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Working With Fairbairn's Object Relations Theory in the Clinical Setting (David Celani, Ph.D., Burlington, VT)

  • 12 Nov 2023
  • 11:00 AM - 1:00 PM (EST)
  • Virtual. Zoom Link provided with registration confirmation. Register online


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This presentation will highlight the psychoanalytic model created by W.R.D. Fairbairn during the years 1940 to 1958. This workshop will first describe his model, particularly the extreme consequences of early maternal empathic failures which force the infant or toddler to use the dissociative defense to protect his/her needed attachment to the parent. Once these events of empathic failure are dissociated, they coalesce in the unconscious to create structures based on

the actual memories of the child's self in relation with the object and the emotions that passed between them. The second section of the talk will describe the two pairs of unconscious structures that develop from such empathic failures: the enraged, rejected, and humiliated antilibidinal self in relation to the rejecting parts of the parent; and the unrealistically hopeful, yet tortured libidinal self in relation to the exciting object. These two pairs of structures are unknown to each other and to the conscious central ego as well, and in severely neglectful

families can overpower the central ego to play a strong role in borderline personality. Finally, surprising and powerful practical aspects of the model will be demonstrated, such as how one differentiates the antilibidinal (or libidinal) self from the rejecting (or exciting) object, and the impact on clinical outcomes.

Learning Objectives

At the conclusion of this workshop, participants will be able to:

1. Discuss the importance of early trauma, and describe the dissociative defense which leads to the construction of an inner world.

2. List the four unconscious structures that develop as a result of the dissociation of traumatic events and explain how they organize into two pairs of unconscious self and object sub-egos.

3. Apply the understanding of this model of the unconscious to the treatment process; in particular, apply the structural model to interpersonal interactions between the analyst and patient


David Celani received his BA in psychology from Rutgers College in 1968 and

his MA and Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of Vermont in 1972 and 1974. He then practiced in Burlington, South Burlington and Winooski Vermont for 25 years, specializing in the borderline patient. He simultaneously held adjunct teaching positions at UVM from 1976

to 1984 and was an adjunct faculty at the Saint Michael’s College program for MA in clinical psychology from 1984 to 1991. He was a ten year supervisee of Robert Barasch, Ph.D from whom he learned the Sullivanian model. In 1983 he was introduced to the work of W.R.D. Fairbairn from reading Greenberg and Mitchell’s book on object relations and began working with Fairbairn’s model with his patients. His first publication on Fairbairn was The Treatment of

the Borderline Patient: Applying Fairbairn’s Object Relations Theory in the Clinical Setting, 1993, International Universities Press. This text was followed by The Illusion of Love: Why The Battered Woman Returns to Her Abuser, 1994, Columbia Universities Press. In 2005 he published Leaving Home: How to Separate From Your Difficult Family, Columbia Universities

Press, and in 2010 he published Fairbairn’s Object Relations In The Clinical Setting, Columbia Universities Press. He is currently working on his fifth text on Fairbairn for Routledge. He has also published in the following journals: Contemporary Psychoanalysis, American Journal of Psychoanalysis, American Journal of Psychotherapy, and The Psychoanalytic Review. He currently presents workshops for The Object Relations Institute in New York and in London for


Blizard, R. A. (2018). The role of double binds, reality testing, and chronic relational trauma in the genesis and treatment of borderline personality disorder. In A. Moskowitz, I. Schäfer, & M. J. Dorahy (Eds.), Psychosis, Trauma and Dissociation (pp. 367-369). John

Wiley & Sons.

Howell, E. (2018). From hysteria to chronic relational trauma disorder: The history of borderline personality disorder and its connection to trauma, dissociation, and psychosis. In A. Moskowitz, I. Schäfer, & M. J. Dorahy (Eds.), Psychosis, Trauma and Dissociation (pp. 83-

95). John Wiley & Sons.

Shavit, Y., & Tolmacz, R. (2023). The therapist as an ally of lost good objects. British Journal of

Psychotherapy, 39(1), 69-85.

Continuing Education Credits: This program offers 2 CE credits addressing implicit bias, free for all MCPP members. For non-MCPP members, there is a $50 fee to attend for CE credits or a $25 fee to attend without CE credits.

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