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Ritvo, S. (1971). Late Adolescenceā€”Developmental and Clinical Considerations. Psychoanal. St. Child, 26:241-263.

(1971). Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 26:241-263

Late Adolescence—Developmental and Clinical Considerations

Samuel Ritvo, M.D.


Ideally, late adolescence is the time of the last spontaneous developmental consolidation and integration of the personality. In this restructuring of the psychic apparatus the ego gains in power and increases its influence on the id, superego, and ego ideal.

The inevitable moves toward love and work in the realistic world alter the balance between fantasy and reality in the mental life of the individual and make the conditions of pleasure gain more manifest to the adolescent himself. This awareness may become a motivation for treatment. The crises of late adolescence arise when the individual who has not been successful in breaking or loosening oedipal and preoedipal object cathexes is under pressure internally and externally to find a new object and to make self-defining commitments in the realistic world. The reliance of the older adolescent on the new object enables us to study the process by which he makes the transition from the increased narcissistic cathexis of the self so characteristic of earlier adolescence to the object cathexis required for the adult love relationship—a process which is discernible in analysis but which I believe

takes place in all male adolescents. In this process the adolescent follows again old pathways from early childhood when the central love object became the stabilizer and organizer for the immature ego.

The formation of an ego ideal that is attuned to reality is a development of late adolescence which is necessary for the adaptive tasks of adult life. The crises of late adolescence are marked by failures of adequate ego-ideal formation and by insufficiently reality-attuned ego ideals which lead to disturbances of sublimation and the capacity for work. Homosexual fantasies and feelings in this age often bring about a fragmentation of the ego ideal as well as regressive efforts to reconstitute it.

The shift of influence to the ego results in anxiety and neurotic symptom formation and increased awareness by the older adolescent that he is in the grip of unconscious forces. This becomes a reliable motivation for entering into and sustaining the psychoanalytic situation.

The life situation of being still dependent on his parents and the setting in which he lives, usually the student status, have an influence on the transference and on technique. But in the neurotic adolescent no basic modification of the analytic situation is necessary.

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