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Wachtel, P.L. (1976). Structure or Transaction? A Critique of the Historical and Intrapsychic Emphasis in Psychoanalytic Thought. Psychoanal. Contemp. Sci., 5:101-136.

(1976). Psychoanalysis and Contemporary Science, 5:101-136

Structure or Transaction? A Critique of the Historical and Intrapsychic Emphasis in Psychoanalytic Thought

Paul L. Wachtel, Ph.D.

Psychoanalysis is not unique in its emphasis on the importance of childhood and its effort to understand a person's feelings and behavior in terms of his life history. A wide range of psychological theories suggest that early experiences are likely to establish lifelong patterns unless certain unusual subsequent events occur.

The precise way in which psychoanalysis treats the historical perspective in psychological inquiry is, however, distinctive—and controversial as well, especially in its explanation of the uniquely powerful influence of childhood experiences. There are many ways of understanding the continuities between early behaviors and experiences and those of later life, and many ways of conceiving of the seeming inappropriateness to current realities of much of day-to-day adult behavior. What is particularly characteristic of the psychoanalytic approach to these problems is its postulation of the persisting influence of certain childhood wishes and fears despite later experiences which might be expected to alter them. Repression, in the psychoanalytic view, does not merely prevent the person from being aware of what is being repressed; it also prevents the repressed desire or fantasy from “growing up,” from changing in the course of development as do unrepressed desires or fantasies.


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