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Stolorow, R.D. Atwood, G.E. Brandchaft, B. (1992). Three Realms of the Unconscious and Their therapeutic Transformation. Psychoanal. Rev., 79(1):25-30.

(1992). Psychoanalytic Review, 79(1):25-30

Three Realms of the Unconscious and Their therapeutic Transformation

Robert D. Stolorow, Ph.D., George E. Atwood, Ph.D. and Bernard Brandchaft, M.D.

The new understandings that have been obtained through the clinical application of psychoanalytic self psychology have highlighted the need for a radical revision of the psychoanalytic theory of the unconscious (Shane and Shane, 1990). What follows is a progress report briefly summarizing an evolving theory of the unconscious that we believe is consistent with the basic principles of self psychology and its singular emphasis on the primacy of self-experience rather than instinctual drives. Our framework delineates three different realms of the unconscious. After describing our developing understanding of these different realms, we offer a formulation of the distinctive transformations that psychoanalytic treatment can bring about in each of the three domains.

In our first attempts (Atwood and Stolorow, 1980, 1984) to reconceptualize the unconscious, we distinguished two forms of unconsciousness that are important for psychoanalysis — the prereflective unconscious and the more familiar dynamic unconscious. Both differ from Freud's (1900, 1915) “preconscious” in that they can be made conscious only with great effort. The term “prereflective unconscious” refers to the shaping of experience by organizing principles that operate outside a person's conscious awareness:

The organizing principles of a person's subjective world, whether operating positively (giving rise to certain configurations in awareness), or negatively (preventing certain configurations from arising), are themselves unconscious. A person's experiences are shaped by his psychological structures without this shaping becoming the focus of awareness and reflection.

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