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Abrams, S. (1971). Models of the Psychic Apparatus. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 19:131-142.

(1971). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 19:131-142

Models of the Psychic Apparatus

Samuel Abrams, M.D.

Robert S. Wallerstein in his introduction, "Model-Building and Model Use in Psychoanalysis," noted that during the development of psychoanalytic theory model-building and use had played central roles both as nodal descriptive-explanatory mechanisms and heuristic devices. In his view, the primary purpose of the panel was neither to review the historical development of model-building nor to investigate and critically compare latter-day emendations, but rather to reassess the status and the usefulness of models in present-day psychoanalysis. John Gedo would seek to integrate various existing useful and used models within a developmental framework; Arnold Modell would discuss the question of the limitations of models of the psychic apparatus from the perspective of the basic assumptions underlying psychoanalytic knowledge itself; and Samuel Abrams would speak of the implications of various existing models for clinical technique by describing four differing clinical postures and their roots in the various Freudian models. Following the three formal presentations, Charles Brenner would undertake the task of opening the general discussion centering around the issues thus crystallized.

Wallerstein concluded by listing a number of assertions concerning models and their place in psychoanalysis which he considered an agreed-upon framework within which the panel might proceed. These included the following: (1) Currently operative models deal only with functions in conflict inasmuch as psychoanalysis has primarily addressed itself to the central problems of motivation and conflict; hence, conflict-free operations are not encompassed by them. (2) Models are only heuristic devices, scientific metaphors, or, in Freud's words, only "intellectual scaffolding." (3) Models may be misused: their application may result in an oversimplification of exceedingly complex phenomena, or the models themselves may become reified. (4) Finally, although models have been useful, their justification is not necessarily self-evident. Hence, the aim of this panel: to reconsider the place of models and to discuss their range, usefulness, and limitations.

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