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Michels, R. Roughton, R. (1985). Perspectives on the Nature of Psychic Reality. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 33:645-659.

(1985). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 33:645-659

Perspectives on the Nature of Psychic Reality

Robert Michels, M.D. and Ralph Roughton, M.D.

PSYCHIC REALITY AND ITS RELATION TO material reality is, according to Michels, a central issue, one that in a sense defines psychoanalysis. He reminded the audience that each of the principal speakers has made a major contribution to the understanding of these concepts: Arlow's "Fantasy, Memory, and Reality Testing" in 1969, Schafer's "The Psychoanalytic Vision of Reality" in 1970, and Wallerstein's "Psychoanalytic Perspectives on the Problem of Reality" in 1973. In his introduction Michels focused on definitions and models. The familiar concept of psychic reality has been that of the inner world of subjective experience, resulting from the interaction of two factors: the outer world of real events and the inner world of unconscious fantasies. In his 1969 paper Arlow used the metaphor of two motion picture projectors simultaneously casting images on opposite sides of a single translucent screen. One projector represents external reality, the other unconscious fantasy; the integrated image on the screen represents the individual's subjective experiential world—psychic reality.

Michels suggested, however, that Freud's original concept was somewhat different. Freud tended to equate psychic reality with unconscious fantasy. Rather than psychic reality being the subjective experience itself, it was the inner source of that subjective experience, just as external reality was the outer source of subjective experience. For Freud, then, the biologically rooted drives, on the one hand, and the physical world of objects, on the other, are real; the mental representations that combine them are not real.

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