in which the patient says of himself what he really feels is true of the analyst but is afraid to say directly. Searles' idea of the patient's encoded or unconscious commentaries on the analyst serving as the analyst's supervisor has been very valuable. Most important is his idea of the patient's wish to serve as therapist to the analyst, just as the child wishes to heal the mother. Kleinians usually get this wrong: they think Searles is simply referring to a reparative wish on the child's or patient's part. But that is not it at all: the child or patient is not seeking to heal damage done or imagined to be done. The child has a primary wish to heal the mother out of sheer dumb love of her. This is also not a wish to heal mother so she can mother; it is a wish to heal her because one loves her. End of story. The child is so motivated to heal her out of love that he is willing to put his own development entirely on the back burner in favour of this healing task. I think Searles hit on a fundamental truth here. His work is that of an analytic genius (personal communication). 

This is the text of a talk given at the Tavistock Clinic 28 March 2000, in the series ‘Psychoanalytic Pioneers’, sponsored by CONFER. 


(Place of publication is London unless otherwise specified.)

Brenman Pick, I. (1985) 'Working Through in the Counter-transference', Int. J. Psycho-anal. 66: 157-66; reprinted in Spillius, ed. (1988), vol. 2, pp. 34-47.

Civin, Michael (1998) ‘Honouring Harold Searles – Introduction’, Free Assns. 7: 247-49.

______ (1998a) Therapeutic Symbiosis, Concordance and Analytic Transformation’, Free Assns. 7: 260-68.

Grosskurth, Phyllis (1986) Melanie Klein: Her World and Her Work.  Hodder and Stoughton.

Heimann, Paula. (l949-50) 'On Counter-transference', in Heimann (1990), pp. 73-9.

______ (l959-60) 'Counter-transference', in Heimann (1990), pp. 151-60.

Hirsch, Irwin (1998) Analytic Intimacy, Analysability and the Vulnerable Analyst’, Free Assns. 7: 250-59.

Langs, Robert and Searles, Harold F. (1980) Intrapsychic and Interpersonal Dimensions of Treatment: A Clinical Dialogue. Aronson.

Newirth, Joseph (1998) ‘On Identification with the Paternal Subject: from Autism to Therapeutic Symbiosis’, Free Assns. 7: 269-79.

Searles, Harold (1960) The Nonhuman Environment In Normal Development and in Schizophrenia. Madison, CT: International Universities Press.

______(1965) Collected Papers on Schizophrenia and Related Subjects. Hogarth; reprinted Karnac, 1986.

______ (1975) ‘The Patient as Therapist to His Analyst’, in Searles (1979), pp. 380-459.

______(1978-79) 'Concerning Transference and Countertransference', J. Psychoanal. Psychother. 7:165-88.

______ (1979) Countertransference and Related Subjects:

Selected Papers  N. Y.: International Universities Press.

______(1986) My Work with Borderline Patients. Aronson.

______(1992) ‘Harold Searles Talks to Martin Stanton’, Free Assns.  (no. 27) 3:323-39.

______ (1998) ‘Discussion [of papers by Hirsch, Civin and Newirth]’, Free Assns. 7: 280-93.

Young, R. M (1992) ‘The Vicissitudes of Transference and Countertransference: The Work of Harold Searles’, J. Arbours Association, 9: 24-58,; also in Free Assns. (no. 34) 5: 171-195, 1995.

 ______ (1994) ‘Analytic Space: Countertransference’, in Mental Space. Process Press, pp. 53-72.

My writings are available at my web site. 

Copyright: The Author.

Address for correspondence: 26 Freegrove Road, London N7 9RQ

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