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Hatcher, R.L. (1994). Ego Mechanisms of Defense: A Guide for Clinicians and Researchers: By George A. Vaillant. Washington DC/London: American Psychiatric Press. 1992. Pp. 306.. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 75:170-172.

(1994). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 75:170-172

Ego Mechanisms of Defense: A Guide for Clinicians and Researchers: By George A. Vaillant. Washington DC/London: American Psychiatric Press. 1992. Pp. 306.

Review by:
Robert L. Hatcher

George Vaillant, author of the memorable Adaptation to Life(1977), presents us with a volume comprised of some of his own theoretical and clinical contributions on the subject of defence mechanisms, coupled with a collection of research studies that attempt to measure and investigate defences empirically. Over the years, Vaillant has anchored his long series of valuable contributions under the rubric of 'ego mechanisms of defence'. As with the contributions of many others—Winnicott's 'false self' comes to mind—Vaillant's concept of defence has expanded into an increasingly comprehensive explanatory instrument, growing beyond the straits of its original theoretical system to encompass an ever-widening scope of human behaviour. A major question is whether the concept has the strength and elasticity to support this expansion.

In his introductory essay (reprinted from the 1992 International Review of Psycho-Analysis), Vaillant makes his case for the centrality of the concept of defence mechanisms, the importance of which he feels has been neglected by psychoanalysts. Here are the major points: 'Perhaps Freud's most original contribution to human psychology was his inductive postulation that unconscious "defense mechanisms" protect the individual from painful emotions, ideas and drives' (p. 3). Defences are discrete from one another, are unconscious, and are a major means of managing instinct and affect. In addition, Vaillant stresses the adaptive and reversible nature of defences, and discerns in Freud's work the idea of a hierarchy of defences, reflecting the increasing maturity of the developing ego.

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