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Spira, D.S. (1991). The Evolution of Freud's Conceptualization of Phobias. Psychoanal. Inq., 11(3):376-394.

(1991). Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 11(3):376-394

The Evolution of Freud's Conceptualization of Phobias

David S. Spira, M.D.

The purpose of this article is to review the evolution of Freud's understanding of phobias, with a particular eye toward the distinction he made between actual neuroses and psychoneuroses. This focus is relevant to the question of biologic versus psychologic factors in producing pathology. Because the subject of phobias occupies a central position in psychoanalytic theory by virtue of its intimate relation to an understanding of anxiety and defense, the reciprocity between Freud's evolving models of mind and his ideas on phobia will also receive attention.

This review is organized in accordance with the three major phases of Freud's theorizing. During the early phase, which lasted until 1905, he thought phobias were caused by traumatic events and their associated affects. Phase two, from 1905 to 1923, was characterized by his rejection of the seduction hypothesis and the development of the libido theory. Working within the context of the latter, Freud described two forms of phobia, one emphasizing a psychogenic mechanism, the other, designated as actual neurosis, explained by an accumulation of libido — a cumulative biologic factor.

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