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Cohen, J. (1985). Trauma and Repression. Psychoanal. Inq., 5(1):163-189.

(1985). Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 5(1):163-189

Trauma and Repression

Jonathan Cohen, M.D.

Aproper understanding of the relationship between trauma, which refers to events in the external world, and repression, which refers to purely mental phenomena, should be of enduring psychoanalytic interest. In its most general form this relationship is the core problem of psychoanalysis, which aims at understanding how events in the external world affect mental experience and cause or cure psychopathology.

Psychic traumatization such as that resulting from the Holocaust directs our attention forcibly to this relationship. The clinical phenomena demonstrate that some events imprint themselves on the mind, destroying psychic structure and creating severe psychopathology in previously healthy individuals.

The concept of trauma is ambiguous and controversial in presentday psychoanalysis. As in general medicine, it bridges cause and effect, referring simultaneously to a psychic outcome (literally, a “wound”) and to the events that caused it. It is controversial theoretically because the concepts found necessary for understanding traumatic reactions, by Freud and others — and which collectively constitute a quite distinct paradigm of psychopathology — seem to be either independent of or supervalent to libido theory.

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