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Dowling, A.S. (2004). A Reconsideration of the Concept of Regression. Psychoanal. St. Child, 59:191-210.

(2004). Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 59:191-210


A Reconsideration of the Concept of Regression

A. Scott Dowling, M.D.

Regression has been a useful psychoanalytic concept, linking present mental functioning with past experiences and levels of functioning. The concept originated as an extension of the evolutionary zeitgeist of the day as enunciated by H. Spencer and H. Jackson and applied by Freud to psychological phenomena. The value system implicit in the contrast of evolution/progression vs dissolution/regression has given rise to unfortunate and powerful assumptions of social, cultural, developmental and individual value as embodied in notions of “higher,” “lower,” “primitive,” “mature,” “archaic,” and “advanced.” The unhelpful results of these assumptions are evident, for example, in attitudes concerning cultural, sexual, and social “correctness,” same-sex object choice, and goals of treatment. An alternative, a continuously constructed, continuously emerging mental life, in analogy to the ever changing, continuous physical body, is suggested. This view retains the fundamentals of psychoanalysis, for example, unconscious mental life, drive, defense, and psychic structure, but stresses a functional, ever changing, present oriented understanding of mental life as contrasted with a static, onion-layered view.

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