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Rohrlich, J.B. (2000). Work and the Evolving Self: Theoretical and Clinical Considerations: Steven D. Axelrod. Hillsdale, NJ: Analytic Press. 1999. Pp. 150.. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 81(6):1242-1245.

(2000). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 81(6):1242-1245

Work and the Evolving Self: Theoretical and Clinical Considerations: Steven D. Axelrod. Hillsdale, NJ: Analytic Press. 1999. Pp. 150.

Review by:
Jay B. Rohrlich

Work has been a relatively uninteresting subject for psychoanalysts. It is commonly seen as a necessary reality associated with survival, and not as a psychically determined phenomenon. In a footnote to Civilization and its Discontents, Freud said: ‘No other technique for the conduct of life attaches the individual so firmly to reality as laying an emphasis on work’. He allowed that a ‘large amount of libidinal components, whether narcissistic, aggressive, or even erotic’do get displaced ‘on to professional work and on to the human relations connected with it’, but also stated that ‘as a path to happiness, work is not highly prized by men. They do not strive after it as they do after other possibilities of satisfaction. The great majority of people only work under the stress of necessity’(1930, p. 80, fn. 1).

In this fine book, Axelrod makes a very convincing case for the fact that work is much more psychically determined than is generally believed, that intrapsychic representations of work are infinitely variable and subjective, and that these unconscious mental expressions provide a rich arena for psychoanalytic enquiry. Furthermore, in contrast to Freud's reluctance to see pleasure coming from work, Axelrod argues that ‘there is an irreducible capacity for mature pleasure in work life that is a touchstone of adult development’(p. 78). He refers to Jahoda, who suggested that ‘work provides an important means by which the pleasure and reality principles are synthesized. Work not only ties a person to reality, but offers the means by which he can obtain uniquely adult sources of pleasure’(1966p. 628).

Axelrod firmly associates this ‘mature pleasure’with the vicissitudes of the aggressive drive, and the ego and identity gratifications included in Erikson's (1950) developmental schema. Work is a means by which we experience the aggressive satisfactions of mastery. Pride in our work products is central to a mature sense of self.

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