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115 Core Concepts: Masochism, Sadomasochism, The Negative Therapeutic Reaction – 3 Seminars

Seminar Leaders: K. Dougherty and M. Mitchell

Course Description

This course will teach candidates to define and describe the many-faceted concept of masochism, so that they can identify, recognize, assess, and formulate masochistic character, and can identify sadomasochistic transferences and dynamics so as to effect change. Clinical material will be presented to facilitate the application of theory and concepts to the psychoanalytic therapeutic process.

Course Objectives

Candidates will learn how to:

  1. Use the major diagnostic category (1.3) (Masochistic/Self-defeating Personality, McWilliams, 2011) to recognize self-sabotage as linked to specific (1.3) knowledge of psychopathology, that is, recognition of symptoms, inhibitions, and anxieties: the turning of aggression back on the self due to fear of aggressive impulses to the primary objects, the introjection of aspects of the loved hated lost object, excessive self-reproach, self-sacrifice, hyper-responsibility, unconscious need for punishment due to unconscious childhood sadistic fantasies;
  2. Formulate an assessment, using key concepts of psychoanalysis (4.5) to identify sadomasochistic dynamics and to interpret the typical defenses of masochistic character: introjection, denial, reaction formation, and projection;
  3. Recognize contextual and systemic factors that facilitate or impair human functioning (1.1), specifically normal and maladaptive sadomasochistic functioning, and to interpret (1.1) the developmental and (1.2) traumatic factors in the difficulties so as to effect change.
  4. Maintain professional psychoanalytic boundaries (4.2) under the pressure of a patient’s provocative masochistic behaviors and attitudes, by interpreting the associative process and the transference;
  5. Facilitate change (1.2) through containing and interpreting, in part through employing effective skills in observation of self.

Seminar 1

Fundamentals of the theory of masochism

Required Reading

Freud, S. (1919). ‘A Child is Being Beaten’ A Contribution to the Study of the Origin of Sexual Perversions. S.E. 17: 175-204

Loewenstein, Rudolph (1957). A contribution to the psychoanalytic theory of masochism. In Essential Papers on Masochism (1995, pp. 35-61). New York, NY: New York University Press.

Seminar 2


The goal of this seminar is to understand how problems with aggression and early narcissistic problems, as well as splitting and sexualized scenarios, are part of the current definitions of perversion. Several vignettes of male and female patients demonstrate debts owed to Freud’s theories and the way in which current thinking differs. The papers teach that the understanding of the transference-countertransference picture is central in facilitating changes in the patient’s management and control of excitement. The papers will show how a deep understanding of the impact of power dynamics on the psychoanalytic process with perverse sadomasochism, is central to the therapeutic efficacy.

Required Reading

Coen, S. (1992). The excitement of sadomasochism. In Essential Papers on Masochism (pp. 383-402). New York, NY: New York University Press (1995).

Seminar 3

The Negative Therapeutic Reaction and impasse

This seminar will explore some forms of negative reaction to the analyst and analytic process. “There is no doubt that there is something …that sets itself against recovery and dreads its approach as though it were a danger” (Freud, 1923). Analysts have seen the reaction in its most full-blown manifestations—reactive, negative, resisting the analyst and the analytic process—as tied to the “no” stage, to the sadomasochistic toddler stage, in which the child experiences the peculiar vulnerability of the anaclitic bond with a powerful invasive mother.

Required Reading

Olinick, S.L. (1964). The negative therapeutic reaction. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 45, 540-548.

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