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Pumpian-Mindlin, E. (1967). B. Defense Organization of the Ego and Psychoanalytic Technique. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 15:150-165.

(1967). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 15:150-165

B. Defense Organization of the Ego and Psychoanalytic Technique

E. Pumpian-Mindlin, M.D.

Robert Waelder opened the panel with a brilliant historical review of the development of the theory of defense mechanisms. Raising the question of why a historical perspective is necessary as a preliminary to our discussion, he contrasted the roles of observational data and theories in science. In order to study geography one need not know the notions which former centuries held of the surface of the earth; an anatomist does not have to be familiar with the views of Galen or Vesalius. Theories, however, which attempt to cope with reality in terms of models, picture some aspects of reality better than others. They are a continuing dialogue between man and nature. It is necessary, therefore, to know the earlier theories in order to know which questions they strove to answer, and which they did not attempt to answer. Pari passu the same applies to psychoanalytic theory.

If then we turn to the theory of the mechanisms of defense we must describe the position of psychoanalysis at the time of Anna Freud's book, The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defense. This work was an outgrowth of the situation created in psychoanalysis by the theoretical advances made in Inhibition, Symptoms and Anxiety and The Ego and the Id. Up to this point, the idea of the "ego" existed, but it was conceptualized as a coherent body of ideas. The ego was confronted with drive challenges to which it responded. The implicit assumption was that the drives were unconscious, but the responses (of the ego) were conscious. These responses were considered the sphere of academic psychology rather than of psychoanalysis, which dealt with unconscious problems.

It is true that as early as 1896 Freud had mentioned unconscious defenses, but he had never further developed these ideas. This is of course true of all scientists: there are early hints of significant observations, which are not followed up. For all practical purposes, in psychoanalysis the drives were considered unconscious and the responses conscious.

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