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Akhtar, S. (1999). The Distinction Between Needs and Wishes: Implications for Psychoanalytic Theory and Technique. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 47(1):113-151.

(1999). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 47(1):113-151

The Distinction Between Needs and Wishes: Implications for Psychoanalytic Theory and Technique

Salman Akhtar

After a comprehensive survey of the literature is presented and some caveats entered, this paper delineates the concept of a psychological “need,” noting that it bears a complex relation to the concept of a “wish.” Need is universal, wish experience-bound. A need, unlike a wish, is not subject to repression. In addition, although a wish can be replaced by another wish, a need cannot be replaced by another need. Whereas the frustration of a wish causes dynamic shifts, the frustration of a need leads to structural disintegration. Needs and wishes can be in harmony or in opposition. The paper also identifies six basic psychological needs, which would seem to be ubiquitous, though the degree to which they are overt and the ways in which they are met vary across cultures. Their gratification seems necessary for healthy psychic development to occur, for relationships to survive, and for psychoanalytic work to take hold and to continue optimally. These needs are (1) the need for one's physical needs to be deemed legitimate; (2) the need for identity, recognition, and affirmation; (3) the need for interpersonal and intrapsychic boundaries; (4) the need for understanding the causes of events; (5) the need for optimal emotional availability of a love object; and (6) the need for a resilient responsiveness by one's love objects under special circumstances. Ordinarily these needs are met during the course of treatment with no deliberate effort by the analyst. In the treatment of some patients, however, they require more direct attention. A number of clinical vignettes are presented to elucidate these ideas.

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