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Grossman, W.I. (1992). Hierarchies, Boundaries, and Representation in a Freudian Model of Mental Organization. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 40:27-62.

(1992). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 40:27-62

Hierarchies, Boundaries, and Representation in a Freudian Model of Mental Organization

William I. Grossman, M.D.


Freud used a spatial model of mental organization, derived from his explanation of aphasia, as an organizing framework for psychoanalytic theory. He introduced the ideas of representation and overdetermination to describe relations of the contents of systems that were joined to form, first, a hierarchical nervous system, then, mental systems. Freud used his basic model to organize aspects of mental function and phenomena, of interpersonal and social phenomena, and some kinds of biological phenomena. His accounts of metapsychology and clinical psychoanalysis are similar to his description of the basic aphasia/nervous system model. Across the boundaries of mental systems, translation of the contents of one system led to their being represented in another. Repeated editing and translation account for many properties of the systems. The mind pictured is a hierarchical structure of agencies, functions, and fantasy organizations. Complexity results from the combination of relatively simple relations and repetition of the same operations. The mind described by Freud's psychoanalysis is the self-reflecting mind and the mental activity of an analyst and of a patient in analysis.

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