Publication Date


Document Type

Masters Thesis


School for Social Work


Substance abuse-Treatment, Self psychology, Existential psychotherapy, Addiction, Substance dependence, Substance use disorder, Drug abuse, Selfobjects, Kohut, Heinz, Existentialism


This theoretical study explored the theoretical frameworks of self psychology and existential psychotherapy in the context of their usefulness for clinical social workers in their therapeutic work with clients with substance use disorders (SUDs). The central guiding question of this thesis was, "How can the theoretical lenses of self psychology and existential psychotherapy help clinical social workers and other mental health professionals to better understand SUDs and inform clinicians' work with addicted clients?" In this theoretical study, self psychology and existential psychotherapy were examined and employed as a means of understanding the nature of SUDs. In addition, these two theories were used to analyze and interpret the underlying psychological and existential factors that may contribute to the development and persistence of SUDs in some individuals. This study concluded that both self psychology and existential psychotherapy can be useful—separately and even more so together—to clinicians in their work with clients with SUDs. Both of these theories, despite their many differences, share a number of important similarities that make them useful for clinical social work. These include an optimistic view of the potential for growth and healing through treatment; the importance of imperfect attunement and empathic failures between therapist and client during the course of therapy; an emphasis on trying to understand the client's subjective experience; and a genuinely humane and respectful view of all clients, including those struggling with SUDs.




iii, 72 p. Thesis (M.S.W.)--Smith College School for Social Work, Northampton, Mass., 2009. Includes bibliographical references (p. 66-72)