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Social Work Model: Object Relations and Ego Development Essay

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Updated: Oct 14th, 2021


The object relations theory has two definitions used in different senses. In the first definition, it’s in a synonymous relationship with the relationships between and among persons. For instance, in the early stages of human development, the developmental stages of intimate relationships with others have a link with the development of instincts in the individual. For example, in the early oral stage of infants, the associated object relations is known as autoerotic meaning a stage with no object. While in the latter stage of the oral phase, the object relations associated was known as narcissistic meaning incorporation of an object (Goldstein 1995).

Propelled by internal instincts, the object incorporation was viewed as important but not fully understood by the researchers. The other defined usage of the object relations theory is used in the sense of intrapersonal structures and external relations with others which is a concept of the ego organization. In this context, the theory a baby is born with the desire for object relation. It’s of great usefulness to understand that after the baby is born the object relations is between the baby and the mother (Ogden 1990). This results in a social attachment between the mother and the baby.

From the fourth or sixth month to the thirteenth or thirty-sixth months, the child starts to have a separation where he/she is separated from the fused state to a stage of development with unique characteristics for the interaction with the real environment. The separation process is known as the individuation stage. The stage is further subdivided into autistic and symbiotic sub-phases. At the autistic stage, the inborn is too sensitive to environmental stimuli and he/she sleeps all the time and wakes up only when need states of the body arouse him/her. At this stage, the infant exists in her own world but slowly gets responsive to environmental stimuli (Goldstein 1995). In the symbiotic stage, the child starts to have a wider perspective or view than before. At this stage, the mother acts as a mediator between the environment and the child.

In any social setting, the presence of an acceptable environment is only determined by the relations among the society members. A society with poor social relations is more likely to experience more disagreements which compel the leaders to divert part of their efforts in conflict resolution instead of initiating development activities. This re-experiencing of some necessary vital object-relational issues as intimacy in feelings, control, loss, transparency, dependency and autonomy, and trust forms the primary curative influence on any relation problem. Whereas some ideas may be interpreted and then some confrontations arise, the resolution of personal and components of relationships in the world of objects for any needy individual requires the first action be aimed at primary therapy.

Segal (1990) claims that it is necessary because the initial source or roots of the problem need to be addressed first. Object relations theory has its ideas useful in personality pathologies and poor mental capabilities. Many researchers have continued to increase and elaborate the theory and applications to other fields. J. Masterson developed what is known as the Mastersonian application which is helpful in working with problems of the personality structure. Many of his findings have had variations of personality structure vary from the mainstream. While the more technical aspects of personality development and psychotherapy differ significantly, many end up sharing the core tenets of the provision of a safer, caring environment in the relationship between human beings.

Ogden (1990) further explains that in contrast to looking at object relations as a single ego function, object relations provide a base for attachment and development of all ego functions. The capability to test reality depends not only on the maturation of the innate cognitive apparatus but also on the experience of developing ego boundaries in the close relationship between the self and the primary caretaker. It is also necessary to be mentioned that social attachment is only best explained by the object relation theory. The infant at his or an early age maintains his or her closeness with her mother or the primary caretaker. He or she manifests her closeness through sucking, rooting, grasping, smiling and gazing. This is usually referred to as the first stage which stages from birth till the first three months. At the second stage, the child responds to the presence of the mother or the primary caretaker by smiling and their absence sends the child upset.


Reasons for choosing this model

The object relations theory is important to society since it seeks to identify the basis of human interaction in society by evaluating in an attempt to understand, the various factors motivating individual actions and attitudes that either result in cohesion or conflict among members in a particular society. I also received inspiration from the extensive amount of literature that is available in this field. Daniel (2001) explains that the study of psychoanalytic theories in which the object relation is apart is important for seeking to find methods of causing redress to various social problems brought about by a breakdown in understanding between various parties. Furthermore, the information provided by the theory about the importance of early family relationships to individual behaviour fascinated me since it assists me to understand why many of my peers behave so and may act as a guiding point to helping those individuals suffering from personal problems to seek care.

Use of theory in the treatment

The theory might be used by psycho analytics in the treatment of a diverse number of conflicts whether those problems exist in an individual, between different individuals or among different members of certain groups (Klee 2000). Though there are several theories that can be used in the treatment or resolution of conflict, the object relations model is quite effective. This is because the model goes to the formative stages and tries to establish the underlying factors that have led to those conflicts. The experts in this field have experienced success by assuming that problems in early childhood form an important part in the development of personal self-esteem and how such a person relates with others in society.

By understanding the various factors that cause you to enter or act in a certain way it is possible therefore to correct conflicts by trying to discover what the truth is and where fantasy or unconscious self causes you to view things in a manner that is inconsistent with the truth. This allows a person through the help of a professional to come to terms with the truth and decide whether to embrace or escape it and this acceptance of the actual truth is what constitutes healing. Klee (2000) further asserts that a therapist’s main role is to provide the patient with a comfortable environment in which he can allow himself to view his dysfunctional nature so as to confront it. Though this is not easy it is important and great patience and skill are needed on the part of the therapist since the client developed this nature in an attempt to survive comfortably in the social set-up.

Benefits of the model in certain settings and with certain populations

The model is beneficial since it allows therapists to try and reform delinquent or criminal behaviour as a way of making society a better place. There are several adolescents who are rebellious and may sometimes engage in destructive behaviours in an attempt either to blend in or raise their self-esteem. This model allows for these teenagers to be made to realize that their wayward behaviour is caused by problems rooted in their childhood and enables them to reform and lead better and productive lives. The same can be applied to criminals whose destructive actions may be traced to problems in their early stages of development.

Another model compatible with object relations

The newly formulated theory of the mind can be used hand in hand to combat the various interaction disorders that occur among individuals in society. Leslie (1991) explains that it is one’s ability to relate to beliefs, desires and knowledge within oneself or in interacting with each other. It tries to make people understand that the status of the mind is usually the cause of the various ways that people relate. It is how we develop an understanding of the world and this differs from person to person and this difference might be a cause for human friction. Therefore this theory would be compatible with the object relations since both appreciate that human action is based on how an individual views different circumstances. This view is therefore the most important factor in determining human personality.

Limitations of this model

The model requires a patient to confront the problems that exist within him since infancy when he learnt to manipulate through acting or distorting things in a particular way. For a person to acknowledge that he is acting in such a way as to be basing his actions on fantasies and low self-esteem is at the least hard to achieve. It is time-consuming and requires the dedication of a person to accept he is wrong in perceiving things in a certain manner. It is therefore important to incorporate other models like the ego model so as to extensively exhaust the problem. Lastly, the complex nature of what is expected of a client requires one to be aware of what he really is and look deep within himself to evaluate where his disorders arose from. Therefore children who have not reached such a level of personal analysis can’t participate effectively in such a process that requires internal reflection.


  1. Leslie, A. M. (1991). Natural theories of mind: Evolution, development, and simulation of everyday mind reading. Cambridge, MA: Basil Blackwell.
  2. Thomas Klee (2000). Web.
  3. Victor Daniels (2001). Objects relation theory Sonoma state university.
  4. Edag Goldstein (1995). Ego Psychology and Social Work Practice. G Santa Rosa
  5. Segal, H. (1990). The work of Hanna Segal: A Kleinian approach to clinical practice. Northvale, NJ: Aronson.
  6. Ogden, T. (1990). Science of the mind: Object relations and the psychoanalytic dialogue. Lanham, MD: Aronson.
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