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Apfelbaum, B. (1965). Ego Psychology, Psychic Energy, and the Hazards of Quantitative Explanation in Psycho-Analytic Theory. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 46:168-182.

(1965). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 46:168-182

Ego Psychology, Psychic Energy, and the Hazards of Quantitative Explanation in Psycho-Analytic Theory

Bernard Apfelbaum

It may be fair to say that the many reconsiderations of Freud's energy conceptions have not really affected the way they are currently used. Partly this is because such reconsiderations have been on the philosophical and physiological levels, not touching the clinical framework in which these energy conceptions are anchored. The apparent immunity of these conceptions may also be a consequence of the principle in psycho-analytic theory that a number of different approaches are required to explain psychic activity. Accordingly, the economic approach, as the embodiment of Freud's energy conceptions, is to be used in conjunction with other approaches—dynamic, structural, genetic, etc. Any one approach is expected to be insufficient if used alone. To point out the deficiencies of the economic approach then merely appears to confirm this expectation; the assumption is that where one approach is deficient it will be supplemented by another. Further, since psychic activity is so complex and exists on so many levels, it can seem unreasonable to eliminate an approach, much as if anatomy were to be dropped in favour of physiology. The present paper presents the view that this easy toleration of different kinds of explanation, though in many ways advantageous, may obscure different, even competing, philosophies.

In a recent panel on the concept of psychic energy, as reported by Modell (1963), Kubie criticized the economic approach, asserting that quantitative explanations offer only descriptions of behaviour in metaphorical terms.

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