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Lyon, K.A. (2003). Unconscious fantasy: Its scientific status and clinical utility. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 51(3):957-967.

(2003). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 51(3):957-967

Unconscious fantasy: Its scientific status and clinical utility

Kathleen A. Lyon

Anne Erreich introduced the panel by referring to a passage in Freud's essay “The Unconscious,” (1915) in which he struggles with the realization that certain unconscious mental contents, such as fantasies, are organized coherently in such a way as to “qualitatively belong to the system Pcs, but factually to the Ucs …” (p. 191). These thoughts among others heralded the move from the topographic and seduction theories to the structural theory, and the more central role of the patient's fantasy life in psychoanalytic work. Erreich then reviewed the evolution of the fantasy concept and its uses, beginning with the reminder that the notion of fantasy is a hypothetical construct created to account for data that concern us as psychoanalysts: “affects, wishes, our relation to ourselves and others.” She began this review of the fantasy concept by paraphrasing Freud's initial definition of fantasy (1911, p. 225) as a “wish-fulfilling activity that arises in response to a frustrated instinctual wish.” This definition was extended by Arlow (1960) to include various editions of fantasies from different stages of development, organized around constellations of wishes, in an attempt to integrate those wishes with moral demands and reality considerations. Erreich then referred to Brenner's concept of compromise formations, which, she stated, would “presumably take the form of unconscious fantasies.” She next mentioned the ego psychological approach of analyzing “moments of defense,” developed by Gray and Busch, as a technical approach to the uncovering of unconscious fantasies.


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