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May 10: Margaret Mahler’s Child Psychology

May 10, 2014
margaret-mahlerPsychoanalyst Margaret Schönberger Mahler, a refugee from Vienna after the Anschluss in 1938 who became an expert on mother-toddler relationships and an important figure in child psychology, was born in Sopron, Hungary on this date in 1897. Schönberger pursued her higher education in Budapest, where she met the pioneering psychoanalyst Sandor Ferenczi and became familiar with the writings of Sigmund Freud. She switched from the study of art to medicine, graduated cum laude in 1922, and went to Vienna, where she trained as an analyst with Helene Deutsch. Coming to the U.S. with her husband, Paul Mahler, she went into private practice and became a meyvn of child psychology. She is best known for her Separation-Individuation theory of child development, which traces infant development from a stage of merger with the mother to an extended stage of individuation. She also developed a model of treatment involving both the child and mother. In 1980, Mahler was awarded Barnard College’s Medal of Distinction. “If I had not come to America, where I felt free to formulate tentatively insights at which I had empathically arrived, I would have accomplished very little. I would never have begun to publish, to teach, to undertake research. Because if one does not find an assenting echo to one’s ideas, if one is passed over, as I was in Vienna, then one cannot create. To create, after all, is to believe that what one says will count.” -Margaret Mahler