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Green, A. (1995). Summary: Affects versus Representations or Affects as Representations?. Brit. J. Psychother., 12(2):208-211.

(1995). British Journal of Psychotherapy, 12(2):208-211

BJP/Freud Museum Conference: How Do We Think About Feelings?

Summary: Affects versus Representations or Affects as Representations?

Dr Andre Green

It is customary to begin this topic by saying that there is no present satisfactory theory of affects although a hundred or more theories exist. Rather than trying to build up a realistic portrait or likeness of particular affects, I prefer to use conceptual tools to create a representation of affect as a psychical construct.

Psychoanalytic theory is two-fold: it is a theory of psychoanalytic practice and a general theory of psychical activity, and each must be in close connection with the other. But many of the challenging new theories do not obey this requirement. New clinical and theoretical concepts, often borrowed from neighbouring fields, are contradictory, making it difficult to decide which theory is good and which has to be rejected. It has been said that Freud's metapsychology itself has to be abandoned but I do not recommend this. But whether one agrees with Freud or not, a psychoanalytic theory of affects must take a stand on the existence of unconscious affects and their relationship with conscious affects and other components of mental life.

The Observation of Affects

Although there is a general consensus that affects are rooted in the very beginnings of mental life, a developmental approach is not really helpful in solving the difficulties. To explain: (1) Infant observation is unable to give us an idea of what goes on in the psychic processes of the adult internal world, especially in the unconscious. (2) Infant research has value for understanding the infant but is less significant in the elaboration of psychoanalytic theory.

[This is a summary excerpt from the full text of the journal article. The full text of the document is available to journal subscribers on the publisher's website here.]

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