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Barnett, J. (1971). Dependency Conflicts in the Young Adult. Psychoanal. Rev., 58(1):111-125.

(1971). Psychoanalytic Review, 58(1):111-125

Dependency Conflicts in the Young Adult

Joseph Barnett, M.D.

This paper approaches the treatment of the young adult from a perspective that views the central tasks of adolescence as cognitive in nature, cognition being defined as experiential knowing in which thought and affect are integrated in the interrelated systems of apprehension and comprehension. The process of adolescence marks the beginning of the end of childhood innocence— the transition from imbeddedness in the implicit cognitive system of the family, with its restrictions on what may be known and what must not be known, to the creative elaboration of larger systems of knowing and the evolution of a personal comprehension of experience. The dependency conflicts of the young adult are related to these cognitive tasks of individuation, and therefore are phase-specific. I shall attempt to outline the psychodynamic importance of these cognitive developments and dependency conflicts, and to indicate the therapeutic implications of this perspective.

There has been a wealth of study of the adolescent period by developmental psychologists and psychoanalysts. The focus of the developmental psychologists has been on the thinking process. The developmental researches of Inhelder and Piaget10 have contributed greatly to our understanding of the intellectual growth that occurs in adolescents. They have shown the evolution of specific and highly significant changes in the thinking processes between the ages of eleven and fifteen. The cognitive capacities that develop involve the emergence of formal mechanisms of thinking, which allow for the


* Presented to the International Workshop of the German Psychoanalytic Society and of the International Forum for Psychoanalysis, in Gottingen, September 1968.

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