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Benedek, T. (1950). Climacterium: A Developmental Phase. Psychoanal Q., 19:1-27.

(1950). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 19:1-27

Climacterium: A Developmental Phase

Therese Benedek, M.D.

I wish to begin with a defense of the term 'climacterium' which has made its way into medical dictionaries only very recently. The word was probably so neglected because of its hybrid, incorrect formation. It is derived from the word 'climacter' which means the 'round (or the bout) of the ladder'; thus, 'climacteric' refers to something or somebody being around the top of the ladder and starting on the way down. Hence the popular term 'change of life' is a meaningful translation of the medically often used, if linguistically haphazard, climacterium. It designates a particular period in life characterized by the termination of the reproductive period in women and is usually associated with the gradual cessation of the menstrual function—the menopause. Although the terms menopause and climacterium often are used as if they were interchangeable, the former should be reserved for one aspect of that period, the cessation of the menstrual flow, while climacteric or climacterium encompasses the more general bodily and emotional processes which usually coincide with menopause or follow it, and which are not necessarily causally related to it. However characteristic of the climacterium these manifestations may be, they are dependent upon the previous history of the individual; they are motivated by trends which, woven into the personality of the mature woman, may be reactivated by the internal changes associated with that period.

The concept of climacterium as a developmental phase can hardly be defended from the biological point of view. The growth of the individual in the climacterium was finished several decades, a full generation ago, when the physiological maturation channelized the 'overflow of surplus energy' (1) to nourish the propagative function. Now this source is exhausted. The


Read before the Chicago Psychoanalytic Society, February, 1948.

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