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Kernberg, O.F. (1970). A Psychoanalytic Classification of Character Pathology. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 18:800-822.

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(1970). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 18:800-822

A Psychoanalytic Classification of Character Pathology

Otto F. Kernberg, M.D.

THIS PAPER IS A proposal for a classification of character pathology which integrates recent developments in our understanding of severe forms of character pathology, especially the so-called "borderline conditions," with recent developments in psychoanalytic metapsychology. This classification attempts (1) to establish psychoanalytic criteria for differential diagnoses among different types and degrees of severity of character pathology; (2) to clarify the relationship between a descriptive characterological diagnosis and a metapsychological, especially structural, analysis; and (3) to arrange subgroups of character pathology according to their degree of severity. This system of classification should help in the diagnosis of character pathology by providing the clinician with more systematic information about the descriptive, structural, and genetic-dynamic characteristics of the different forms of character pathology. It should also help in the treatment of patients suffering from character pathology by singling out the predominant constellations of character defenses and other defenses peculiar to the categories of character pathology which I propose to describe. Last, but not least, this proposed classification should help in determining the prognosis for psychological treatment in these conditions by differentiating types of character pathology with varying degrees of indication for psychoanalytic treatment and for psychoanalytically oriented psychotherapy.


The Menninger Foundation, Topeka, Kansas.

Presented at the 56th Annual Meeting of the American Psychoanalytic Association, Miami Beach, May 3, 1969.

Submitted June 18, 1969

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