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Psychoanalytic theory

Id, ego, and super-ego
Psychoanalytic interpretation
Psychoanalytic personality factors
Psychosexual development
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Schools of thought

Freudian Psychoanalytic School
Analytical psychology
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Object relations
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AttachmentEgo psychology


Sigmund FreudCarl Jung
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Harry Stack Sullivan
Erik EriksonNancy Chodorow

Important works

The Interpretation of Dreams
Four Fundamental Concepts
Beyond the Pleasure Principle


History of psychoanalysis
Psychoanalytic training

Daniel N. Stern (August 16, 1934, in New York City) is a prominent American-Jewish psychiatrist and psychoanalytic theorist, specializing in infant development, on which he has written a number of books - most notably The Interpersonal World of the Infant (1985).

Daniel Stern's (1985, 1995) research and conceptualization have created a bridge between psychoanalysis and research-based developmental models'.[1]


Daniel N. Stern went to Harvard University as an undergraduate, from 1952 to 1956. He then attended Albert Einstein Medical College, completing his M.D. in 1960. He continued his educational career doing research at the NIH in psychopharmacology from 1962-1964. In 1964, Stern decided to specialize in psychiatric care, completing his residency at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. In 1972 he started a psychoanalytic education at Columbia University Center for Psychoanalytic Training and Research.[2]

For more than thirty years he has worked in research and practice as well in developmental psychology and psychodynamic psychotherapy.

In his research he dedicated his time to the observation of infants and to clinical reconstruction of early experiences. His efforts contribute to currently existing developmental theories.

He is well known as an expert researcher of early affective mother-child bonding. Research and discoveries on the field of affective bonding was one of his leading activities. At this moment, Daniel N. Stern is an honorary professor in Psychology at the University of Geneva, adjunct professor in the department of Psychiatry at the Cornell University Medical School and a lecturer at the Columbia University Center for Psychoanalytic Training and Research.[3]

He holds an Honorary Doctorate at the Universities of Copenhagen, Dk; Palermo, It; Mons Hainaut, Be; Alborg, Dk; Padua, It, Stockholm University.

Theoretical contributions

Stern's most prominent works consider the area of motherhood and infants.

The layered self

1. In The Interpersonal World of the Infant, Stern proposed that an infant develops in a series of overlapping and interdependent stages or layers, which are increasingly interpersonally sophisticated. He distinguished four main senses of self: 'the sense of an emergent self, which forms from birth to age two months, the sense of a core self, which forms between the ages of two and six months, the sense of a subjective self, which forms between seven and fifteen months, and a sense of a verbal self '.[4]

The emergent sense gathers together the earliest 'sense of physical cohesion(..."going on being", in Winnicott's term)'.[5]

In the 'next life period, age two to seven months, the infant gains enough experience...[to] create an organizing subjective perspective that can be called a sense of a core self'.[6] At this stage, while intensely involved in social interaction with the [m]other, essentially 'the other is a self-regulating other for the who regulates the infant.[7]

Thereafter, at the next stage of the subjective self, 'for there to be an intersubjective exchange about affect...the mother must go beyond true imitations, which have been an enormous and imporatant part of her social repertoire during the first six months or so', and develop 'a theme-and -variation format...purposeful misattunements '.[8]

Finally, during the second year of the infant's life language emerges', to provide for a verbal self - creating thereby 'a new domain of relatedness', but one which 'moves relatedness onto the impersonal, abstract level intrinsic to language and away from the personal, immediate level'.[9]

2. In a later edition of The Interpersonal World - 'revisiting a book written fifteen years earlier' - Stern added two more layers to his hierarchy of the self: the 'core self-with-another' preceding the subjective self; and finally the 'narrative self, or selves',[10] developing out of the verbal self.

Highlighting the setting of the narrative self in what he called 'The World of Stories', Stern emphasized how the capacity for 'interpreting the world of human activities in terms of story plots...psychological explanations embedded in the structure of a narrative...unfolds according to a genetically determined timetable'[11] around the age of three or four. On the positive side, 'the child, narrating an autobiographical creating his identity'; on the negative side, however, possibilities for distortion, and for the consolidation of a false self, also emerge at this time: 'if the lived past and the narrated past are very discrepant...story making can establish and perpetuate distortions of reality - distortions that contribute significantly to mental disturbance'.[12]

The motherhood constellation

Main article: Motherhood constellation

In The Motherhood Constellation, Stern describes the motherhood constellation, a mother's instinctual focus on and devotion to her infant, as being critical to the child's development. Psychoanalytic support could take the form of '"the good grandmother transference"...appropriate to the motherhood constellation'.[13]


In 1995 he introduced the term 'proto-narrative envelope. This "envelope" contains experience organized with the structure of a narrative. But...a story without words or symbols, a plot visible only through the perceptual, affective, and motoric strategies to which it gives rise'.[14] Stern stressed how early experiences of mother-child interaction 'have a beginning, a middle, and an end and a line of dramatic tension; they are tiny narratives..."proto-narrative envelopes"'.[15]

Psychoanalytic controversies and wider influences

  • 'For the debate between psychoanalytic and behaviouristic accounts of mother-infant relating, and a range of responses to their theoretical differences, see the argument between Andre Green and Daniel Stern, Clinical and Observational Psychoanalytic Research: Roots of a Controversy (London 2000)'.[16]
  • As an analyst, Stern identified himself as 'post-Freudian', in terms of his emphasis on 'creating transference/countertransference conditions that allow for a new and better experience of self in relationship with others' - thus relying less on interpretation of the past, and 'more on the object relations aspect (corrective attachment experiences) and on self-psychology (empathic availability and self-esteem)'.[17]
  • The prominent critical theorist and psychologist Félix Guattari draws extensively from Daniel Stern's Interpersonal World of the Infant to produce a theory of subjectivity and pre-linguistic consciousness in his book Chaosmose. In explaining Stern's idea, Guattari says, "[Daniel Stern] has notably explored the pre-verbal subjective formations of infants. He shows that these are not at all a matter of "stages" in the Freudian sense, but levels of subjectivation which maintain themselves in parallel throughout life. He thus rejects the overrated psychogenesis of Freudian complexes, which have been presented as structural "Universals" of subjectivity. Furthermore he emphasizes the inherently trans-subjective character of an infant's early experiences, which do not dissociate the feeling of self from the feeling of the other."[18]

See also


  1. E. S. Person et al eds., The American Psychiatric Publishing Textbook of Psychoanalysis (2005) p. 180
  2. Instructor Biography, Daniel N. Stern, MD, Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology. 2008-02-10
  3. Boston Change Process Study Group, 2006
  4. Daniel N. Stern, The Interpersonal World of the Infant (USA 1985) p. 11
  5. Stern, (1985) p. 7
  6. Stern, (1985) p. 99
  7. Stern, (1985) p. 102 &n
  8. Stern, (1985) p. 139 and p. 148
  9. Stern, (1985), p. 162-3
  10. Daniel N. Stern, "Introduction", The Interpersonal World of the Infant (London 1998) p. i and p. xxiv-v
  11. Daniel N. Stern, Diary of a Baby (London 1990) p. 129-133
  12. Stern, Diary p. 136-7
  13. Daniel N. Stern, The Motherhood Constellation (London 1998) p. 186
  14. Person, p. 180
  15. Daniel N. Stern, The First Relationship (Harvard 2002) p. 6-7
  16. Mary Jacobus, The Poetics of Psychoanalysis (Oxford 2005) p. 134n
  17. Daniel N. Stern, The Motherhood Constellation (London 1998) p. 122-3
  18. Guattari, Félix. Chaosophy: An Ethico-Aesthetic Paradigm.


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