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Dorpat, T.L. (1978). Psychological Aspects of Accidents. Ann. Psychoanal., 6:273-283.

(1978). Annual of Psychoanalysis, 6:273-283

Psychological Aspects of Accidents

T. L. Dorpat, M.D.

The aim of this paper is to report the findings and conclusions of a study of three psychoanalytic patients who had multiple accidents. This is a microanalytic study in that it will focus on specific events, affects, fantasies, and defensive operations which occurred just prior to the accidents. Before presenting the case studies I will first briefly review some of the semantic and methodological problems in psychoanalytic research on accidents.

Accident or Action?

The accidents of these patients were not intentional acts; they were accidents, not actions. Recognizing the distinction between accidents and actions is essential for understanding the following discussion. Accidents are happenings; they are not, by definition, human actions. Unlike actions, accidents are not consciously or unconsciously intentional, and they are not intrinsically meaningful. Jumping off a cliff is an action; losing one's footing and falling off a cliff is an accident. According to Schafer (1976), “action is human behavior that has a point; it is meaningful human activity; it is intentional or goal-directed performances by people; it is doing things for reasons” (p. 139). Although they are not actions, accidents, such as the ones studied in this report, are sometimes, in part, the indirect consequences of human actions. For example, the accidents in this study came about because the subjects did not take self-preserving precautions in dangerous situations. Their failure to take such precautions was a manifestation of their need to deny danger.

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