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Nagera, H. (1969). The Imaginary Companion—Its Significance for Ego Development and Conflict Solution. Psychoanal. St. Child, 24:165-196.

(1969). Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 24:165-196

The Imaginary Companion—Its Significance for Ego Development and Conflict Solution

Humberto Nagera, M.D.

During the last few years at the Hampstead Clinic we have studied a small number of children who had at the time of their diagnostic assessment or previously had an imaginary companion. In no case was the imaginary companion the cause for referral. Usually, its existence was elicited more or less accidentally during the course of the diagnostic investigation.

When we explored this fantasy further, we were surprised to learn that only rarely did the imaginary companion play a significant role in the analysis of these children. In fact, we know of only two children who directly and frequently referred to their imaginary companions during the analytic sessions. One such case was described in the literature (O. Sperling, 1954). Since our clinical material is limited, we can only state what our experience was,


In collaboration with Alice Colonna and the Clinical Concept Research Group whose members are: H. Nagera (Chairman), A. Freud (Consultant), S. Baker, A. Colonna, R. Edgcumbe, M. Foote, W. E. Freud, A. Gavshon, A. Hayman, S. Ini, R. Putzel, and I. Rosen. In addition, a number of colleagues helped with the review of the literature and gave permission for the use of their clinical examples. I wish to thank Eva Bry, Lottie Kearney, Elizabeth Model, Dr. Josephine Stross, and T. de Vries.

The paper forms part of a research project entitled "Childhood Pathology: Its Impact on Mental Disorders in Adulthood," which is being conducted at the Hampstead Child-Therapy Clinic, London. The project is financed by the National Institute of Mental Health, Washington, D.C., Grant No. 05683-07.

At present the author is professor of psychiatry at the University of Michigan Medical Center, and Director of the Child Analytic Study Program at Children's Psychiatric Hospital, Ann Arbor, Michigan.

1 Bender and Vogel (1941) have described a large number of children mostly in latency and late latency who talked quite freely of their imaginary companions in a therapeutic situation. But these children were not in analysis (with its special setting and conditions); they were studied in hospitals where they seem to have been very actively questioned.

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