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Rosenblatt, A.D. Thickstun, J.T. (1970). A Study of the Concept of Psychic Energy. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 51:265-278.

(1970). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 51:265-278

A Study of the Concept of Psychic Energy

Allan D. Rosenblatt and James T. Thickstun


We have presented a critical overview of the concept of psychic energy. We have traced the development of this concept and have surveyed its major aspects, involving the source, functions and operating principles of psychic energy. The expected function of a theory and the general criteria by which it is evaluated have been examined, and the failures of psychic energy theory in various methodological and clinical areas have been noted. We have recommended abandonment of the concept, and have suggested alterations in the psychoanalytic paradigm involving information theory, learning, concept and symbol formation, and current neurophysiological data.

It should be made clear once more that, in proposing an alternative theoretical framework to replace the psychic energy concept, we are still advocating a primarily psychological model, not a neurophysiological one. Such a model, to have heuristic validity and to avoid the dead end of mind–body dualism, must be translatable at some point into neurophysiological terms.

It must also be emphasized that our demonstration of the untenability of psychic energy theory is not contingent upon our production of an adequate substitute, which at present can only be sketched in generalities. The theory of psychic energy is invalid, whether or not an alternative explanation is available, and therefore should be discarded. The remaining body of analytic theory will suffer no loss of explanatory value, and will be freed from the obscurities imposed upon it by the concept of psychic energy. It is our belief that if the psychoanalytic community can loosen its ties to the psychic energy theory, a more satisfactory conceptual framework will soon be forthcoming.

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