Bollas: Transformational Object

Notes of this paper by Christopher Bollas on the transformational object.

The human infant is born totally dependent on its mother. In this article, the concept of the transformational object will be briefly explained, and it’s significance to the psychotherapeutic process. Bollas also provided a case study which is featured here.  At the end of the article I shall link this concept of the transformational object relation to Gestalt therapy.


Mother is Transformational Object

There is a constant active exchange between mother and child.

Quote by Edith Johnson:

To the infant, the mother is not yet recognizable as another, but a transformational object.  The infant is related to the process which is the mother, which is the object that transform his self.

As the infant develops, it identifies this ego development with the present of the object. When the mother fails to provide due to absence or neglect, the infant suffers psychic pain.

The Transitional Object

The use of the transitional object is the infant’s first creative act.

Search for this transformational object in adult life

We continue to search for this transformational object in adult life. Religions, and advertising cater to our search for the trace of this object– to change our environment to modify our internal mood.

Case Study Cited

(Sorry for the cut and paste!)

Here are some notes for easier read:


The concept of Transformational Object and Psychotherapy

Bollas was getting at the idea that the earliest relational object, a.k.a. the mother, of an individual is a transformational object. Every act in which the mother does for the child transforms the child. As the child grows, it creatively finds other transformational objects that resemble the metamorphosizing qualities of the mother. This transformational object is not a material object but actually a process. Substitute objects are also transitional objects which do not noticably change the person, but provides them with a sense of connection. In therapy it is the process (of transformation) that the patient yearns towards. Therefore in the transference relationship, the client picks up on the process.

It is also understandable that since the transformational object precludes language learning in the infant, as adults, the individual yearns for a trace of it throughout life, but doesn’t recognize it.

This Concept in Gestalt Therapy

Reading this material, I am able to connect the principle of Bollas’ treatment technique to Gestalt Therapy method. Bollas mentions the aesthetic quality of and the idiom of the contact with the Object. What touched the patient Peter was a non-verbal interpersonal¬† communication between therapist and patient. The content of the analysis is superfluous (at least most of it) in this case.

In Gestalt therapy, there is focus on the process. This is the process of transformations,  i.e. the process of relating between therapist and client, and not the words alone, nor the therapist alone, transforms the client (and the therapist as well).


Bollas, C. (1979). The transformational object. The International journal of psycho-analysis, 60, 97.

Bollas, C. (2017). The shadow of the object: Psychoanalysis of the unthought known. Routledge.