Photo of Dr. Lisa FirestoneLisa Firestone, PhD is a Clinical Psychologist and the Director of Research and Education at the Glendon Association and Senior Editor at She is the co-author of Conquer Your Critical Inner Voice; (New Harbinger Publications) Creating a Life of Meaning and Compassion(APA Books)  Sex and Love in Intimate Relationships (APA Books).and  The Self Under Siege (Routledge) as well as numerous articles and book chapters. She has also produced educational films in the areas of suicide and violence.

Dr Firestone has been involved in clinical training and research in the areas of suicide and violenc which resulted in the development of the assessments : Firestone Assessment of Self-destructive Thoughts (FAST), Firestone Assessment of Suicide Intent the (FASI), as well as the Firestone Assessment of Violent Thoughts (FAVT) and the FAVT-A for Adolescents (PAR).

Lisa Firestone maintains a private practice and consults on the management of high risk clients. and

Lisa Firestone will be presenting on the topic Differentiation and the Search for Meaning.

Presentation Abstract:

Differentiation and the Search for Meaning


The search for meaning in life is the most fundamental question to address. Are we living based on pursuing the things that really light us up, that matter to us, and that give meaning to our lives, or are we living based on prescriptions we acquired in our past?

Are we living according our own values and ethical principles, or are we automatically living according to the values and standards of other people or of the society in which we live?

This workshop will explore the struggle that all people face in striving to develop a sense of self as an autonomous individual. Through lecture, discussion, and video clips, the presenter will describe destructive forces operating within the self, the family, and society that limit or seriously damage people’s ability to search for their own personal meaning in life.

The concepts and methodology presented here are based on Separation Theory, developed by Robert Firestone and described in our book, The Self Under Siege: A Therapeutic Model for Differentiation. Separation theory integrates psychodynamic and existential systems of thought by explaining how early separation experiences and interpersonal pain lead to defense formation and how these original defenses are reinforced as the developing child becomes aware of his or her mortality. Thus, the self is under siege from several sources: primarily pain and rejection in the developmental years, struggles in forming relationships, detrimental societal forces, and existential realities that affect all people.

The presenter will describe voice therapy, a cognitive/affective/behavioral methodology that can be utilized to elicit and identify negative elements in the personality and to help the people differentiate from the effects of the negative aspects of their early programming as well as their adaptation to their early environment. The methods involve identifying destructive thought processes – critical inner voices–that are antithetical toward the self, those that are self-soothing and self-aggrandizing, yet destructive, and those are hostile, paranoid and suspicious toward other people.  Voice therapy also includes developing insight into the sources of the destructive thoughts, answering back from one’s own point of view, and changing the maladaptive behaviors based on the dictates of the voice. The material introduced in the workshop is derived from extensive clinical experience and from a 35-year observational study of three generations of individuals and their families.

The Process of Differentiation

The process of differentiation encompasses four tasks. A person needs to: (1) break with internalized thought processes, that is, the critical, hostile attitudes toward self and others; (2) alter the negative personality traits in oneself that represent an incorporation of the aversive traits of one’s parents; (3) identify and relinquish patterns of defense formed as an adaptation to painful events in one’s childhood; and (4) develop one’s own values, ideals, and beliefs rather than automatically accepting the beliefs of one’s culture or those one grew up with. It is also important to formulate transcendent goals, those that go beyond self and family, and take steps toward fulfilling goals that give meaning to one’s life.

From our perspective, the more people become differentiated from internalized voices and strengthen their authentic selves, the more they become aware of death, and the more they have to learn to deal with these painful feelings. Expressing deep feelings of sadness and sorrow about these existential realities appears to have an ameliorative effect on those who are open to this emotional experience. Moreover, facing the feelings of sadness, anxiety, and dread surrounding our existential dilemma helps us to live out our priorities and transcendent goals, and to find our own meaning in life.