Stephen A. Mitchell (d. 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, 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.
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 theories, and the latter were termed relational theories. Mitchell and Greenberg argued that drive theories and relational theories are conceptually incompatible, and psychoanalysis must therefore choose between them. Mitchell's later work consisted mainly of elaborations of the relational perspective in psychoanalysis, exploring the influence of relationships on psychopathology and psychoanalytic treatment.
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 New York University (NYU) Postdoctoral Program Relational Psychoanalysis track, and a variety of other groups. Mitchell was also a decisive influence in reforming the mental health community's tendency to pathologize homosexuality.
Mitchell died of a heart attack while working out on an aerobic exerciser at age 54. His final book, published posthumously and entitled Can Love Last? was as application of relational theory to love relationships.
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