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Abrams, S. (1983). Development. Psychoanal. St. Child, 38:113-139.

(1983). Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 38:113-139

Psychoanalytic Developmental Theory


Samuel Abrams, M.D.

IN PSYCHOANALYSIS THE WORD "DEVELOPMENT" IS A SOURCE of confusion and a center of controversy. It is confusing because it has both conventional meanings and special technical ones; because the special technical meanings express descriptive and conceptual usages; and because the conceptual usage encompasses various levels of abstraction. It is controversial because it has become a symbol of disagreements about technique and the treatment process. Both the confusion and the controversy have often clustered about the theories of psychological growth proposed by various researchers and clinicians, as each contributor stakes a legitimate claim to the word (Wolff, 1960); (Thiel and Treurniet, 1976); (Goodman, 1977); (Peterfreund, 1978); (Glenn, 1979); (Krent, 1979); (Levine, 1979).

In its broadest conventional usage, a development is an event, a happening, an occurrence of any sort. It may be expected or come as a surprise; it may be viewed with pleasure or with alarm, seen as desirable or untoward. Within the context of this customary meaning almost anything can develop in the course of an analysis. Fate can intrude, a somatic disorder may erupt, or something may happen to one of the participants. Such developments (i.e., occurrences) may facilitate or intrude upon the therapeutic process, depending upon what they are and how they are addressed.

In its more restricted conventional usage, a development is a specific happening, the outcome of a sequence of related events whose causal links may be tracked.

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