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Kohon, S.J. (2014). Making Contact with the Primitive Mind: The Contact-Barrier, Beta-Elements and the Drives. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 95(2):245-270.

(2014). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 95(2):245-270

Making Contact with the Primitive Mind: The Contact-Barrier, Beta-Elements and the Drives

Sebastian José Kohon

(Accepted for publication 30 August 2013)

A clinical vignette is used as the starting point for an exploration of Bion's notion of a contact-barrier, which “separates mental phenomena into two groups one of which performs the functions of consciousness and the other the functions of unconsciousness” (Bion, 1962a, p. 22), and its relation to Freud's drive theory. Bion's concept is compared to Freud's (1950[1895]) description of the ‘contact-barrier’ in the Project for a scientific psychology. Through this comparison, light is shed on various aspects of Bion's metapsychology, especially on the notion of ‘beta-elements’, described by Bion in quantitative/energetic terms as ‘accretions of stimuli’. The processing of beta-elements through the function of the contact-barrier is understood as an elaboration of Freud's notion of the ‘binding’ of the drives, with the difference that beta-elements encompass ‘unprocessed’ external stimuli as well as impulses arising from within. The ‘beta-element’ and the ‘drives’ are both understood as concepts that delimit what is knowable in the psyche. Further clinical material is presented to illustrate the author's argument that Bion's contact-barrier and related concepts (alpha function, containment) should be understood with reference to the economic/energetic aspect of Freud's metapsychology.

[This is a summary excerpt from the full text of the journal article. The full text of the document is available to journal subscribers on the publisher's website here.]

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