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Stewart, W.A. (1963). An Inquiry Into the Concept of Working Through. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 11:474-499.

(1963). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 11:474-499

An Inquiry Into the Concept of Working Through

Walter A. Stewart, M.D.


A review of Freud's writings suggests that working through should be conceived of as the time and energy required of the patient to change his habitual pattern of instinctual discharge (id resistance). In the neurotic patient this implies a coming to terms with unconscious infantile conflicts (dynamic), ego control of the mobility of drive cathexis (economic), and an increase in the area of the ego's autonomy (structural). Three aspects of id resistance (difficulties in reallocation of cathectic investment) can be distinguished: psychical inertia (or hypermobility), adhesiveness of the libido, and fixation. The first two are independent factors, i.e., not directly the result of neurotic conflict.

Of particular significance is the fact that successful working through results in an increase in the ego's control over the cathectic investments, including the domination of the pleasure principle by the reality principle and the primary process by the secondary

process. The most evident consequence of working through is seen in the relinquishment or transmutation of the unconscious infantile instinctual wishes toward a sublimated ego-syntonic and reality-oriented goal.

This view appears to be consistent with Freud's description of the process and is in contrast to the frequent misuse of the term in our current literature, where working through is confused with preliminary analytic work, with activities of the analyst which promote working through, and with the consequence of the accomplishment of working through.

Factors which aid or interfere with the working-through process are considered, both in terms of the analyst's activities and of the patient's illness. It is suggested that the working-through process differs in basic ways from the mourning process with which it has been traditionally compared. In mourning, the work is to come to terms with the loss of the object, whereas the working-through process requires object constancy and a change in the mode and aim of the instinctual drive. The unique quality of working through, and therefore of psychoanalysis, is that it results in the permanent freeing of energies which then become available to the ego.

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