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Hildebrand, H.P. (1987). Psychoanalysis and Aging. Ann. Psychoanal., 15:113-125.

(1987). Annual of Psychoanalysis, 15:113-125

Psychoanalysis and Aging

H. Peter Hildebrand, Ph.D.

Only in recent years have psychoanalysts begun to recognize that the process and problems of aging are an important and worthwhile field of study. Recognition has not been easy: most psychoanalysts have preferred to ignore or dismiss these processes and have allowed them no major role in their theorizing. I propose to address this issue of the lack of recognition, to point out the historical reasons behind it, and to suggest some emerging theoretical preoccupations which will, in my view, contribute to the continuing enrichment of a fascinating field.

The two major theoretical factors leading toward a reevaluation of the importance of the aging process have been (1) the emergence of life-span developmental psychology associated principally in psychoanalytic theorizing with the work of Erikson, supplementing and extending Freud's original developmental scheme, which essentially ended in early adulthood, and (2) the recognition of the centrality for the therapist of object and self-relations, with their emphasis on the creative power of continually changing relationships. These theoretical developments have led to an unceasing focus on the vicissitudes and history of object relations across the life-span.

In order to clarify this theory, let us look back to the beginning. Sigmund Freud first glancingly refers to the question of aging in his paper on “Freud's Psychoanalytic Procedure” (1903) when he says, “… if the patient's age is in the neighborhood of the fifties, the conditions for psychoanalysis become unfavorable. The mass of psychic material is then no longer manageable: the time required for recovery is too long: and the ability to undo psychical processes begins to grow weaker” (p. 254).

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