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Margaret S. Mahler Psychiatric Research Foundation papers

Call Number: MS 1139

Scope and Contents

The Margaret S. Mahler Psychiatric Research Foundation papers contain the research documents, raw and processed data, videotapes and films stemming from Mahler's research studies of tics in children, on childhood psychosis and the studies of normal child development. The material dates from 1955-1977. In the 1940s Mahler conducted research studying tics in children at the New York State Psychiatric Institute, Children's Services Division with Dr. Jean Luke and Leo Rangell. In the 1960s an electrical fire destroyed the majority of research information pertaining to the tic studies. A limited amount of research film and publications from this study remain. The publications are located in the Margaret S. Mahler Papers (MS Group # 1138). The majority of the Foundation material stems from the studies on child psychosis which Mahler conducted with Manuel Furer in the 1950s under the title of "the natural history of symbiotic child psychosis" and of the studies of normal child development, also known as the separation-individuation studies, with Calvin Settlage, Fred Pine and Anni Bergman from 1960-1972. From these studies Mahler developed her theory of separation-individuation in which a child grows through various psychological and physical stages which enable it to recognize its independence from the mother, (individuation) and then in turn pass through the physical break from its mother, (separation). Also included in the papers are films which were created by the Foundation for teaching purposes, and in conjunction with projects sponsored by the Foundation.

The Margaret S. Mahler Psychiatric Research Foundation deposited the material in Manuscripts and Archives from 1979-1983. Original order of the material has been maintained. The bulk of the material dates from 1960-1972 when Mahler and her co-workers were conducting the studies of normal child development. The papers are arranged in four series: I. NATURAL HISTORY OF SYMBIOTIC CHILD PSYCHOSIS, II. NORMAL SEPARATION-INDIVIDUATION STUDIES, III. VIDEOTAPES, and IV. FILMS.
Series I, NATURAL HISTORY OF SYMBIOTIC CHILD PSYCHOSIS, contains applications, observations, reports of children in the therapeutic nursery, and conference minutes, for the study of symbiotic child psychosis which Mahler conducted in the 1950s. The applications contain information about children who were accepted or rejected for the study. Observations include daily and monthly summaries of the children, reports by the social worker involved with the study concerning the mothers of the children, reports by the therapist concerning the activities of the children and their families, and reports by non-participating observers who conducted unobtrusive observations from within the nursery setting. In addition, records of treatment summaries of the children, psychiatric exams of the children and parents, and interviews of the mothers are also maintained. Material from the therapeutic nursery contains observations and reports. Conference minutes contain discussions of staff observations and suggestions for treatment of the children.

The material is arranged by type. The applications, observations and therapeutic nursery materials are arranged alphabetically by child. The conference minutes are arranged chronologically.

Series II, NORMAL SEPARATION-INDIVIDUATION STUDIES, contains applications, observations, film observations and processed data in the form of notebooks; the methodology for the studies, including forms listing the areas of observations for and the ratings of each of the children; the raw data describing the categories and ratings of the children; research conference minutes, testing schedules, and microfilm/microfiche sets of the notebooks and processed data for the studies which were conducted from 1959-1973. Materials for the "early children" who began the study in 1959 include applications containing general information, medical histories and psychological examinations of the children. In addition, group observations of the children are maintained with this material. Materials relating to the further studies of the childrens' normal development consist of notebooks containing: a) "once only" material including general birth information, early medical information, personal and family histories, physical home layouts, results of developmental tests, and letters of recommendation from attending schools; b) observations, of the children by the researchers in selected categories; c) ratings of the children in additional categories by research staff; d) reduced data of specific observations including what Mahler termed 'Ten Questions' dealing with the physical awareness of the children in the nursery, and the 'Four Topics' concerning the psychological experiences of the children; e) reactions observed by the staff relating to the separation from the mother, the sleep of the child, the introduction of a stranger to the mother-child situation, and the mirror reactions of the child; f) interim materials include observations of play sessions; g) follow-up and summaries include observations and assessments made by research staff concerning the childrens' progress from the beginning to the end of the study; and h) mothers' booksinclude interviews of the mothers and fathers as well as observations of the parents in the nursery setting. These notebooks are copies of the originals which are still in the possession of the Mahler Foundation. There is a limited amount of duplicate material for the children. This material is maintained separately from the notebook material.

Raw data includes observations of the children in specific categories and ratings of the children by the research staff as described by the methodology created for the study. The children were observed in eighteen categories: feeding and oral behavior; toileting; motor and locomotor activity; sleep; body self awareness as reaction to anatomical sex differences; reaction to strangers; imitation, play and fantasy; speech and communication; aggression; reaction to pain and frustration; mother; mother-child interaction; differences between home and Masters Children's Center; important events in family; information about father; typical and exaggerated behavior; siblings and contemporaries; summary.
Reduced data includes observations by the research staff documenting the physical and psychological experiences of the child in the nursery setting. Mahler and her co-workers developed a set of "Ten Questions" and "Four Topics" which include observations on aggression & psychosexual development, mood, mood by subphases, perceptions-cognitive-language development, object relations, brief statements, key statements, checking back reactions, early feeding & weaning, ego functions, development of locomotion, and separation reactions.

Film observations contain notes from the researchers and non-participant observers who observed specific reactions in the children including: checking back reactions, early fantasy activity, early feeding & weaning activity, ego functions, development of locomotor activity, and separation reactions. In addition, the notes contain selected film sequences of the children.

Descriptions of the methodology and rationale for the normal development studies are contained in the notes, early rating scales and procedures devised by Fred Pine. Early and later versions of the rating scales and methods for applying their use in observations are found in these files.

McDevitt Notebooks contain materials relating to the follow-up studies undertaken by John McDevitt with some of the children from the initial study. Observations contain information regarding female development and gender identity of the female children under study.

The research conference minutes contain transcripts of meetings attended by the research staff where the project and treatment of the children were discussed. The schedules document the observational and testing activity of the research staff.

The microfiche and microfilm sets of the notebooks contain duplicate raw and processed data maintained by Mahler on each of the study children. There are four microfilm/microfiche sets each containing: 1) area observations; 2) coordinated observations; 3) film notes and observations; 4) reduced data--narrative and general remarks. The observations card index contains notecards with observations of the children arranged by type of reaction.

Series III, VIDEOTAPES, contains edited versions of the research film from the Normal Separation-Individuation studies. These include videotapes of individual children, and of children in specific subphases of development. The tapes include longitudinal studies, as well as condensed versions.

Series IV, FILMS, contains the original and copy observational film recorded during Mahler's studies of tics in children, childhood psychosis, and of normal childhood development. The tic studies films include footage of Mahler's child patients as well as footage of patients of her co-worker Dr. Jean Luke. The subjects in this study range from six to twenty-five years in age. Tic studies observations are filmed on 16mm film. The natural history of symbiotic child psychosis film contains observations of the children from this study from the spring of 1960 to the spring of 1963. Film from the normal separation-individuation studies contains original, copy and longitudinal prints filmed at the Masters Children's Center by Mahler and her co-workers. In addition to the positive prints of the longitudinal film, duplicate negative of the film has also been maintained. The film is arranged by name of child or pairs of children and is black and white 16mm film. In addition to the studies films, 36 reels of teaching and project films are located at the end of this series.


  • 1940-1982


Conditions Governing Access

Written permission to access or make reproductions from the collection is required from the Margaret S. Mahler Psychiatric Research Foundation until January 1, 2058, after which the collection is open to research without restriction.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright is retained by the Margaret S. Mahler Psychiatric Research Foundation for unpublished works it has authored or otherwise produced. Upon the termination of the Foundation, copyright passes to Yale University. Copyright status for other collection materials is unknown. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.) beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owners. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owners. Responsibility for any use rests exclusively with the user.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of the Margaret S. Mahler Psychiatric Research Foundation, 1980, 1985. Gift of William Singletary, 1997.


Arranged in four series and one addition: I. Natural History of Symbiotic Child Psychosis, 1957-1965. II. Normal Separation-Individuation Studies, 1962-1977. III. Videotapes, 1962- . IV. Films, 1940s-1982.


86 Linear Feet (136 cartons, 134 film cans)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


The papers consist of raw data, videotapes, and films from two of Margaret Mahler's studies: the Natural History of Symbiotic Child Psychosis and the Normal Separation-Individuation studies.

Biographical / Historical

In 1972 the Margaret S. Mahler Psychiatric Research Fund was formed with matching funds from the Menil Foundation Inc., of Houston, Texas. The purpose of the Fund was to ensure the preservation of Mahler's research through the maintenance of her research archives, and to provide funding for continued research in the areas of child development and child psychosis.

The Mahler archive at the time consisted of research films, documents, raw and processed data, manuscripts and publications stemming from Mahler's studies of tics in children, on childhood psychosis, and the studies of normal child development. The Fund supported the physical preservation, reproduction and cataloging of the films and research documentation. In addition, the Fund provided money for Mahler to continue to write about her research, to fund the then current and follow-up studies of normal child development, and to provide funding for any future studies stemming from Mahler's work.

The Fund also supported the promotion of research and scientific publication in the fields of child development and analysis by Mahler and others through available means and the establishment of the Margaret S. Mahler Literature Prize, and publication by the Fund of scientific papers, monographs and/or books growing out of research supported by the Fund. The Fund also sponsored projects by individuals and groups that focused on child development and child analysis. Additionally, the Fund co-sponsored the Margaret S. Mahler Child Development Symposium Series in collaboration with the Medical College of Pennsylvania, Department of Psychiatry and the Eastern Pennsylvania Psychiatric Institute.

In 1976, the Fund became independent of the Menil Foundation and was renamed the Margaret S. Mahler Psychiatric Research Foundation, with its primary purposes remaining the same as those of its predecessor. The Foundation continues the work begun by Margaret S. Mahler.

Processing Information

Patient names and other confidential data have been redacted from the publicly-available finding aid until January 1, 2058.
Guide to the Margaret S. Mahler Psychiatric Research Foundation Papers
Under Revision
compiled by Nanci A. Young with Han Tran, Michael Gerber, Tony Lavell
June 1989
Description rules
Finding Aid Created In Accordance With Manuscripts And Archives Processing Manual
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Manuscripts and Archives Repository

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