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Modell, A.H. (1963). The Concept of Psychic Energy. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 11:605-618.

(1963). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 11:605-618

The Concept of Psychic Energy

Arnold H. Modell, M.D.

David Beres, in his opening statement, suggested that the panel should examine the validity and usefulness of the concept of psychic energy. "What are, " he asked, "the essential components of the theory, what does the concept attempt to explain, and do we agree that some theory of psychic energy is essential?" It had been resolved beforehand that no formal papers be given other than the reporter's survey of "Freud's Concept of Psychic Energy." Instead, each participant introduced his point of view with a brief statement, thus allowing for considerable discussion and questions.

Modell noted that the concept of psychic energy appears in Freud's earliest psychoanalytic publications. In tracing Freud's interest in the concept of psychic energy, he described the influence upon Freud of the psychophysical school of Helmholtz, whose Viennese representative, Brücke, was Freud's most immediate scientific model.

In the beginning of psychoanalysis Freud, along with Breuer, shared the belief that to describe a biological process by means of physical quantitative laws was the highest ideal of science. Before Freud had fully committed himself to psychology he treated psychic energy at times as if it were in fact physical energy and could be described in terms of the theoretical laws of physics. This point of view found its most complete expression in the posthumously published "Project for a Scientific Psychology." However, it is of the utmost importance to realize that Freud later disavowed the "Project." He became a psychologist and not a psychophysicist, and there was then never any doubt that the concept of energy was intended by Freud to refer to psychic and not physical energy. It was, in other words, a metaphor borrowed from physical science.

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