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Sandier, J. Sandier, A. (1993). Pre-Circulated Paper: ‘Comments on Regression and Anti-Regression’. Bul. Anna Freud Centre, 16(3):185-196.

(1993). Bulletin of the Anna Freud Centre, 16(3):185-196

Pre-Circulated Paper: ‘Comments on Regression and Anti-Regression’

Joseph Sandier and Anne-Marie Sandier

In this paper we propose to concentrate on a consideration of regression and the forces opposing regression. The topic is both clinically and theoretically important, although we do not have a very precise psychoanalytic definition of the concept of regression as it is currently employed - perhaps because of the way in which it has been used and applied since it was first introduced into psychoanalytic thinking by Freud. Accordingly, we shall start with some comments and formulations in regard to the theory of regression, not only because of the wish to gain greater theoretical precision, but because what we shall suggest in this paper has, we believe, a number of clinical and technical implications for psychoanalysis. We shall link the question of regression with that of resistance, and shall introduce the concept of anti-regression, or the anti-regressive function of the ego. All of this is intimately connected with the mechanisms whereby psychic change is brought about, as a consequence of normal development and/or of analytic intervention.

In what follows our use of the term regression will be a general one, appertaining to all uses of the term in relation to phenomena observed in clinical psychoanalytic practice. Thus it covers topographical regression, in that communications of the patient during analysis are influenced by the movement of unconscious thoughts, wishes and fantasies from the depths to the surface, a process facilitated by the special qualities of the analytic setting. Formal regression also occurs clinically in that we commonly see secondary process thinking becoming influenced by developmentally earlier cognitive processes. We also see the use of more primitive mechanisms of defence, for example the use of massive denial in the face of great anxiety. In addition, there is the form of regression described by Freud as temporal regression, which is relevant to the present discussion. For Freud temporal regression was a reversion to a manifestation of an earlier phase of libidinal development, but can show itself in relation to the instinctual drives, to object relationships, and to those aspects of the ego which are linked with phases of libidinal development. It is worth recalling that for Freud the ‘three types of regression are, however, one at bottom and occur together as a rule’ (Freud, 1900, p. 548).


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