IPA Inter-Regional Encyclopedic Dictionary of Psychoanalysis

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--- Defining Ego Psychology as a phase in the development of psychoanalysis not only confirms the nature of the analytic discourse as “a research work in progress”, but also makes it possible to account for the variety of ways in which this new phase was dealt with by several generations of authors around the psychoanalytic world. While in 1926 it was clear that conflict had two dimensions, one being defended content and the other being defense processes, Freud concentrated more on defended content. Anna Freud (1936/1946) elevated defensive processes to an equal status in the genesis of conflict. Heinz Hartmann (1939/1958), Ernst Kris (1955), David Rapaport (1951, 1958), Rudolph Loewenstein (1963) and Erik Erikson (1950, 1956) then elaborated the wider functions of ego. The in-depth study of the id (and the dynamic unconscious) undertaken previously by Freud was now paralleled by in-depth knowledge of the ego. Hartmann may be considered one of the architects of the first-generation ‘Classical’ Post-Freudian Ego Psychology/Structural Theory, systematizing, revising, adding, and extending many pre-existing notions and fragments of ego psychology; however, in addition to Anna Freud, Kris, Rapaport and Erikson, there are many others who made very important contributions, with technical impact and influence on later theory. These include Otto Fenichel, Wilhelm Reich, Theodore Reik, Rene Spitz, Edith Jacobson, Margaret Mahler, Paul Federn, Herman Nunberg, Elisabeth Zetzel, Ralph Greenson, Leo Rangell, Robert Waelder, Joseph Sandler, Edoardo Weiss, opening the door for transitional and integrational thought of Hans Loewald, Otto Kernberg, Nancy Chodorow, as well as contemporary Ego Psychology of Paul Gray, Fred Busch, Cecilio Paniagua, Joseph Fernando and contemporary inclusive Freudian thinking of Harold Blum, Rosemary Balsam, Shmuel Erlich and others. Hartmann’s concepts of relatively conflict-free spheres and ego autonomy were not meant to indicate that ego was independent of other psychic agencies, nor did it mean to minimize the importance of psychic conflict. Ego continued to be viewed as one aspect of the greater mind, striving to negotiate a balance between all (potentially antithetical) forces emanating from and impinging on the human mind. Clinically, this translated into an analyst’s stance, via the alliance with a patient’s ego, to be equidistant among all three psychic agencies and the external world, in addition to increased attention to the psychic surface, defense (and resistance) processes and patterns. The surface was understood to be a derivative of the deeper unconscious conflict. Technique-wise, this ‘surface’ approach shuns a premature interpretation of the unconscious forces and contents (wishes, impulses and traumatic memories) being defended against in favor of exploration of resistances and an expansion of the patient’s capacity for self-observation and self- reflection. This brought renewed interest in the preconscious, in the manifest content of fantasies, dreams and screen memories, in the intrapsychic process itself, with intense attention to the minute-to-minute interaction between unconscious drives and unconscious defenses (Blum 1998; Rangell 1963; Skelton 2006; Paniagua 2008).


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