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Adair, M.J. (2000). The Possible Role of Hallucinations in Conversion. J. Clin. Psychoanal., 9(2):201-219.

(2000). Journal of Clinical Psychoanalysis, 9(2):201-219

The Possible Role of Hallucinations in Conversion Related Papers

Mark J. Adair, Ph.D.


This study is meant to encourage further contributions in support of, or in contradiction to, its findings; namely, that some conversions originate in hallucinations.

I should acknowledge at once that this central hypothesis is hard to accept. It asks the reader to believe not only that nonpsychotic people in normal waking states can produce positive hallucinations, but also that conversions harbor live hallucinations. Such assumptions challenge two long-accepted distinctions: the first, between neurosis and psychosis; and the second, between being actively psychotic and not being actively psychotic.

But if we remember that some people do have brief regressions to the point of hallucination, and yet recover quickly; and that we finally designate as psychotic only those who prolong such regressions, then the hypothesis proposed here may seem less alien.

Still, the hypothesis implies some common ground between neurosis and psychosis. If the hypothesis is to be serviceable, that implication—improbable to some—must be justified. I will justify it by showing that the hypothesis consummates a trend in the historical development of the conversion concept; illuminates the clinical material; and harmonizes with Freud's concepts of the infantile hallucination and perceptual identity.


Acknowledgments. For their valued support and help in preparing this paper, the author wishes to thank Drs. Lawrence Friedman, Vann Spruiell, Theo Dorpat, Jack Naiman, the late Merton Gill, and especially Gerard Fountain.

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