Self psychology refers to the ideas of Heinz Kohut, a psychoanalyst who began as a classical Freudian but introduced theories about the development of each individual that contrasted sharply with Freud’s. He envisioned each unique self as developing in a context of oscillation between warm encouragement and exciting ideals. He thought that people needed creative engagement with others* in order to know themselves and mature in light of that self-knowledge. This differed from the classical psychoanalytic model of health that judged individual maturity largely in terms of independence.
Another school of psychology that has a central concept of the Self is Carl Jung’s Analytical Psychology. Jung, like Kohut, broke with Freud’s theories but in a different direction. He was interested in the universal components of the individual psyche, and in how they interacted over the life span towards a goal of wholeness**, rather than perfection. He felt that the goal of perfection was a limiting, even a damaging aspect of the Judeo-Christian heritage shared by those living in the Western world.
Both of these orientations are depth psychologies, meaning they assume that people have an unconscious – simply defined as a part of the psyche of which a person is not aware – as contrasted with cognitive therapies such as CBT and DBT which do not concern themselves with the unconscious.
I use both orientations in my everyday therapy with people. Jungian work involves dream interpretation, and Self psychology pays close attention to the relationship between the therapist and the person. Both dream interpretation and the therapist/client relationship may reflect blockages in the person’s development, offering opportunities for insight. Both methods are carried out in a collaborative fashion rather than with an assumption that the therapist has the authoritative interpretation.