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Kestenbaum, G.I. (1983). Toward a Definition of Intellectualization. Psychoanal. Contemp. Thought, 6(4):671-692.

(1983). Psychoanalysis and Contemporary Thought, 6(4):671-692

Toward a Definition of Intellectualization

Gerald I. Kestenbaum, Ph.D.

The central role of intellectualization as a defense was first discussed prominently by Anna Freud (1937) with regard to puberty and, as outlined by Gitelson (1944), is readily experienced daily by the psychotherapist in the form of patients' resistances and defense transferences. Indeed, Khan (1969) presents the much-shared view that most of the tenets of psychoanalytic technique regarding premature interpretation, working through, and allowing for the development of transference and regression are aimed at insuring a revivification of experience and insight and at avoiding the danger that a “talking cure” can result in intellectualized insight alone.

Despite the clinical prominence of defensive intellectualization very little is to be found in the literature about the process or mechanism involved. There also seems to be some question about its classification and its relation to other defense mechanisms. Anna Freud does not include intellectualization in her list of nine classical defense mechanisms (although she acknowledges its defensive role), and Schafer (1954) considers it a subset of isolation.

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