Theory Is Personal


Address for correspondence: Allen M. Siegel, Assistant Professor of Clinical Psychiatry, Rush University Medical Center – Psychiatry, 111 North Wabash Avenue, Suite 1734, Chicago, Illinois 60093. voice: 312-422-0233.


In “Theory Is Personal,” Allen Siegel MD, a Chicago psychoanalyst and Assistant Professor of Clinical Psychiatry at Rush University Medical Center, shares the very personal story of how he came to his theory. Sometimes we find our theory. Other times, Siegel argues, it is our theory that finds us. In this article Siegel catalogues his early encounters with figures—contemporary and real—from Sigmund Freud to influential department chairs to an analyst who would become legendary for introducing a bold new theory into the psychoanalytic canon. Charting key experiences that shaped his adoption of this new approach—a depression in response to his first patient, a clinical treatment with Heinz Kohut, and exposure to others who dared to challenge Freud—Siegel describes the theory that brought both himself and his patients to life. After outlining the principles that guide the new theory and practice known as self psychology, Siegel tells of the empathic ambiance that can now emerge in the consulting room. Finally, he shows how this new theory of human motivation provides not merely a rationale for psychotherapy but an explanatory apparatus for understanding human action in the world beyond the consulting room. He turns to a brief study of aggression and war, as expressed in a 1932 correspondence between Albert Einstein and Sigmund Freud, to illustrate how the understanding of aggression and war changes significantly when empathy is the field's data collecting instrument.