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Born into a Jewish family in Sopron, Hungary, Margaret Mahler (1897–1985) is one of the founding pioneers in psychoanalytical theory and practice. She is most noted for her separation-individuation theory of child development, which emphasizes identity formation as occurring within the context of relationships. After immigrating to the United States in 1938, Mahler’s work as a child psychiatrist informed her theory regarding the interplay between our internal (psychological) development and our external social environment. This approach was considered scandalous within her professional community, which tended to minimize sociocultural and relational contributors to our sense of self. Her conceptual framework regarding the nature of attachment relating, specifically our need for both closeness and distance, is imbedded in many theoretical constructs regarding attachment, interpersonal relationships, family, and broader social system functioning.


Originally published in E. S. Neukrug (Ed.), The SAGE encyclopedia of theory in counseling and therapy (pp. 624–626). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.