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Beres, D. (1960). The Psychoanalytic Psychology of Imagination. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 8:252-269.

(1960). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 8:252-269

The Psychoanalytic Psychology of Imagination

David Beres, M.D.


1. Imagination is defined as the capacity to form a mental representation of an object, an affect, a body function, or an instinctual drive, not actually or immediately present to the senses. It

is a capacity limited to human beings and is distinguished from the capacity to form memory traces. The imaginative process is examined in terms of the structural hypothesis and the energic concepts of psychoanalysis.

2. Imagination in this study is considered as a ubiquitous psychic manifestation noted in normal mentation, pathological mental processes, and artistic creativity.

3. The imaginative process develops in the child out of earlier presymbolic mental functioning and appears with structuralization of the ego.

4. Hallucinatory wish fulfillment in the infant is a late development and presupposes the capacity to form mental representations.

5. Primary-process imagination is distinguished from secondary-process imagination according to whether the imaginative process serves immediate or delayed discharge of psychic energies and according to the role of ego control. Thought is by definition a process that binds energies and delays discharge. It is thus always a secondary-process phenomenon, though its products may be used regressively for primary-process discharge.

6. Memory traces enter into the formation of mental representations, but only in the latter can the image be evoked by a thought or a wish rather than by a direct external stimulus (which may be a stimulus from an inner organ).

7. Freud's formulation that cathexis is always directed toward mental representations (Vorstellungen) is reiterated.

8. Some clinical applications of the imaginative process are considered.

In emphasizing, as I have done, the ubiquitous nature of the imaginative process, I have sought to apply this concept to psychoanalytic theory and practice. I have attempted to indicate the different manifestations of the imaginative process. At the pinnacle of human imagination is what we call the creative imagination, but in my opinion it is not different from other imaginative functions: it adds a new factor, the synthetic function—and by this addition it creates a new product.

Imagination is a pervasive function of the human mind. In its manifold aspects it serves all components of the psychic

structure. It is comprised of ego functions, but it serves id drives as well as superego demands. Imagination supplies the material for symptom and defense, but it also supplies the ego with its synthetic function and its creative function. Both aspects of imagination together give to man his unique position in the animal kingdom.

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