Robert W. Firestone

Robert W. Firestone

Robert W. Firestone (September 8 1930 - ) is an author, artist, and clinical psychologist whose theory (Separation Theory and Voice Therapy Methodology) integrates psychodynamic, existential, and humanistic schools of thought. His work explores how defenses against interpersonal pain and death anxiety impact people’s relationships, sexuality, and child-rearing, and predispose self-destructive and violent behaviors. He has written extensively about methods for identifing and challenging destructive thought processes that control those maladaptive behaviors


Robert W. Firestone, PhD, was born in Brooklyn in 1930, the son of a doctor and a fashion designer. His mother's career in fashion was an important early influence on his developing artistic sensibilities. Firestone was raised in the melting pot of New York's metropolitan area but his home in Brooklyn was near the ocean. The sound of the freighters’ foghorns late at night kindled a lifelong love of the sea and a search for adventure and personal development. The themes of the city and the sea, separately and together, are visited frequently in Firestone's work as an artist.

Firestone's desire to understand himself and people in his life led him to study psychology, while his need for a creative outlet led him to painting. He was educated at Syracuse University, received a B.A. in Psychology at the University of California at Berkeley in 1951, an M.A. in Psychology in 1954 at California State University (Los Angeles, and received his PhD in Clinical Psychology in 1957 from the University of Colorado in Denver. Firestone's postgraduate work was spent studying schizophrenia and working with patients in the extremes of emotional suffering.

From 1957 to 1979, Dr. Firestone was engaged in the private practice of psychotherapy as a clinical psychologist working with a wide range of patients, amplifying his original ideas on schizophrenia and applying these concepts to a comprehensive theory of neurosis.

Robert Firestone has been affiliated with the [ Glendon Association ] as its main theorist since the nonprofit organization’s 1982 inception. His innovative ideas related to psychotherapy, couple and family relationships, suicide, parenting, and existential issues have been the inspiration and cornerstone of the organization’s research and publications.

Robert W. Firestone, Psychologist

Firestone’s work is particularly noteworthy for its combination of theory and practice. For several decades, he has conducted an in-depth, intergenerational study of a group of families with whom he lives. This work’s objective is the general improvement of participants’ lives through an ongoing discussion of how defenses impact people's lives and of ways to challenge and change maladaptive behaviors based on those defenses.

His studies of negative thought processes and their associated affect have led to the development of Voice Therapy (Firestone, 1988), an advanced therapeutic methodology used to uncover and contend with aspects of self destructive and self limiting behaviors. Further information is available below.

Firestone has applied his concepts to empirical research and to developing the Firestone Assessment of Self-Destructive Thoughts (FAST)(Firestone, & Firestone, 1996/2006), a scale that assesses self-destructive behavior including addiction, and the Firestone Assessment of Suicidal Intent (FASI). The FAST and FASI are published by Psychological Assessment Resources (PAR).

Major Psychological Theories and Innovations

Firestone’s major concept, the “Fantasy Bond,” is a term used to describe an imaginary connection formed originally by the infant with the parent or primary caregiver. [cite web| publisher=Glendon Association |title=Fantasy Bond |url =| accessdate=2008-09-13 ] It also describes an illusory connection to another person that adults often attempt to establish in their intimate associations, a process that leads to deterioration in the relationship (Firestone, 1984, 1985, 1987).

The critical inner voice can be thought of as the language of the defensive process. [cite web| publisher=Glendon Association |title=Critical Inner Voice |url =| accessdate=2008-09-13 ] It has been defined as an integrated system of thoughts and attitudes, antithetical toward self and hostile toward others, that is at the core of an individual’s maladaptive behavior (Firestone, 1997a). The concept of the “voice” is not restricted to cognitive processes but is generally associated with varying degrees of anger and sadness.

Separation Theory, developed by Dr. Robert Firestone, represents a broadly based, coherent system of concepts and hypotheses that integrates psychoanalytic and existential systems of thought. Separation theory explains how early trauma leads to defense formation and how these original defenses are reinforced as the developing child gradually becomes aware of his or her own mortality (Firestone, 1990e, 1997a).

Voice Therapy methodology, which is based on Separation Theory, helps clients expose and separate from dependency bonds and destructive “voices,” remnants of negative childhood experiences that seriously impair their sense of self, spirit, and individuality (Firestone, 1988).

Voice therapy is a psychotherapeutic technique that brings internalized negative thought processes to the surface with accompanying affect in a dialog format such that a person can confront alien components of the personality. It is so named because it is a process of giving language or spoken words to negative thought patterns that are at the core of an individual’s maladaptive or self-destructive behavior (Firestone, 1997a).

R.W. Firestone, Artist

It was during his time as a postgraduate student at Berkeley in the 1950s that Robert Firestone created his first major body of work--a series of remarkably original oils depicting patients, friends, and associates, as well as scenes from his many travels. These "expressionistic" paintings, steeped in traditional discipline and technique, highlight his striking sense of composition and color and evoke strong emotions and feelings.

The award-winning [ Art of R.W. Firestone] captures the architecture, energy, and dynamism of metropolitan life and reflects a strong, original style. Firestone's most recent work is noteworthy in its adventurous use of a new formal artistic language where the sensitivity of the artist’s hand cohabitates harmoniously with digital technology.

Firestone merges computers, scanners, and specialized software with his unique perspective on people and places to produce his works. In the award-winning picture "Self Portrait with Artist's 10 Children", Dr. Firestone's portrait is overlaid with pictures of each of his 10 (now 12) children in a complex photo mosaic.

Another picture shows a schooner that R.W. Firestone captained and which circumnavigated the globe in the late 1970s. It was the subject of a video documentary broadcast on PBS. In this piece, "Friendship Under Sail", the schooner is overlaid in photo mosaic form with pictures of its original 13-member teenage crew.

Robert Firestone's artwork has been exhibited in galleries and museums in the U.S. and Europe and is held in many private and corporate collections.


“We acknowledge the problems of violence, addiction, suicide, mental illness, and the widespread use of dangerous drugs by our children. Why not attempt to get at the core of these concerns, seek the underlying truth, however frightening, and confront the myths of families in our society? Can’t they afford to be scrutinized?” - "excerpt from letter"

“The discoveries I made about widespread damaging family practices were also disturbing to me as they opened up my own conflicts in relation to parenting…years of clinical experience with patients and their families have convinced me of certain unavoidable and painful truths about negative family interactions. Despite my resistance, I had to question and break down my idealized perception of family life.” - "excerpt from letter"

“My colleagues and I see parents, as we see all human beings, as having experienced a certain amount of unnecessary suffering in their growing up. We are not pessimistic and believe that they can overcome their negative compulsions toward their children if they work through the problems of their own backgrounds.” - "excerpt from letter"

“Perhaps in future generations, parents could learn to value their own lives and allow their children to preserve their human heritage rather than partially taking back the life they gave. Perhaps in future generations, parents would no longer be ‘the lost children.’” - "excerpt from letter"

“Faced with the existential reality of aloneness, sickness, aging and one's eventual death, man can choose to close off emotionally, desensitize himself and depersonalize, or choose to give value and meaning to life. As a clinical psychologist, author and psychotherapist, I have devoted myself to helping people face their personal demons, know themselves and triumph over their psychological pain and suffering. As an artist, I have attempted to live a creative life, searching for and striving for meaning and beauty. Working with the computer as a creative instrument, I have attempted to invent something feelingful, sensitive and beautiful out of an unfeeling machine. The computer like all of man's technological achievements has been used for both good and evil machinations. Life and creativity are the antithesis of cynicism and despair. Intimidated by the issue of death and dying, we often turn our backs on life and feeling but instead we could choose to embrace life. We are all fragile and helpless, and therefore brothers. Ideally that would imply empathy, tolerance and generosity towards our fellows. I live and share life closely with a multitude of other people and try to exemplify a sense of love, enlightenment and joy in being and becoming. My art and my insights into life are a very personal offering to others, a simple sharing of my feelings and perceptions. In my artistic productions, I utilize a variety of images, impressions and approaches to address the fullness and complexity of my experience. In all of my work, I try to blend color and composition into an enjoyable visual experience.” - from Artist's Statement in monograph


*Firestone, L. (1991). "The Firestone Voice Scale for Self-Destructive Behavior: Investigating the scale's validity and reliaility. (Doctoral disseration, California School of Professional Psychology.) "Dissertation Abstracts International, 52," 3338B.
*Firestone, R.W. (1957). "A concept of the Schizophrenic Process." Unpublished doctoral dissertation. University of Denver.
*Firestone, R. W. (1984). A concept of the primary fantasy bond: A developmental perspective. "Psychotherapy, 21," 218-225.
*Firestone, R. W. (1985). "The fantasy bond: Structure of psychological defenses." Santa Barbara, CA: Glendon Association.
*Firestone, R. W. (1986). The "inner voice" and suicide. "Psychotherapy, 23," 439-447.
*Firestone, R. W. (1987). Destructive effects of the fantasy bond in couple and family relationships. "Psychotherapy, 24," 233-239.
*Firestone, R. W. (1988). "Voice Therapy: A psychotherapeutic approach to self-destructive behavior." Santa Barbara, CA: Glendon Association.
*Firestone, R. W. (1990). Voice Therapy. In J. K. Zeig & W. Munion (Eds.), "What is psychotherapy: Contemporary perspectives" (pp. 68-74). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
*Firestone, R. W. (1993). The psychodynamics of fantasy, addiction, and addictive attachments. "American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 53," 335-352.
*Firestone, R. W. (1994). Psychological defenses against death anxiety. In R. A. Neimeyer (Ed.), "Death anxiety handbook: Research, instrumentation, and application" (pp. 217-241). Washington, DC: Taylor & Francis.
*Firestone, R. W. (1997a). "Combating destructive thought processes: Voice Therapy and separation theory." Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
*Firestone, R. W. (1997b). "Suicide and the inner voice: Risk assessment, treatment, and case management." Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
*Firestone, R. W., & Catlett, J. (1999). "Fear of intimacy." Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
*Firetone, R. W., & Firestone, L. (1998). Voices in suicide: The relationship between self-destructive thought processes, maladaptive behavior, and self-destructive manifestations. "Death Studies, 22," 411-433.
*Firestone, R. W., & Firestone, L. (2002). Suicide reduction and prevention. In C. Feltham (Ed.), "What's the good of counselling and psychotherapy: The benefits explained" (pp. 48-80). London: Sage Publications.
*Firestone, R. W., & Firestone, L. (2004). Methods for overcoming the fear of intimacy. In D. Mashek & A. Aron (Eds.), "The handbook of closeness and intimacy" (pp. 375-395). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
*Firestone, R. W., & Firestone, L. (2006). "The Firestone Assessment of Self-Destructive Thoughts." Lutz, FL: Psychological Assessment Resources. (Original work published 1996.)
*Firestone, R. W., Firestone, L., & Catlett, J. (2002). "Conquer your critical inner voice." Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.
*Firestone, R. W., Firestone, L., & Catlett, J. (2003). "Creating a life of meaning and compassion: The wisdom of psychotherapy." Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
*Firestone, R. W., Firestone, L., & Catlett, J. (2006). "Sex and love in intimate relationships." Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
*Firestone, R. W., & Seiden, R. H. (1990). Suicide and the continuum of self-destructive bheavior. "Journal of American College Health, 38," 207-213.
*Keys, A., Brozek, J. Henschel, A., Mickelsen, O., & Taylor, H. L. (1950). "The biology of human starvation" (Vol. 2). Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

Other Publications by Robert W. Firestone

*Firestone, R. W. (1987). The "voice": The dual nature of guilt reactions. "American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 47, [" 210-229.
*Firestone, R. W. (1989). Parenting groups based on Voice Therapy. "Psychotherapy, 26," 524-529.
*Firestone, R. W. (1990). "Compassionate Child-Rearing: An in-depth approach to optimal parenting." Santa Barbara, CA: Glendon Association.
*Firestone, R. W. (1990). Prescription for psychotherapy. "Psychotherapy, 27," 627-635.
*Firestone, R. W. (1990). The bipolar causality of regression. "American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 50," 121-135.
*Firetone, R. W. (1990). Voices during sex: Application of Voice Therapy to sexuality. "Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, 16," 258-274.
*Firestone, R. W. (1994). A new perspective on the Oedipal complex: A Voice Therapy session. "Psychotherapy, 31," 342-351.
*Firestone, R. W. (1996). The origins of ethnic strife. "Mind and Human Interaction, 7," 167-180.
*Firestone, R. W. (2000). Microsuicide and the elderly: A basic defense against death anxiety. In A. Tomer (Ed.), "Death attitudes and the older adult: theories, concepts, and applications" (pp. 65-84). Philadelphia, PA: Brunner-Routledge.
*Firestone, R. W. (2002). The death of psychoanalysis and depth therapy. "Psychotherapy, 39," 223-232.
*Firestone, R. W., & Catlett, J. (1989). "Psychological Defenses in Everyday Life." Santa Barbara, CA: Glendon Association.
*Firestone, R. W., & Seiden, R. H. (1987). Microsuicide and suicidal threats of everyday life. "Psychotherapy, 24," 31-39.
*Firestone, R. W., & Seiden, R. H. (1990). Psychodynamics in adolescent suicide. "Journal of College Student Psychotherapy, 4," 101-123.

Video Documentaries Produced by Geoff Parr, Coproduced by R.W. Firestone, and available from the Glendon Association

Intimate Relationships and Sexuality Series

*"Closeness without bonds." 1986
*"Bobby and Rosie: Anatomy of a marriage." 1989.
*"Sex and marriage." 1990.
*"Sex and society." 1990.
*"Voices in sex." 1990.
*"Voices about relationships." 1995.
*"Exploring relationships." 1997.
*"Fear of intimacy." 1997.
*"Coping with the fear of intimacy." 1999.
*"Sex and love in intimate relationships." 2005.

Parent-Child Relationships Series

*"Teaching our children about feelings." 1984.
*"The inner voice in child abuse." 1986.
*"Hunger versus love." (1987).
*"Therapeutic child-rearing." 1987.
*"Parental ambivalence." 1987.
*"The implicit pain of sensitive child-rearing." 1988.
*"Invisible child abuse." 1994.

Existential Issues Series

*"Life, death & denial." 1990.
*"Defenses against death anxiety." 1990.

Friendship Series

*"Of birth and friendship." 1980.
*"Friendship under sail." 1982.
*"Voyage to understanding." 1983.
*"Children of the summer." 1993.
*"Friendship: Creating a life of meaning and compassion. 2002.

Suicide and Self-Destructiveness Series

*"The inner voice in suicide." 1985.
*"Microsuicide: A case study." 1985.
*"Teenagers talk about suicide." 1987.

Voice Therapy Series

*"Voice therapy with Dr. Robert Firestone." 1984.
*"A voice therapy session." 1986.
*"Sonya--An individual voice therapy session." 1991.
*"A voice therapy training session." 1992.
*"A voice therapy training session: Dealing with the Oedipal conflict." 1992.
*"Inwardness--A retreat from feeling." 1995.

Other Video Documentaries

*"The fantasy bond." 1985.
*"Of business and friendship." 1989.
*"Robert W. Firestone: A unique perspective: Part 1." 1991.
*"Robert W. Firestone: A unique perspective: Part 2." 1991.

External links

* [ The Art of R.W. Firestone]
* [ The Glendon Association]
* [ PAR]
* [ PsychAlive]

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