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Margaret Schönberger Mahler
|Died||October 2, 1985 (aged 88)|
New York City, U.S.
|Known for||Separation-individuation theory of child development|
|Awards||APA Agnes Purceil McGavin Award|
|Fields||Psychoanalysis, child development|
|Institutions||Margaret S. Mahler Psychiatric Research Foundation|
Margaret Schönberger Mahler (May 10, 1897 - October 2, 1985) was a Hungarian physician, who later became interested in psychiatry. She was a central figure on the world stage of psychoanalysis. Her main interest was in normal childhood development, but she spent much of her time with psychiatric children and how they arrive at the "self". Mahler developed the separation-individuation theory of child development.
Born Margaret Schönberger on May 10, 1897, into a Jewish family in Sopron, a small town in western Hungary, she and a younger sister had a difficult childhood as a result of their parents' troubled marriage. Margaret's father, however, encouraged her to excel in mathematics and other sciences. After completing the High School for Daughters, she attended Vaci Utcai Gimnazium in Budapest, even though it was unusual at the time for a woman to continue formal education. Budapest was of great influence on her life and career. She met the influential Hungarian psychoanalyst Sándor Ferenczi, became fascinated by the concept of the unconscious, and was encouraged to read Sigmund Freud.
In September 1916, she began Art History studies at the University of Budapest, but in January 1917 switched to the Medical School. Three semesters later she began medical training at the University of Munich, but was forced to leave because of tensions toward Jews. In spring 1920 she transferred to the University of Jena and it was there that she began to realize how important play and love were for infants in order for them to grow up mentally and physically healthy. After graduating cum laude in 1922, she left for Vienna in order to get her license to practice medicine. There she turned from pediatrics to psychiatry and, in 1926, started her training analysis with Helene Deutsch. Seven years later, she was accepted as an analyst. Working with children became her passion. She loved the way the children gave her their attention and showed their joy in cooperating with her.
In 1936 she married Paul Mahler. Following the Nazis' rise to power, the couple moved to Britain and then, in 1938, to the United States. After receiving a New York medical license, Margaret Mahler set up private practice in a basement and began to rebuild her clientele. In 1939 she met Benjamin Spock and, after giving a child analysis seminar in 1940, she became senior teacher of child analysis. She joined the Institute of Human Development, the Educational Institute and the New York Psychoanalytic Society. In 1948 she worked on clinical studies on Benign and Malignant Cases of Childhood Psychosis.
Schönberger Mahler died on October 2, 1985.
Margaret Mahler worked as a psychoanalyst with young disturbed children.
In 1950 she and Manuel Furer founded the Masters Children's Centre in Manhattan (it was connected with mount sinai hospital). There she developed the Tripartite Treatment Model, in which the mother participated in the treatment of the child. Mahler initiated a more constructive exploration of severe disturbances in childhood and emphasized the importance of the environment on the child. She was especially interested in mother-infant duality and carefully documented the impact of early separations of children from their mothers. This documentation of separation-individuation was her most important contribution to the development of psychoanalysis.
Separation-individuation can be viewed as the psychological birth of an infant, which occurs over a period of time when the child separates from the mother and begins to individuate.
Mahler shed light on the normal and abnormal features of the developmental ego psychology. She worked with psychotic children, while psychosis hadn't been covered in the psychoanalytic treatment yet.
Symbiotic child psychosis struck her. The symptomatology she saw as a derailment of the normal processes whereby self-representations (the representation of one's self) and object-representations (the representation of a familiar person) become distinct. Her most important work is The Psychological Birth of the Human Infant: Symbiosis and Individuation, written in 1975 with Fred Pine and Anni Bergman.
In Mahler's theory, child development takes place in phases, each with several sub phases:
Disruptions in the fundamental process of separation-individuation can result in a disturbance in the ability to maintain a reliable sense of individual identity in adulthood.
Object constancy, similar to Jean Piaget's object permanence, describes the phase when the child understands that the mother has a separate identity and is truly a separate individual. This leads to the formation of internalization, which is the internal representation that the child has formed of the mother. This Internalization is what provides the child with an image that helps supply them with an unconscious level of guiding support and comfort from their mothers. Deficiencies in positive Internalization could possibly lead to a sense of insecurity and low self-esteem issues in adulthood.